As momentum swings firmly towards Hillary Clinton, there will inevitably be talk of a Donald Trump comeback. There is still a month to go and the media needs a close race for rating purposes.
However at the risk of being accused of talking up my book, we need to equally discuss just how bad things could get for Trump and consider the possibility of a meltdown. Frankly, the polls and news cycle are shocking and, given his propensity to double down on every mistake, could get worse.
First, the polls. Never mind the nationwide numbers showing her opening up a lead – the numbers in swing states suggest he needs a miracle. In Pennsylvania – which I’ve long argued is an essential component of his unlikely route to 270 electoral college votes – two surveys today put Clinton 9 and 10% up.
Likewise, the latest figures from Colorado, Virginia and New Hampshire all suggest her firewall is rock-solid. Win those four states, plus Michigan and Wisconsin (states where he has never even polled within 3%) and she’s certain to cross the line. Whatever positive signals come out from more favourable states like Iowa and Ohio, this is basic mathematical reality.
It is incredible to think that only eight days ago, some were talking about a dead-heat and fivethirtyeight was constantly revising it’s overly reactive model. Some of us never bought that narrative, expecting the news cycle to reverse after the debate and Trump to wilt under scrutiny. As it turned out, we couldn’t have written the script better.
A large chunk of the Republican base never bought into Trumpism. However as the year drew on, most chose delusion rather than action to avert electoral disaster. The GOP establishment’s embrace of Trump, thwarting a substantial plot to ‘Free the Delegates’ at the convention, will go down as a historic mistake. Ted Cruz’s belated endorsement will haunt him forever.
The dynamic in play was pure delusion. A belief that the wild, offensive, unprepared, undisciplined, policy-illiterate version of Trump was merely an act to win the primaries. That he would pivot to become a normal candidate when confronted with a general election audience. Big mistake.
As it turns out, what was Trump’s greatest strength during the primaries turned out to be his greatest weakness – authenticity. When he was telling blatant repeat lies, mocking a disabled reporter, insulting women, gold star families, Mexicans, judges or Heidi Cruz – that was the real Trump.
The debate was bad enough but it didn’t necessarily have to be ruinous. Obama lost the first debate in 2012.
The response – picking fights over Alicia Machado, 3am tweetstorms, threatening to go after the Clinton’s marital problems, implying that Hillary had been unfaithful to Bill – was deranged. Simply the worst electoral strategy anyone can ever remember.
In doing so at just the point when the key undecided voters were most likely to be paying attention, he has blown any chance of altering a reputation that has consistently measured 60% unfavourable. More critically, the massive deficit behind Clinton on temperament and being qualified looks irreversible.
Worse may be yet to come. The full effect of the tax returns revelations may not be factored in yet. It now invites the media to go hard after his charitable contributions, or lack of. David Fahrenholt’s detailed investigations could haunt Trump for the rest of the election cycle.
And this may just be the tip of the iceberg. Trump’s alleged Russian connections and backing of Vladimir Putin remain live stories. So too Trump University and pay-for-play allegations regarding Florida AG Pam Bondi.
Trump’s dealings with Castro’s Cuba are rising as an issue, especially in Florida, where Marco Rubio is defending his Senate seat and needs answers. The latest scandal is that Trump allegedly did business with Iran – not something that will please Republicans and will undercut their collective criticism of Obama’s deal with Tehran.
It is easy to imagine that a couple of weeks down the line, the campaign will be engulfed in scandal and Trump dismissed as too far behind in the polls to be considered competitive. Top Republicans like Ryan and Rubio withdraw their endorsement, in a belated defence of their own reputations.
If so, what then? Republicans, many of whom are already struggling with conscience, will have little incentive to turn out for him. A very low percentage becomes realistic – currently backing the two bands for Trump’s vote share to be under 41% equates to around around 5.0 (20%).
Or could something more dramatic happen – like Trump withdrawing? Or just enough speculation for markets to over-react as they did when Clinton got sick last month. All year I’ve felt that with Trump, anything is possible. He does not behave like anyone we’ve ever seen before in public life.
I can only reiterate that, without expecting it to happen, there may be some mileage in taking massive odds about the likeliest alternatives. Particularly VP candidate Mike Pence – who could do his reputation plenty of good with a strong showing in tonight’s debate.
Otherwise, the market always seems to favour Paul Ryan and it is true that he is probably the best placed to unify the party. The two candidates the GOP should have picked – John Kasich and Scott Walker – might also enter calculations.
This scenario is a longshot and I’m not going to alter the portfolio to accomodate them. Just getting Trump beaten would be a great result and liquidity on this outsiders won’t last long enough to represent meaninful advice.
Nevertheless at the current odds, these characters are worth considering at massive odds with a view to laying back if they shorten. After all, people have backed Michelle Obama and Jill Stein today. There is infinitely more chance of Ryan et al being called to the rescue.