Opinion

Relax, liberals: The Clinton email story isn't going to make Trump president

This is not a game changer

For months I've been getting texts, emails, and phone calls from friends with questions like "Oh my god is Trump going to win?" and "What is Clinton thinking?" and "IS IT TIME TO PANIC?!?!?" With just a week left in the campaign, let me say: Everyone needs to settle down.

Of course anything could still happen, and my suspicion is that this campaign has one more juicy scandal left in it. But Hillary Clinton is still almost certainly going to become president, and the latest non-revelation about Clinton's emails — which is what we have to call it because nothing was actually revealed — isn't going to change that.

In fact, if you look over the scope of the entire race, things have been rather stable. Clinton has led all along, and she still does. If we start at the beginning of 2016, her average margin in the polls has gone up and down between around 3 and 8 points. Now it's about 6, which is actually a pretty comfortable lead (in 2012, Barack Obama never led Mitt Romney by more than 5.5 points; at this stage he was ahead by 1.5). That's not to mention her advantage in the Electoral College, the fact that Democrats are showing an advantage in early voting (23 million Americans have already voted), or her vastly superior ground organization.

But the essential stability of the race — one with a real but not overwhelming advantage to the Democratic nominee — was about what you would have expected without Donald Trump, based on the state of the economy and Obama's popularity. The political science journal PS: Political Science and Politics recently gathered together nine forecasting models using variables like economic growth and presidential approval to predict this year's results based on what has happened in previous elections; seven of the nine predict a Clinton win, and the creator of one of the remaining two thinks his model is wrong this year.

As crazy as it gets sometimes, what the campaign does more than anything else is reinforce people's existing beliefs. If you're a Democrat, there's a good chance that you like Hillary Clinton more now than you did a year ago. You saw her campaign in a wonkish way, and perform well in all three debates. You heard people you consider smart and thoughtful make a case for why she'll be a fine president. You've put her weaknesses into perspective and given more consideration to her strengths. And maybe most important, you watched as she got viciously and dishonestly attacked by all the people you despise in politics — which activated your tribal instincts to defend her, not only to others but to yourself.

As new information arrived and new stories emerged, everything passed through the filter of what you were already inclined to believe, so it was exceedingly unlikely that some new development would force you to make a 180-degree turn in your thinking. Reinforcement may be the ultimate effect of a weird story like the one that broke last Friday, when we learned that the FBI is looking at some emails that might or might not mention Clinton and might or might not have something to do with that server of hers. Republicans saw the story and said, "Aha! She's corrupt! And bad! Because emails!" Democrats looked at the story and said, "Give me a break — this baloney again?"

Even Donald Trump, as bizarre a candidate as he is, hasn't been able to upend the basic partisan calculation that structures presidential elections. His candidacy has been a test of party loyalty, and the GOP has passed with flying colors — or failed miserably, depending on how you want to look at it. Yes, there are some Republicans who will either vote for Clinton, choose a third-party candidate, or not vote for president at all. Even a small number makes a big difference, since Republicans need nearly absolute loyalty in order to win (that's because there are slightly more Democrats in America than Republicans, so the GOP can't afford to lose any of their partisans). But at the moment polls have shown around six out of seven Republicans sticking with their nominee, a number that is only going to grow (albeit slowly) as Election Day approaches.

And you couldn't have come up with a better individual to test that loyalty. Donald Trump is a recent convert to conservative ideology, which he expresses with absolutely no evidence of sincerity. He offers something to alienate every key constituency in the GOP, whether it's his occasional forays into isolationist talk (anathema to the neocons and other national security conservatives), his protectionism (abhorrent to the business conservatives), his libertine lifestyle and lack of religiosity (a no-no with the Christian right), or his lack of concern with cutting spending (distressing to the Tea Partiers). Then there's the fact that he is, in nearly every way you could imagine, a revolting human being. Barely a week goes by in which we don't learn of some new dimension to his awfulness. If there's any virtue he embodies or character flaw he has avoided, it's hard to think of what it might be.

Yet despite all that, Republicans are still with him. Which is why the election is so close.

But it's not so close that some minor continuation of a story we've already heard plenty about is going to upend everything and turn a Clinton win into a Trump win. So, my liberal friends, take heart. It's not over yet. But almost.

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