Tuesday, April 26, 2016 | 2 a.m.
If trends hold and the parties’ front-runners become the parties’ nominees, November is going to be an epic election: a hobbled titan (Hillary Clinton) versus a mortally wounded one (Donald Trump).
The upcoming contests only buttress the possibility that those two will be the last man and woman standing.
As of Sunday, The Huffington Post’s Pollster average of polls had Trump leading Ted Cruz by almost 30 percentage points in Connecticut, 19 points in Pennsylvania and 20 points in Maryland. All three states vote today. The real estate developer is leading in Rhode Island and Delaware, as well — states that also vote today — but those states don’t have the same volume of polling to make the results as reliable.
That same site had Clinton leading Sen. Bernie Sanders by 26 points in Maryland, 15 points in Pennsylvania and 6 points in Connecticut. She, too, was leading in Rhode Island and Delaware.
We seem to be watching the prequel to a foregone conclusion.
Now the question is: How would these two candidates square off in a general election?
As The New York Times reported last week, Paul Manafort, Trump’s new campaign chief, seemed to suggest on a tape obtained by the paper that up until now, the real estate developer’s incendiary style was just an act.
This is how the paper reported the contents of the tape:
“Mr. Manafort acknowledged Mr. Trump’s deep unpopularity — his ‘negatives,’ he called them — but invoked Ronald Reagan’s initial polling deficit in 1980 to claim Mr. Trump’s deficiencies were not permanent. Mr. Reagan’s unfavorability in 1980, however, was never as high as that of Mr. Trump now.
“‘Fixing personality negatives is a lot easier than fixing character negatives,’ said Mr. Manafort. ... ‘You can’t change somebody’s character. But you can change the way somebody presents themselves.’
“And that, Mr. Manafort said, was in the works.”
Will the real demagogue please stand up!
How must all of Trump’s supporters feel — the ones following him like wounded puppies because he is their rapid rabble-rouser who “tells it like it is”? Maybe he’s just been telling you what he knew you wanted to hear. Maybe he’s been playing on your anxieties, insecurities and anger to further his own ambitions. Maybe this has all been an act, a “part he’s been playing,” and you are the gullible audience who got played.
Maybe you are simply backing a man who has hijacked your passions and your party.
But on the substance, Manafort seems to suggest that his guy, the ultimate branding machine, simply needs one more rebranding, that his problems pale in comparison to those of Clinton, his likely opponent.
Maybe. Maybe not.
As The Wall Street Journal noted in a recent poll, Clinton’s unpopularity — as measured by poll respondents saying they either have somewhat or very negative feelings toward her — hit a “dubious new record of 56 percent.”
The only problem for Republicans, however, is that “an astounding 65 percent” feel that way about Trump, leading the paper to conclude that he and Cruz “may be the only two Republicans who could lose to Hillary Clinton.”
Exit polls in New York, where Trump won by massive margins, revealed that even among Republican voters, 22 percent said they would be scared of his presidency, and another 14 percent said they’d be concerned about it.
Only 8 percent of Democrats said they’d be scared of a Clinton presidency, with 25 percent saying they would be concerned about it.
In fact, naturalization applications are on the rise, specifically because Hispanic immigrants are nervous about the potential presidency of Trump. As The New York Times reported last month:
“Overall, naturalization applications increased by 11 percent in the 2015 fiscal year over the year before and jumped 14 percent during the six months ending in January, according to federal figures. The pace is picking up by the week, advocates say, and they estimate applications could approach 1 million in 2016, about 200,000 more than the average in recent years.”
The article continues: “While naturalizations generally rise during presidential election years, Mr. Trump provided an extra boost this year.”
If Clinton lacks enthusiasm among her fans, that lack is likely to be more than made up for by voters’ enthusiasm for anyone but Trump.
It’s too far from November to make predictions about the outcome of a race. We still have to learn the definitive outcome of each party’s nominating process.
There could be a surprise in Clinton’s emails or in Trump’s taxes — should he ever release them. There also is a tremendous war chest of super PAC money on the sidelines waiting to get into the race, and there’s no way to know how that will shape the election.
Nothing is settled and inevitable, but at this point one must say: Advantage Clinton.
Charles Blow is a columnist for The New York Times.