Since he famously descended down the escalator 17 months ago, a Donald Trump presidency has always felt more conceptual than reality.
It felt even more that way when, in the final month of the race, Hillary Clinton started to build double-digit leads with regularity in both national polls and those of key battleground states.
Wednesday, six days before Election Day, is the day a Trump presidency started to feel a bit more realistic. Perhaps more so than ever.
The uptick in polls. The momentum. Most importantly, a suddenly plausible path.
“He has definitely the momentum going for him. His intensity of support is high. FBI decision to open is helping him. Even before that the Obamacare premium increase story is also helping. The populist sentiment is strengthening,” said Raghavan Mayur, the president of TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence, which conducts a daily national tracking poll in partnership with Investor’s Business Daily/TIPP.
First thing’s first: The fundamentals of the race largely favor Clinton.
The Democratic nominee has — in fact, has always had — a more plausible path to victory. Trump can win Ohio, Florida, and North Carolina, for instance, and still lose. And right now, the map still has him losing.
“The torrent of swing state polls still showing Hillary in pretty decent shape — which reflects what we’re seeing privately as well — has me a lot less worried about a Trump presidency than I was over the weekend,” said Tom Jensen, the director of the Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling.
“The race has gotten closer but it’s mostly just because of Trump resistant Republicans coming home to Trump in the end, not because of people jumping off Hillary’s ship.”
For Clinton, that’s the glass-half-full side of the story.
The glass-half-empty side is what you get when you look at the context of the race over the past few weeks.
A week ago, for instance, FiveThirtyEight’s now-cast projected Clinton would attain about 334 electoral votes and had an 83% chance of winning. On Wednesday, her Electoral College margin was down to a state — and her chances of winning down to 65%.
A week ago, the political world was talking about which reliably red state Clinton might win. Georgia? Arizona? Texas? On Wednesday, the political world wondered why in the world Clinton was still going campaigning in Arizona while her poll leads were slipping in once-blowout states like Pennsylvania and Michigan.
A slew of new polling data released Wednesday also told a story of general tightening, even as Clinton’s blue “firewall” is holding up for now:
- Three national daily tracking polls found the race in a tie.
- A CNN poll suggested Trump pulling away in Ohio.
- Another CNN poll found Trump up 6 points in Nevada, though other polls have trended toward Clinton lately.
- Polls showed North Carolina a tie. Florida was trending Trump. And the trend lines are facing downward for Clinton in Pennsylvania (where five recent polls showed her with an average 3.4-point lead) and Michigan (where a poll Wednesday found her with a 3-point advantage).
Perhaps the most significant evidence that the glass is half-empty, however, has come from Clinton herself. Over the past several days, amid the fallout from a reactivated FBI investigation into her private email server, she has warned in increasingly dire terms about the threat of a Trump presidency.
On Wednesday, she even played out the dark fantasy out loud in front of voters in Las Vegas. She revisited Trump’s outlandish comments on different groups — Mexicans, immigrants, Muslims, African-Americans, and asked them all to imagine:
“Here is something I hope you will try with the people you are talking to. Just take some time and think — imagine — that on January 20, 2017, it is Donald Trump standing in front of our capital and taking the oath of office. Now remember, because on January 20 we are going to have a new president and things are going to change. That is for sure. The question is, what kind of change are we going to have? Are we going to build a fairer, stronger, better America, or are we going to fear the future and each other?”
On Friday, two days after campaigning in a deep-red state she thought she had a chance to swing, Clinton will find herself in Michigan, desperately trying to shore up a state that has gone blue in every election since 1992.