Victory Is Slipping Away for Trump

August 04, 2016

Last month’s Republican and Democratic national conventions showed that both parties are deeply split internally over ideology and personalities. Not only that, but their presidential nominees remain highly unpopular.

The GOP gathering in Cleveland was poorly produced and featured the presidential primary’s runner-up, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, in a prime-time appearance pointedly refusing to endorse Donald Trump.

The Democratic convention in Philadelphia was marred by supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders, enraged by hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee showing that the party establishment favored Hillary Clinton. They booed the party’s chairwoman out of office and chanted “no more war” when Democratic leaders spoke of fighting Islamic State and al Qaeda.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton polished their flawed images, but the Democrat did a better job. Between July 17 and this Wednesday, Mrs. Clinton’s favorable rating rose to 40.6% from 38.4% in the Real Clear Politics average. Her unfavorable rating dropped to 53.9% from 56.2%. That’s a total swing of four and a half points.

During the same period Mr. Trump’s favorable rating moved to 35.3% from 33.6% and his unfavorable rating to 57.9% from 60.1%, a total swing of 3.9 points.

The general-election campaign has hardly begun, and data from Gallup shows that both candidates are more widely disliked than any presidential hopeful since at least the 1960s. Even in October 1964, Barry Goldwater’s unfavorability rating was 47%, while in October of 1972 George McGovern’s was 41%.

Mrs. Clinton appears to have received the bigger convention bounce. The day before the GOP gathering, she led Mr. Trump 43.8% to 40.6% in the Real Clear Politics average. By July 25, the Republican was in front, 44.3% to 44.1%. On Wednesday Mrs. Clinton was back ahead with 46.5% to his 42%.

Whether this boost is temporary or durable won’t be known for a few days. But Mr. Trump’s self-destructive actions in the past few weeks have given her the advantage.

He began the morning after his convention by devoting his news conference to again trashing Mr. Cruz, including reviving the crazy theory that the Texas senator’s father was implicated in JFK’s assassination. Mr. Trump then returned to his Manhattan penthouse for the weekend, going silent until “Meet the Press” that Sunday, where he proposed a 15% to 35% tax on imported goods.

Then the next week, amid charges that Russian hackers were behind the Democratic National Committee email dump, Mr. Trump suggested that maybe the Russians could help find Mrs. Clinton’s missing 30,000 emails.

Most damaging, Mr. Trump has for the past week battled with Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the Gold Star parents of a fallen war hero. He even mocked the grieving mother. This is unprecedented cruelty.

But that isn’t all. On Sunday Mr. Trump suggested that the election is “rigged” because debates this fall were scheduled months ago on nights with NFL football games. He attacked fire marshals in Colorado and Ohio for enforcing the fire codes that limited how many people could cram into his rallies.

On Tuesday he refused to endorse two prominent Republicans up for re-election, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Sen. John McCain, in their primaries. Then he belittled Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a New Hampshire Republican facing a tough race that could determine whether the GOP keeps the Senate.

How does any of this advance Mr. Trump’s agenda or reassure Americans that he is worthy of support? The nominee’s defenders say that he “tells it like it is” and refuses to be “politically correct.” They are only enabling his worst instincts.

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