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Clinton vs. Trump - The Hand We’ve Been Dealt

A Commentary By Fran Coombs

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The presidential contest that no one ever expected and many claim not to want is back on track and coming to your ballot box this fall.

Hillary Clinton rebounded from seven straight primary losses to Bernie Sanders to win big in yesterday’s New York Democratic primary. Donald Trump is sure to regain his momentum in the Republican presidential contest with his blow-out victory in the Empire State; Ted Cruz was a far, far distant third, suggesting he has little or no chance of winning states in the more diverse northeast and putting an enormous question mark next to his bid to be president.

Next Tuesday’s primaries in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Maryland, Delaware and Rhode Island all appear much friendlier to Clinton and Trump than to their rivals.

Even before yesterday’s primary, Clinton was seen as the likely nominee by 91% of voters in her party, with a record high 62% saying her nomination is Very Likely. Republican voters still view Trump as their likeliest nominee, although he has lost ground in recent weeks, but this Friday’s Trump Change survey is sure to show a turnaround for the billionaire businessman following his biggest primary win to date.

With Clinton winning big in the east and with her party’s unpopular superdelegate system as a cushion, it’s nearly impossible to imagine a scenario in which she is not the Democratic nominee.

If Trump keeps winning primaries and adding delegates, it’s equally difficult to imagine the GOP elders denying him the nomination at the party’s national convention in July even if he’s a few votes short of the 1,237 total needed to claim victory. Cruz, who is nothing if not politically astute, is unlikely to see a path to victory in November by snatching delegates away from Trump at the convention after coming in second or third in most of the remaining primaries.

Earlier this month after Trump’s momentum was already slowing in the face of $70 million in negative advertising and outspoken rejection by many Republican leaders, 51% of GOP voters still said the nominee should be the candidate who arrives at the convention with the most delegates.  That figure is likely to rise if Trump keeps winning primaries.

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So what do we know about a Clinton vs. Trump race to date?

In early March, the last time Rasmussen Reports paired the two in a hypothetical presidential matchup, Clinton led 41% to 36%, after they had been tied in two previous surveys stretching back to October of last year. But in the latest survey, 21% preferred some other candidate, while three percent (3%) were undecided. That gives both candidates a lot of room to grow their support.

It’s interesting to note, too, that while they may be winning primaries, both have high negatives. Also in early March, 49% of voters told us they will definitely vote against Trump if he is the presidential nominee of the Republican Party, but nearly as many (42%) said they will definitely vote against Clinton if she is the Democratic Party’s nominee.

Only 46% of Republicans – and 27% of all voters – think Trump is qualified to be president. By comparison, 74% of Democrats – and 50% of all voters – say Clinton is ready for the job.

Yet when it comes to which candidate voters trust more on key issues, Trump leads when it comes to the economy, job creation and immigration. Clinton has held her lead on social issues but has widened her advantage on the environment. The two are virtually tied now when voters are asked whom they trust more to handle national security. But voters still have a lot to learn about where the candidates stand on the key issues.

Among the odd things in a very odd political year is that Clinton is being forced to the political left by Sanders, putting her in a position where she is repudiating things her husband did in his presidential administration in the 1990s. So Bill Clinton, arguably the most successful Democratic president in the last 50 years, is now too conservative for some voters in his own party.

Trump has been even more critical of his party, most notably George W. Bush, the last Republican president, but he also repudiates the GOP’s longtime embrace of international free trade deals and its aggressive overseas military policies. One of the most stunning moments in the Republican debates, one that generated virtually no notice in the media, was Trump’s defense of some Planned Parenthood activities, something that would have killed a Republican presidential hopeful in previous primary cycles. But this election cycle Trump seems more in sync with GOP voters than the more traditional candidates and the party’s leadership.

Republican voters seem unlikely to gravitate to Clinton no matter what happens at the convention although many may stay home, but does Clinton risk losing Sanders voters to Trump? If the GOP establishment is more comfortable with a Clinton presidency than Trump in the White House as seems to be the case, it isn’t out of the question that some voters who also question free trade deals, military interventionism abroad and feel cheated by their party establishment might be attracted to an outsider like Trump. See last week’s column by Ted Rall, an outspoken Sanders supporter, for a very surprising defense of Trump.

Also little noticed by the media, though, was the behind-the-scenes outreach in recent days by Karl Rove and other powerful Republican insiders to the Trump campaign. Maybe all the hoopla over a brokered convention will fade by the time the delegates gather in Cleveland three months from now.

After all, mission number one for most Republicans is keeping Hillary Clinton out of the White House, and, like it or not, Donald Trump appears to be the hand they’ve been dealt.

Fran Coombs is the managing editor of Rasmussen Reports.

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See Other Commentaries by Fran Coombs .

Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports. Comments about this content should be directed to the author at  fran.coombs@rasmussenreports.com.

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