Politics & Policy

How Much Will Really Change before November?

Trump at a campaign rally in Charleston, W.V., May 5, 2016. (Chris Tilley/Reuters)
There’s little reason to expect a seismic event that throws the election to Trump.

The good news for Donald Trump is that the election won’t be held tomorrow. The bad news is there’s not much reason to expect a dramatic change in the political landscape between now and November.

Yes, the latest USA Today survey has Trump within four points of Hillary Clinton. But with the exception of one lone Rasmussen poll, Clinton has led 29 of the past 30 national polls. Adding Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson or Green nominee Jill Stein to the mix doesn’t change her lead much. And that’s just the popular vote; the Electoral College looks even worse for Trump. Clinton’s enjoying a small lead in North Carolina and keeping Arizona close, to say nothing of the very real possibility that Trump could lose more-solidly red bastions such as Kansas and Utah.

The early talk from Trump boosters that he would put New York, New Jersey, and California in play still seems deranged. Trump’s campaign began June with astonishingly little money in the bank, and out of “a dozen or so pro-Trump super PACs established so far, only a few have reported raising significant amounts of money or interest — for a total of about $4 million as of the end of May. And most of that has already been spent.” The Republican National Committee is in slightly better shape, but it’s still behind the pace of four years ago; the RNC raised $410 million in the 2012 cycle; it’s raised $150 million so far this cycle.

It’s conceivable that Trump’s vice-presidential pick might reassure certain wavering Republicans to jump back on board, or at least win him a week of positive media coverage, but it’s unlikely to be a game-changer. Will any significant number of previously neutral or Trump-verse voters start gravitating to the Republican nominee once they know that electing him would put Chris Christie or Newt Gingrich a heartbeat away from the presidency? It seems doubtful.

RELATED: A Long Trump Summer

What other sudden X-factors could emerge between now and November? A terrorist attack? We saw that in Orlando, with no noticeable surge in support for Trump.

Bad economic news? The U.S. gross domestic product increased just 1.4 percent in the fourth quarter of 2015 and 1.1 percent in the first quarter of 2016 — not quite a recession, but not particularly inspiring. The May jobs report showed just 38,000 new jobs created, way below the average of 229,000 per month last year. The electorate’s perception of the economy in November isn’t likely to be all that different than it is now: It’s pretty “meh” and uninspiring, but nowhere near as bad as the catastrophe we faced in autumn of 2008.

#share#Some new Clinton scandal? As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton approved $165 billion in arms sales to 20 governments that donated to the Clinton Foundation, doubling the arms sales permitted under George W. Bush. Her trustworthiness and favorability numbers are pretty abysmal, but Trump’s are still consistently worse. It’s fair to wonder if there’s any scandal that could sink her support to a new low; one survey found half of Americans believe she should continue running even if she were indicted on felony charges.

FBI Director James Comey’s Tuesday morning announcement that the FBI would not recommend charges against Clinton — despite its determination that she and her underlings had been “extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information” — removes one other deus ex machina scenario for the Trump campaign.

RELATED: Republicans Are Stuck with Donald Trump until November

There’s no reason to think Trump’s much-promised general-election “pivot” will ever occur. Veteran Republican campaign staffers continue to sign on to his campaign only to resign in record time. He has left the construction of a get-out-the-vote operation to the RNC. A surprising number of Republican senators and House members say they’ll skip the Cleveland convention and are keeping their distance from him, in a sign of how toxic he remains in their states and districts.

#related#Maybe Trump could have an effective debate or two against Clinton, but would that really turn the tide? Clinton could pick a running mate that excites liberals and unnerves the middle — say, Elizabeth Warren — but would that really be enough for Trump to overcome his own dismal favorability rating?

In just two weeks, Republican delegates will gather in Cleveland and either honor the rules and officially nominate Donald Trump as the GOP’s presidential standard-bearer, or vote to change the rules and suddenly nominate someone else. A sudden switch to someone else would be one of the biggest gambles in the history of American politics, and yet it remains an open question whether it would be a bigger gamble than nominating Trump. That, in itself, is amazing.

— Jim Geraghty is the senior political correspondent for National Review.

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