Obama Rises While Clinton Falls

The latest Washington Post/ABC News survey has the president’s approval number at 58%, which is higher than it’s been at any point since mid-summer of 2009. As Philip Bump explains, this is very good news for Hillary Clinton because it’s been historically much easier for a candidate to succeed a popular president of his own party than an unpopular one. I think that’s what we’d all intuitively guess to be the case, but the numbers do back it up.

As of now, the Post/ABC News poll is an outlier, showing somewhat stronger support for Obama than other surveys in the field, but they agree that the president has been rising and that he’s at over fifty percent approval.

Of course, what the actual candidate does matters more than how people feel about the incumbent, and Clinton has been going through a rough patch in her campaign of late. This probably explains why her polls and the president’s seem to be heading in opposite directions and the presidential horserace numbers have narrowed considerably since the conclusion of the two party’s conventions in July.

It’s not unlikely that widespread dissatisfaction with the choice between Trump and Clinton is the main driver of Obama’s improving approval numbers, as people increasingly reward him for looking good by comparison. If that’s the case, Philip Bump may be overstating how much Clinton stands to benefit from Obama’s popularity.

A new wrinkle was introduced into the campaign yesterday, as Clinton was captured on video slumping and needing to be helped into a waiting vehicle. Explanations that she succumbed to the heat at the 9/11 ceremonies in New York have been met with widespread skepticism since it wasn’t oppressively hot in the city yesterday. Her physician’s explanation that she became dehydrated and has pneumonia provides a fuller more comprehensible explanation, but the episode raises questions about her physical fitness and, depending on how it is handled from here, could do more damage to her reputation for candor.

Like it or not, Clinton seemed to be exhausted by the end of her term as Secretary of State, which involved a staggering amount of international travel. Trump surrogates have been trying to raise questions about her health and stamina for weeks, and this gives them the opportunity to argue that they weren’t just engaged in dirty smear politics.

I’m not sure that Trump knows quite how to handle this gift. So far, he seems to want to underplay his advantage, but he’s also using the occasion as an opportunity to release information about his own health, since his prior attempts were so laughable.

Clinton has cancelled a planned trip to California that involved some fundraisers and media appearances, which seems like a sound medical decision but will highlight the health question until she is returned to the campaign trail and performing with her usual vigor.

If she does recover quickly and get back out on the trail, this could largely blow over, but it will not blow over completely.

In fact, the two candidates’ age (Clinton is 68 and Trump is 70) was always going to be a concern for the public. What this episode should prompt is a closer look at both vice-presidential candidates. Given the huge distinctions between the policies and character of Clinton and Trump, as well as the ideological gulf between the Democrats and the Republicans, this election should not be decided by people’s guesses about the relative health of the candidates. But, if you want to speculate on those matters, then the potential replacements for Clinton and Trump should be compared and contrasted.

Some people might like Trump’s bluster and attitude, but how do they feel about the extreme prudish social conservatism of Mike Pence? Would they rather he be president than Tim Kaine?

As for the two top contenders, Trump has always needed some Black Swan series of events to give him a puncher’s chance in this election. He’s undoubtedly thinking that his odds just went way up, and they probably did.

For those who are terrified by the prospect of a Trump presidency but maybe a little unenthusiastic about Clinton, this is a wake-up call. The time for complacency is over.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.