By Chris Cillizza
Donald Trump has a lot going against him in this election. The Republican Party is struggling to unify behind him. His poll numbers among black and Hispanic voters are historically horrendous. The electoral map is tilted badly against him (or any Republican).
And yet, despite all of that, Trump not only remains within shouting distance of Hillary Clinton in most swing state and national polls but also appears to be gaining ground of late. Why? Because Clinton is not only deeply disliked but deeply distrusted by large swaths of the electorate. And in a binary choice election – if you don’t like Option A, you get Option B – Clinton’s worsening image ratings give Trump a fighting chance to win.
Take the new New York Times-CBS national poll. Asked whether Clinton was honest and trustworthy or not, 67 percent (!) said she was not. SIXTY-SEVEN PERCENT. Sure, that number includes near unanimity among Republicans (93 percent say Clinton is not honest and trustworthy) but it also includes three-quarters (74 percent) of independents and more than 1 in 3 (37 percent) self-identified Democrats.
That’s absolutely remarkable. Stunning, really.
Now, Trump’s numbers on the honest and trustworthy question are not exactly praiseworthy. More than 6 in 10 (62 percent) say the presumptive Republican nominee is not honest and trustworthy, including 32 percent of self-identified Republicans.
But here’s the thing: Trump’s appeal is rooted in a willingness to blow up the old order. Everything he stands for is not just anti-establishment but also anti-the-way-we-have-long-been-thinking-about-and-conducting-politics. Clinton is the exact opposite. She is the status quo. She is steadiness, continuity, experience.
Judging Trump by any sort of “normal” political standard is impossible. People have different expectations of who he should be and how he should act. That’s not true for Clinton. She wins by being seen as the uber-bureaucrat – someone who best knows how to make the ungainly federal system work for average people.
If people don’t believe what she says or does, then why vote for her? Why not vote for something totally and completely different, something like Donald Trump?
Clinton, finally, seems to have acknowledged just how problematic her honest-and-trustworthy numbers are for her chances of winning this fall. She has moved from jokingly responding to questions about those numbers (“Well, that hurts my feelings!”) to admitting that she needs to work on building trust with a skeptical public. “I personally know I have work to do on this front,” Clinton said late last month.
That shift is a recognition that Clinton needs to move her trust numbers to win while Trump probably doesn’t. (When voting for chaos and total upheaval, all the old rules go out the window.) That her numbers on questions of honesty and trustworthiness are getting worse not better should give Trump – and Republicans – a glimmer of hope that he can actually win this race. Or, more accurately, that Clinton can lose it.
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Chris Cillizza