As voters mull the devastating FBI report on Hillary Clinton’s email disaster, there’s a chance they may conclude that Donald Trump is the lesser of the two evils running for the White House this year. The New York Times:
Hillary Clinton has emerged from the F.B.I. investigation into her email practices as secretary of state a wounded candidate with a large and growing majority of voters saying she cannot be trusted, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll. [...]
Mrs. Clinton’s six-percentage-point lead over the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald J. Trump, in a CBS News poll last month has evaporated. The two candidates are now tied in a general election matchup, the new poll indicates, with each receiving the support of 40 percent of voters.
To be sure, a Trump win is still unlikely. Never in American history has a major party nominee been as wildly unqualified for high office as Donald Trump. But many voters seem to be going through a dispiriting cycle: The more they look at him, the less they can endure the thought of him in the highest office at the land, so they look at her—but the more they do, the more they rebel against the idea of her in the Oval Office as well. So they turn back to him…
This is an election in which many voters will approach the ballot box thinking about minimizing the damage to the United States: Which of the two candidates is less likely to inflict irrecoverable wounds on America’s constitutional order and place in the world? Is Donald Trump’s apparent mix of ignorance, vanity, deceit and hotheadedness more dangerous than the contempt for the rule of law and sense of entitlement apparently demonstrated by the combination of the email matter and the incomprehensibly brazen decision by the former President Clinton to meet privately with the attorney general just before the FBI director was to decide on charges against his wife?
Both candidates, in other words, have done things that in the mind of a rational voter could disqualify them from the presidency.
We do not, as a nation, have a lot of experience with choices like this, and it may be that voting behavior will be harder than usual to predict. It’s likely, for one thing, that Trump’s shortcomings grate much harder on elite sensibilities than they do on those of ordinary Americans. The well-socialized, well-seasoned upper-middle class is scandalized by Trump’s bluster and contempt at such a deep level that it is hard for many in the political class to understand, much less assess, his appeal.
And there is a factor that needs to be taken into account as well: Given the manifest shortcomings of both candidates, it is likely that many voters will approach the choice this year with a bitter sense of betrayal and disdain—for the status quo and the political establishment that has presented them with such a terrible choice. In that case, voters might think that with two unacceptable candidates running, the only way to express their distaste for the process and anger at those whose leadership has brought the country to this point is to vote for the candidate the establishment most hates. That would clearly be Trump.
The Clintons are in many ways the ultimate expression of the status quo: they are well-socialized into the world of the media, business, and political and professional elites. They operate seamlessly and effectively at the highest level of cosmopolitan, international life. They know everybody who is anybody, and they have done far more business with leading CEOs, bankers and governments than Trump has. For anybody who thinks the status quo isn’t working, and that the country is headed down the wrong path, the Clintons are the symbol of all that is wrong.
Hillary Clinton remains the most likely winner, but the erosion in her support following the Comey statement is real news. After several weeks of non-stop commentary about Trump’s failure to capitalize on his primary wins, about disarray in the Trump campaign, about a failure to raise and spend money on ads, and after a series of embarrassing kerfluffles and car crashes, we see in a series of polls that Donald Trump has gained ground on Hillary Clinton.
The 2016 election is shaping up as a truly toxic mix of identity politics, negative campaigning and polarization for profit, in which each side will seek to fire up its base by demagoguery and demonization of the other side. This is not what America needs right now, but it is what we look likely to get.