On first glance, everything seemed to go swimmingly for Hillary Clinton in New York last week, and foreshadowed a big Empire State victory for her in the general election. In the primary, she earned more than 1 million votes — nearly double the 525,000 of Donald Trump. Plus, she's a Democrat. She's a New Yorker. She'll crush him there in the fall, right? And then sweep to victory in a massive electoral landslide unlike anything we've seen since 1984?
Well, possibly. Maybe even probably. But don't bank on it.
Lots of pundits have posited that Trump could actually beat Clinton in New York. Most of them make a variant of two arguments: One, his appeal to white working class voters is strong; two: he's more of a rough-and-tumble, born-and-bred New Yorker than she is, and has a stronger claim to the state. Both of these arguments are trivially true.
Furthermore, the New York primary was closed — no independents allowed — and because Democrats outnumber Republicans in New York state by a two-to-one margin, Hillary's big vote total was exactly what one would expect her to get if she had the same level of organic support among Democrats as Trump did among Republicans.
There's another caveat: Trump ran against two other candidates; Clinton ran against only one. That further dilutes the strength of her victory.
And another: Polls show that the independent voters who couldn't vote because of New York's primary rules would have supported either Trump or Bernie Sanders; very few would have chosen Clinton.
A final nugget from the exit polls: 20 percent of Sanders supporters say they'd support Trump in the fall over Clinton.
Still, I firmly believe Clinton will win New York in November. Here are four reasons:
1. The group of people who vote in primaries overlaps with, but is smaller than, the group of people who vote in the general election. It is very hard to make an argument about the general election based upon any particular aggregation of facts about primaries. On principal, I tend to caution people against reading too far ahead.
2. Yes, Trump has managed to bring into the primary fold a bunch of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who ordinarily only vote in general elections. But in the general, these people only vote for Republicans. They call themselves independents, but they are functionally Republicans. This does not say much of anything about his ability to expand the party's coalition in the fall.
3. Trump has huge problems with Republican women. These problems aren't going away.
4. Every general election poll I've seen of New York has Clinton leading by double digits. Trump would have to win an overwhelming majority of working class whites, and somehow manage to shrink Clinton's expected margin of victory among black voters and Latinos in New York City. (He could do this by suppressing the vote — somehow — or by appealing to it — somehow). He'd have to swing women to him in Nassau and Westchester counties; it's hard to see how or what Clinton could do that could possibly alienate these voters so pungently.
Unless she's indicted by the Justice Department for her role in mishandling classified information.
Yes, that potentiality — an extremely small one, based on what we know the facts to be, but one that does exist — is what animates a lot of this catastrophic thinking.
A lot of Democrats seem to assume that Clinton will be much more vulnerable in the fall than she is even now, when her favorability ratings are lower than any candidate except for Trump.
Plenty of people think Trump is going to run a scorched-earth campaign against Clinton, that he will try to bury her among women by pointing out how Clinton shunned and tried to discredit women who accused President Clinton of misdeeds. That by November, Clinton will inevitably be much weaker than she is now, and that she might lose blue states like New York as a result.
It's true, this could happen. But I wouldn't bet on it.