Republicans aren't the only ones who have fallen into the Trump trap.
Scan the headlines and the airwaves, the reportage and the punditry, on both the right and the left, and you find this election remains first, last and always about one thing: Donald Trump. Republicans had hoped to make the contest a referendum on Hillary Clinton as Barack Obama's proverbial third term, but it turns out the one person less popular than Clinton is Trump. And he can't help turning the conversation back to himself, even when it hurts him.
Democrats have figured that out, and are now busy beating down-ballot Republicans upside the head with The Donald's every offensive utterance. Last week it was the Rev. Raphael Warnock, who had considered challenging U.S. Sen. Johnny Iskason, calling on Isakson to disavow Trump . This week it was Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed broadening the target to "all Republicans who love America."
The effect has been obvious, and not just in those down-ballot races. Clinton was unable to pull away from Trump in the polls consistently until after the Democratic National Convention, which didn't really gain traction until the theme turned away from selling liberalism and toward portraying Trump as unfit for the presidency. The emotional highlight was the anti-Trump speech by Khizr Khan, the Muslim American whose son, U.S. Army Capt. Humayun Khan, was killed in the Iraq war. And that moment was crystallized in public opinion when Trump stupidly attacked the Khans and even more bizarrely compared their son's sacrifice to his "sacrifices" as an employer of thousands.
Trump hasn't recovered yet.
But if Clinton has happened upon an unexpectedly easy path to the White House, here is what it's costing her: the ability to claim any kind of mandate for any part of her policy agenda whatsoever.
Hillary being Hillary, she (and/or her team) have produced mounds of policy proposals. She has talked about many of them. But none of them pushed disaffected Republicans, independents or even Bernie Bros. toward her.
Bashing Trump did.
"Free" college tuition funded by higher taxes on "the rich," for example, didn't win her the trust of Democrats to her left or the approval of Republicans to her right. Democrats tried hard during their convention to wrap their further-and-further-left agenda in soothingly centrist, and sometimes even conservative, tones. Yet, the evidence from opinion polls conducted this month suggests voters are still holding their noses as they side with Clinton:
- A Washington Post/ABC News poll found her backers were still virtually split as to whether they "mainly support Clinton" (50 percent) or "mainly oppose Trump" (46 percent).
- A Economist/YouGov poll showed Clinton led Trump by 7 points even though her unfavorable rating hit a new high of 57 percent.
- A Bloomberg poll had Clinton leading Trump by 6 points, even though more than two-thirds of respondents said the country is on the wrong track -- and, by a 2-to-1 margin, they blamed Democrats for that more than Republicans.
These may be the early signs of a Clinton victory in November. But they most certainly are not indications of a mandate for her to do anything -- other than not to be Donald Trump, not to speak like Donald Trump, not to act like Donald Trump.
And if there is any semblance of sense remaining in the GOP power structure -- a mighty large "if" these days -- they will use that to the advantage of those down-ballot Republicans.
For if voters are opting for Clinton in spite of their hesitance toward her, then what better hedge against those policies could there be than a Republican-led Congress? If this really is a matter of choosing Clinton as the lesser of two evils, then why let her pretend otherwise by giving her a Democratic Congress?
And if voters really wish a pox upon both parties, what better way to ensure that than by continuing to afflict each party with the other?