Conventions are useful for clarifying elections, and the Philly confab notably so. A week of speakers—Democrat after Democrat beseeching the nation to please know that Hillary Clinton really is a good gal—has made something clear: This is, essentially, a one-person presidential race.
It's Hillary against Hillary. This November is about whether Americans can look at 40 years of Clinton chicanery and nearly a decade of broken Obama promises, and still pull the lever for her. Not that Donald Trump doesn't matter. He does, in that he can help sharpen those concerns. But Hillary is the main event.
The polls bear this out. Aside from his recent convention bump, Mr. Trump's numbers have been largely consistent. Whether he leads or trails, and by how much, is mostly a function of voters' shifting views on Mrs. Clinton. Lately her poll numbers have been devastating.
A CNN survey this week showed 68% of voters say she isn't honest and trustworthy—an all-time high. CBS found virtually the same number: 67%. In the CNN poll, meanwhile, only 39% of voters said they held a favorable view of Mrs. Clinton. This is lower than any time CNN has polled Hillary since the spring of 1992—before she was first lady.
Mr. Trump's poll numbers also bear this out. He is currently leading in the Real Clear Politics average despite no real ground game, little real fundraising, little policy message, a divided conservative electorate, and one of the messiest conventions on record. As of June 30, Mrs. Clinton and her allies had raised a stunning $600 million, which is already being spent to trash Mr. Trump. Yet to little or no effect. Mr. Trump is hardly a potted plant, but even if he were . . .
Mrs. Clinton's problem is Mrs. Clinton. She is running against her own ethical morass. Already she was asking voters to forget about cattle futures and fake sniper fire and Whitewater and Travelgate. Then she chose to vividly revive the public nausea with her self-serving email stunt and her Clinton Foundation money grubbing.
Hillary is running, too, against the reality of President Obama policies, which she promises not only to continue, but to build on. The president’s glowing appraisal Wednesday night of his time in office bore no relation to the country most Americans see—one in which health care costs more than ever, they struggle to pay the bills, and terror attacks on Western democracies are a weekly event. The state of the country might not be quite so grim as Mr. Trump painted it in Cleveland, but the mood is much closer to that grimness than to Mr. Obama’s forced optimism.
The president’s policies, which Mrs. Clinton now owns, have alienated significant tranches of voters that she needs this fall—in particular blue-collar Democrats. Coal communities are rejecting Hillary outright. Many union workers are too, whether they be Teamsters for Trump, or police officers appalled by the Democrat Party’s attacks on their profession.
Mrs. Clinton is trying to win back that blue-collar support by moving sharply on issues like free trade, but she’ll be hard pressed to out-populist Mr. Trump on that score. Whatever Bill says, Americans do not look at Hillary and see “change”—at least not the kind of change they are after.
Hillary is also running against her own party, which has moved left without her. She has chased after progressives, adopting one position after another from Bernie Sanders,feting Elizabeth Warren, working “progressive” into every sentence. But this week showed that her party’s liberal wing is unconvinced, still feeling the Bern. Yes, she has done some uniting in Philly, and will likely get her own bump. At the same time, 45% of Democrats who voted in the primary told that CNN pollster they still wish Sanders were the nominee.
Mrs. Clinton will continue to warn that her opponent is a threat, to try to worry voters enough that they overcome their misgivings about her. Mr. Trump can certainly make that job easier for her. Conversely, he can help his own numbers and campaign by focusing precisely on her vulnerabilities, and by presenting a stronger policy agenda of his own.
Mrs. Clinton is ultimately banking that a significant number of Americans won’t be able to vote for Mr. Trump. Certainly some won’t. But a dislike of Mr. Trump does not imply a like of Mrs. Clinton—and certainly not a vote for Mrs. Clinton.