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The myth of Teflon Trump

Hillary Clinton's political operation is clearly somewhat undecided about what line of attack to take against Donald Trump, and no Democratic Party presidential campaign would be complete without a small army of backseat drivers ready to second guess the candidate. So I don't doubt that the substance of what Amy Chozick, Alexander Burns, and Jonathan Martin report in their article "Hillary Clinton Struggles to Find Footing in Unusual Race" is true.

But a key piece of their framing buys into one of the oddest myths of the 2016 campaign — the entirely false legend of "Teflon Trump," who shrugs off problems that would sink a conventional candidate. They write that "key Democrats say they are growing worried that her campaign has not determined how to combat her unpredictable, often wily Republican rival, to whom criticism seldom sticks and rules of decorum seem not to apply."

Criticism really has stuck to Donald Trump

The reality is that Donald Trump is currently viewed unfavorably by 58 percent of the population, with fewer than 40 percent saying they have a positive impression of him.

That is the conventional rules of politics at work. Trump gets criticized, and much of the criticism sticks — driving the public to a deeply negative view of him.

You see the same thing at the elite level. Most elected Republicans are supporting the Republican Party's presidential nominee. But some are not, including Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House of Representatives. Meanwhile, a number of other elected officials are taking the odd position that they support Trump but aren't endorsing him.

This stuff all takes perhaps less of a toll on Trump than one might like. But the toll is very real. The result of saturation-level media coverage of Trump is that he is very well-known and very unpopular. The criticism sticks.

Hillary Clinton is winning the election

What's bothering Democrats is that they think Trump should be losing in a landslide, which does not currently seem to be the case.

That said, at the moment the HuffPost Pollster polling average has Trump losing by a 4-point margin, which, though not enormous, would equal Barack Obama's win over Mitt Romney in 2012.

What's more, Clinton is currently going through a uniquely unfavorable stretch of the calendar while Trump has secured the GOP nomination and is enjoying a wave of new endorsements from former opponents — and all the while she is fending off the last throes of Bernie Sanders's insurgency.

There's no guarantee of what is going to happen in November, but if the election were held tomorrow, she would win. And her lead is more likely to grow than to shrink over the course of June as she wins endorsements from Sanders, Obama, Elizabeth Warren, Cenk Uygur, and Robert Reich and adds voters on the left.

Parties have historically struggled to capture a third straight term in the White House, and 2016 does not have the makings of an economic boom year. Nonetheless, Clinton seems more likely than not to win — which is more or less what you want from a candidate.

Clinton's problems have nothing to do with Trump

If Democrats want an explanation for why the election isn't a blowout, the thing they should be remarking on is not Trump's fake immunity to criticism — it's the unpopularity of their own nominee. Clinton's unfavorable rating is higher than that of any other major party presidential nominee in history, with the sole exception of Trump.

Fortunately for her, the Trump-Clinton gap is actually rather large. And in her defense, there appears to be a structural rise in nominee unpopularity linked to growing political polarization.

Still, the fact remains that Democratic Party elites deliberately cleared the field in favor of a not-very-popular nominee whose limitations as a stump speaker and poor relationship with the press were well-known and widely understood at the time. The thinking was that a divisive primary would have hurt the party, but they ended up getting a divisive primary anyway.

Clinton can reasonably hope that when the primary ends, her numbers will improve, though it's far from guaranteed that this is the case. The point, however, is that whatever challenges Clinton is facing in the general election, they have nothing to do with difficulty attacking Trump. He has been criticized from an unusually wide range of figures, and those criticisms have stuck. He is unpopular, and he is currently losing the election.


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