What Hillary Clinton Should Learn From Donald Trump: Nothing

This week has seen one of the inevitable freakouts about Hillary Clinton’s campaign. After all, her polling numbers are dropping (to right around the levels they were at the last time she ran for president), and her main rival for the Democratic nomination, Bernie Sanders, is drawing record crowds at his rallies. Perhaps, suggests Chris Cillizza, “Hillary Clinton just isn’t a very good candidate.” Jonathan Alter opines that if she wants to save her campaign, perhaps she should adopt the campaign stylings of Donald Trump, tossing aside calculation and preparation in favor of spontaneity and “authenticity.” Meanwhile, the Guardian’s Mary Dejevsky urges Clinton to end her campaign now before she suffers a humiliating defeat.

Let’s all take a breath. If you were to take all the declared candidates for president right now and assign them a probability that they will be the 45th president of the United States (multiplying their chances of winning their party’s nomination by their chances of winning the general election should they be nominated), Hillary Clinton would have to be at the top of that list, and Donald Trump would have to be right near the bottom. To restate: Hillary Clinton is more likely to become president than anyone else currently running. That may well change. Once the Republicans have converged around a nominee, that person will likely have a similar probability of winning to Clinton’s, and may even surpass hers. But right now, if you had to be any presidential candidate, she’s the one to be.

Why is this the case, even though it seems to fly in the face of current polling trends?

1. Polling this early in an election cycle is notoriously unreliable, and people’s passions may shift around quite a bit as they learn about the candidates. Remember the inevitable nominations of Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Herman Cain in 2012?

2. Everything we know about the last four decades of presidential nominations suggests that insider support is the key. Clinton has that. Sanders doesn’t. That doesn’t mean Sanders can’t win a caucus or primary here and there — he very well might. But ultimately Clinton has all the right resources for winning her party’s nomination. For the same reason, Donald Trump is highly unlikely to win his party’s nomination, which is more likely to go to Bush, Rubio, or Walker.

3. Clinton remains highly popular within her party. While Trump is currently polling first among Republican candidates, a substantial portion of Republicans claim they could never support him. Right now, that portion of the party is split among 16 other candidates, so he looks comparatively good. But once that field winnows, it crushes him.

We can certainly expect more of this kind of coverage in the months to come. After all, just saying “Clinton is the favorite for the nomination” every day is boring, and no one wants to read or write that. But the idea that Clinton should massively retool a campaign that is actually winning is silly.

Oh, and I still don’t know what “authenticity” is or how a candidate could get it by completely changing her beliefs and demeanor. But the fact that Donald Trump is perceived as having it should tell you all you need to know about it.

[Cross-posted at Mischiefs of Faction]

Seth Masket

Seth Masket is an associate professor of political science at the University of Denver.