Now that Donald Trump is pretty much a lock as the Republican nominee, some Democrats are in a festive mood. To them, Trump is a joke candidate who will be easily dispatched by Hillary Clinton in November.
Those Democrats should be careful what they wish for, and not get too cocky when there's a whole campaign ahead.
In the spring of 2015, the prospect of a Donald Trump presidential campaign was a joke. In the summer, the Trump campaign became an off-season distraction, an amusement for political junkies during the long months when congress was on vacation and there was nothing but reruns on TV.
The Summer of Trump became the Fall of Trump, then the Year of Trump, and here we are in mid May, with naysayers revising their predictions and admitting that, yes, Trump defied expectations by earning the Republican nomination, but he'll never be president.
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Isn't it about time people stopped trying to be Nostradamus? And haven't people learned their lesson about underestimating the most unconventional political candidate in recent memory? At the rate things are going, the same pundits could find themselves four years from now assuring readers and viewers that Trump will never, ever win a second term as president.
The Democrats celebrating Trump's all-but-assured nomination have been pointing to polls that show Clinton leading nationally. Never mind the fact that those same polls show a much closer race than expected in key swing states. And never mind the fact that, with Bernie Sanders still dogging Clinton in the primary race, it's entirely too early to start taking the pulse of likely voters in the general election.
As readers pressed him to seize on those polls and declare Clinton the heavy favorite, data journalist Nate Silver -- formerly of the New York Times and currently of ESPN's Five Thirty Eight -- went on a Twitter rant on May 10, telling the amateur prophets to calm down.
"For f--k's sake, America. You're going to make go on a rant about general election polls -- in May?" an annoyed Silver wrote, per Politico.
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Silver warned people not to jump to conclusions, pointing out that predicting Electoral College results requires "rich data," and noting, "We won't have that for a few months."
Apparently, Silver's learned his lesson. Back in September, he assured an audience at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan that Trump was almost certainly not going to be the GOP nominee.
"Calm down," Silver told the audience, according to Business Insider. Silver compared Trump to Clinton in 2008, and Rick Perry in 2011, candidates who had impressive leads at the same point, leads that ended up vanishing as the primary season went on.
The American Enterprise Institute's Norm Ornstein was one of only a handful of analysts who took the Trump campaign seriously when the real estate mogul officially launched his presidential bid in 2015. Ornstein points out that discounting Trump not only ignores the candidate's ability to defy conventions, but the ideological pendulum that usually prevents one party from holding the White House for more than two terms.
"When you have an election and history is not to be completely discounted, we know that elections that occur after eight years of a two-term president focus around how much change you want," Ornstein told Vox. "And Hillary Clinton still has that hurdle to overcome that she’s not exactly a candidate of change. And if events occur that create more of a desire for change, then people might roll the dice with Trump."
And that touches on another key point: Democrats who are feeling good about Clinton's chances, who might even feel a bit smug given Trump's negatives among important voter demographics, are forgetting just how polarizing Clinton is. Depending on the poll, Clinton's negatives are just as high as Trump's, and in some cases they're even worse.
One undeniable hurdle for Clinton is that people simply don't trust her. And that's not just the view of the general electorate -- it's a view held by a large number of Democrats, which is why Clinton is still slogging through a primary battle when many predicted she'd wrap up her party's nomination well before the Republicans had chosen a candidate.
At this point in the game, Clinton expected to be focused entirely on the general election. Instead, her campaign is still using its resources on the primary battle, assuring donors and backers that the Democrat will remain a strong candidate even as she continues to lose primaries to Sanders.
"The longer Bernie stays in, and the longer he is not mathematically out of the process, the weaker we're going to seem to be," former DNC chairman Don Fowler told Politico.
Finally, there's the nagging question of the Department of Justice and its investigation into Clinton's homebrew, rule-breaking, open records-defying email server. It's still unlikely that the DoJ, which is headed by a partisan who serves at the president's pleasure, will indict Clinton in an election year. Some people really are above the law, even when it comes to leaving state secrets carelessly unprotected for any hacker with a modicum of skill.
For Sanders supporters, the email scandal and possible indictment represent their last hope, the only obstacles that could certainly derail a Clinton candidacy. But if the FBI continues taking its time, the result of that investigation may come too late to help Sanders -- but just in time to help Trump.
Instead of celebrating a victory and underestimating an opponent who has thrived as an underdog, Clinton's supporters should prepare for a long, difficult slog to November.