Would Donald Trump actually be an electable general election candidate?
That’s the question pinging around the Washington political world Wednesday in the wake of a new CNN/ORC poll that shows The Donald running only six points behind likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in a head-to-head matchup among registered voters.
That represents significant movement in recent weeks, according to this poll series. In July, Mr. Trump trailed Mrs. Clinton by 16 points in CNN/ORC numbers. And to think the punditocracy thought Trump was finished after he opined that former prisoner of war Sen. John McCain wasn’t a true war hero.
Here’s our take: These numbers don’t really reflect how Trump might fare next November as nominee. It’s early. This is one poll. Political trends aren’t serious until there are more data. We in the media say that all the time but seldom follow our own advice.
Head-to-head matchups prior to the actual nomination are a particularly iffy form of survey. They measure the heat of a moment. Who knows what’s going to happen over the coming months during the actual political campaign? Predicting the future of anything involving Donald Trump at this point is a fruitless exercise.
That doesn’t mean they can stop face-palming at ClintonWorld HQ. It’s true that these numbers aren’t good news for the former secretary of State.
Think of these arbitrary head-to-heads as a rough measure of partisan balance. Given that a majority of GOP voters haven’t rallied around a front-runner, inserting “Trump” or “Bush” or “Walker” into a matchup versus Clinton isn’t that much different than putting in “Generic Republican Candidate.” It’s as much an indication of Clinton’s relative strength versus the entire field as anything else.
And Clinton’s leads are not wide. The CNN/ORC survey has her six points ahead of Scott Walker as well as Trump. She’s nine points in front of Jeb Bush, and an almost-comfortable 10 ahead of Carly Fiorina. [Editor's note: The original misstated the poll results for Mr. Walker, Mr. Bush, and Ms. Fiorina.]
In contrast she’s got an overall 25 point lead over Bernie Sanders.
This bears repeating: Clinton remains the overwhelming favorite to win the Democratic nomination, but the general election is likely to be close. Very close. That’s something enthusiastic Clinton supporters tend to overlook.
As an aside, we’ll note that the CNN/ORC survey also shows that the Clinton e-mail controversy could damage her prospects. Fifty-six percent of respondents said that in using a home server and personal e-mail while secretary of State, Clinton “did something wrong.” That’s up five points since March.
Trump’s relative parity with the rest of the GOP field here might indicate one thing: He’s not going away. All those “end of Trump” stories, dealing with his McCain comments, his slap at Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, his birthright citizenship remarks, and so forth, have proved premature.
Over at the Washington Monthly, left-leaning Ed Kilgore reiterates that this is one poll. It’s early.
“But it’s another blow to the iron confidence of Establishment Republicans and MSM types and political scientists that all this ‘populist’ nonsense will blow over and Republican voters will obediently fall in line for the candidate with the most endorsements by party leaders,” writes Mr. Kilgore.