THIS IS a summer that has shown American politics at its democracy-affirming best.
I can guess what some are thinking: You’ve joined the ranks of mad dogs and Englishmen out in the midday sun; how can anyone make such a statement in this time of Donald Trump and his choleric crowds, his takeover of the Republican Party, his dark and angry convention, his conspiracy-theory mindset, his reckless and inflammatory statements?
Here’s why: Republican Party primary voters may not have been able to see through Donald Trump, but the broader electorate has recognized that he’s unfit to be president. Voters don’t always sort things out on punditry’s preferred timetable, which can lead to some Henny Penny hysteria among the commentariat. And yet this season those voters have done themselves proud. Even with the distractions of this lovely summer, they’ve taken an accurate measure of Trump’s dime-store demagoguery and rejected his dog-whistle politics.
You can see that in national polls, which show Hillary Clinton with a solid lead. But it’s even clearer in the Electoral College map, which essentially shows Trump holding a dead man’s hand, and with little realistic prospect of improvement. How bad is it for him? Clinton already has a reasonably comfortable lead in enough states to win. Colorado and Virginia, usually battleground states, are solidly in her camp, while normally Republican states like Georgia and Arizona are in play.
But this best encapsulates Trump’s plight: He is behind, though narrowly, in Ohio, without which no Republican has ever won the White House. Yet even if you put Ohio and every other toss-up state in Trump’s column, he still loses to Clinton, 272-266, as the Real Clear Politics map currently stands. If you award all toss-up states the way they are currently leaning, then Clinton trounces Trump, 362 electoral votes to 176.
Let me repeat what I wrote back in May: Nov. 8 will be an early night.
For my money, certain Republicans deserve particular credit for speaking their minds — and helping voters sort this out. High on my list is Susan Collins, the thoroughly decent Maine senator, who declared in a Washington Post guest column that she couldn’t vote for Trump because he “lacks the temperament, self-discipline, and judgment required to be president.” Lindsey Graham also belongs in that category. So does Massachusetts’ governor, Charlie Baker.
Now, in the minds of some, unless a Republican goes the entire distance — that is, not only rejects Trump but embraces Clinton — it’s not a praiseworthy declaration. I disagree. The cop-out cowards are the “I support Trump but don’t endorse him” Republicans. But when a GOP officeholder says he or she can’t support Trump yet won’t vote for Clinton, the message is a clear acknowledgment that Trump deserves to lose, even if the person can’t quite say, affirmatively, that Clinton should win.
Whatever their reasoning, millions of other voters have decided Clinton is either the better choice or the lesser of two evils. That’s all the more impressive since she comes with some monogrammed luggage of the truth-trimming and corner-cutting kind, though hers is of the smaller carry-on size, and not Trump’s steamer trunk of controversies, from his sexist and racist comments to his nativism and xenophobia to his belittling manner to his designed-to-fool-the-lightly-informed policy proposals.
Those who view America as a ship of fools have worried that voters could be duped into putting this modern-day Captain Queeg at the helm. In fact, Americans have arrived at the right judgment before the debates have even taken place. And it’s nigh unto impossible to imagine them changing their minds after seeing these two rivals head to head.