So let’s see: Republicans Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are locked in an ugly, mudslinging contest for their party’s presidential nomination that could rage on all the way to the convention.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton seems to have the Democratic nomination all but locked up – except for the annoying fact that Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont keeps chipping away at her delegate lead and continues to draw larger, more enthusiastic crowds than she does.
And while Trump and Clinton appear to have near insurmountable leads in their delegate counts, both could be tested at their national conventions this summer before they can lock up the nomination and face off in the general election.
The latest favorite political parlor game is guessing who would prevail in the general election campaign, and right now Clinton holds a decided edge. But there’s an entire regular season of baseball between now and the November election, and bold predictions about the 2016 presidential campaign have been proved wrong repeatedly in the past.
In the latest Real Clear Politics averages of recent polling on hypothetical matchups, Clinton leads Trump by 11.2 percentage points – 50 percent to 38.7 percent. Her lead over Trump in the general election was the biggest – 18 percentage points -- in last week’s Bloomberg Politics Poll.
As he frequently points out, Sanders, a self-proclaimed democratic socialist, does better than Clinton against Trump in hypothetical matchups, with a 17.5 percentage point advantage. How well he would do against Trump in a general election in which he almost certainly would be mislabeled a “communist” can only be guessed.
Meanwhile, Ohio Republican governor John Kasich – who so far has won only one primary, in his home state, and has almost no chance of being his party’s nominee, beats Clinton in hypothetical matchups by an average of 6.5 percentage points, according to RCP.
“Trump’s numbers are bad and getting worse,” says J. Ann Selzer, the pollster who conducted the survey for Bloomberg. “A majority of Americans now describe their feelings toward him as very unfavorable. That’s a 13-point spike from November 2015.”
Trump seems nearly unstoppable as he continues to roll up impressive primary victories throughout the country, while Cruz and Kasich continue to believe that they can somehow deny him the nomination at an open convention.
Cruz managed to slow the Trump express slightly last week by soundly beating him in the Utah caucuses, while Trump easily prevailed in Arizona. The next big test will come April 5 in Wisconsin. If Trump wins there, too, it may be curtains for Cruz and Kasich.
But Trump’s persistently high negative ratings – in the high 60s -- and mounting concern among Republicans and Democrats alike about his buffoonish and vulgar behavior are making Clinton look better and better, even while more than half of voters harbor deep suspicions and distrust for her.
Moreover, Trump has a huge problem with women. A recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed that 70 percent of women in both parties view him unfavorably.
And despite Sanders’s best efforts, it’s almost a certainty that the Democrats will nominate the first female presidential candidate. Even with widespread distrust of Clinton over her mishandling of sensitive emails at the State Department and her close ties to Wall Street, many women won’t hesitate to vote for Clinton over Trump, a notorious misogynist who regularly mocks the appearance of women, including Heidi Cruz.
Doubts and fears about Trump as the next commander in chief are especially prevalent now in the wake of last week’s terrorist bombings in Brussels. Clinton delivered an inspiring, thoughtful and calming speech at Stanford University, laying out her plans for combatting ISIS.
By contrast, Trump, in his shoot-from-the-hip style, was calling for closing the borders, torturing captive terrorists, targeting U.S. Muslim communities for special police patrols and cutting back on the U.S.’s long-standing support of NATO to save money.
While European allies are looking to the U.S. for leadership in responding to the latest terrorist attacks, they are being treated to the spectacle of Trump and Cruz bitterly fighting over perceived and real slights and threats to their wives.
Rick Tyler, Cruz’s former press secretary, bemoaned on MSNBC Friday that the feud had sorely tarnished the Republican brand. “The whole world is looking to the United States for leadership on how to defeat terrorism and how to defeat ISIS, and what they are seeing are two leading presidential candidates in the Republican Party having this argument.”
And that’s a plus for Clinton and the Democrats.
“It’s only slightly facetious to suggest that given the problems facing the parties and their leading candidates, a placebo nominee might well be doing better,” political analyst Charlie Cook wrote in National Journal last week. “While Ted Cruz is almost surely not the ideal Republican nominee, he runs better than Trump, with Kasich doing better than either of the other two.”
“Indeed, just about any non-polarizing Republican nominee could do quite well against Clinton,” Cook added. “A Trump nomination would seem to be the worst outcome for the GOP since he may be the only major Republican figure who can’t beat Clinton.”