Election 2016: In the Battle Between the Bad Boy and the Hypocrite, Bet on the Bad Boy

Brendan Smialowski/AFP, Justin Sullivan/Getty

The highly respected Quinnipiac Poll tells us something interesting: This presidential race, Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump, is neck-and-neck.

Consider the data from the new “Q Poll,” dated May 10: Florida, Clinton 43/Trump 42; Ohio,Trump 43/Clinton 39; Pennsylvania, Clinton 43/Trump 42.

Could it really be that Trump is that close with Clinton? Well, there it is—there are the numbers. We can note that most other polls have Clinton leading by a wider margin, but they are generally national polls; this new “Q Poll” is focused on only three large swing states. And, as we know, in the struggle to win 270 electoral votes, it’s a state-by-state battle.   

We might note something else in the Q Poll: Even though Clinton is ahead of Trump in two of the three states, she is well below 50 percent in all of them. And since Clinton, representing, as she does, the Obama administration, is virtually the incumbent, that’s a really bad sign for her. That is, in an election between an incumbent and a challenger, if the incumbent is below 50, then the undecideds typically will break for the challenger. To put it another way, if the incumbent can’t “close the deal,” then, at the last minute, the loose voters will opt for the non-incumbent. 

So what’s going on? How could Clinton, backed by all her billions and Brocks, be in such trouble?  

Here’s a theory, based on a universal experience of American life: high school. We’ve all heard the phrase, “Life is just a giant version of high school,” and, like most clichés, there’s a lot of truth to it.

We all remember, back in high school, that there was a bad boy, someone known as a troublemaker. Yet at the same time, more often than not, he had a kind of swaggering, alpha-male charisma. C’mon, admit it: You remember him. Maybe that person was you, or maybe instead you were one of the wannabes who wanted to hang with the Big Duck, or maybe you were one of the wallflower-nerds who just gawked from the distance. But you do remember, because you were there—as we all were.

And remember, also back in high school, there was that shrill and priggish teacher who taught Latin or something? You know, the spinsterish schoolmarm who was always telling you to shush, and maybe writing up slips for bad deportment? The one who shouted all the time and had no sense of humor? You might have feared her, maybe respected her, but chances are, you didn’t like her.   

Of course, Miss Latin Teacher had her own following in the school; her base was the teacher’s pets—and most high schoolers loathed them. But possibly, plenty of other students figured, well, it’s best to behave and play by the rules—even the dumb rules. 

So in our imaginary high school, maybe it’s sort of even: Bad Boy vs. Latin Teacher. And here we are: The Donald vs. Miss Hillary.  

But then, if the Latin Teacher is shown to be a hypocrite, or worse, well, her support erodes—and maybe collapses. And that seems to be happening to Clinton: Her dubious ethics over the decades are catching up with her. Today, she is embroiled, of course, in the e-mail issue, and there’s also the looming, dooming, iceberg-like reality of Peter Schweizer’s 2015 book, Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich, which is soon to be, also, both a graphic novel and a movie.  

Sure, Facebook has probably done its best to shield Clinton from any bad news, but nonetheless, the truth is out there—and coming into focus.  

Poring through the internals of the new Q poll, The Wall Street Journal’s Neil King tweeted, “Is Hillary honest/trustworthy? FL: 66% no; OH: 69% no PA: 67%; no. What about Trump? FL: 57% no; OH: 58% no; PA: 55% no.” 

Reacting to King’s tweet, The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza tweeted in response, “If [Trump] wins–or has a chance of winning—it’s about the honest/trustworthy question.”

So as we can see, Trump is mistrusted, but Clinton is mistrusted more. And yet one of them must win this November. Indeed, we are reminded of the the old joke about two guys walking in the woods and coming across a bear, which starts to chase them. The punch line is that one guy says to the other, “I don’t have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you!” And that could be the key question of 2016—who is mistrusted more? 

Yet we can add that Clinton’s problem is not just that she isn’t trusted, it’s also that she is trusted. That is, if she she wins, she can not only be trusted to be a continuation of Barack Obama; she can also be trusted to implement her own further liberal agenda. As she said in March, touting her Green credentials, “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.” She later apologized and has promised an unfunded, and unspecified, $30 billion welfare program as a way of making up, but the damage was done.   

Moreover, Clinton has, throughout her campaign, chosen to stand with the Obama administration and with business-as-usual.  The Washington Post’s David A. Farenthold examined Clinton’s wonky policy platform and drew this unflattering conclusion: “At its heart, this wordy list amounts to a statement of Clinton’s confidence in two things. The status quo.  And the federal bureaucracy.”

Stand up for the status quo? And the bureaucrats? For an incumbent, that sounds like a formula for being stuck in the low 40s in the Q Poll.  

Continuing, Farenthold wrote, whereas Trump and Sanders “want to overhaul American government,” by contrast, “Clinton mainly wants to tinker with its parts.”   

We can observe: At a time when the RealClearPolitics polling average shows that just 26.6 percent of Americans think the country is going in the right direction, while a whopping 65.1 percent think we’re on the wrong track, Clinton’s stand-pat stance would seem to be more suicidal than shrewd. 

Finally, there is one slight flaw in this everything-I-need-to-know-I-learned-in-high-school analogy: Trump wasn’t really a bad boy in high school. How do we know? Because he was in military school, at the New York Military Academy in Cornwall-on-Hudson NY. Not only was he a student there—forced to live within the tight discipline of short hair, shined shoes, and creased pants—but in his senior year, he was named a captain of the class. To be sure, Trump was also listed as a “Ladies Man” in his school’s 1964 Yearbook, and we can further allow the possibility that he was, uh, high-spirited in other ways, too. Still, his record in high school is clear: On net, he must have been a good boy, not a bad boy.  

A half-century later, Trump is who he is; his sometimes bad-boy-ish life is an open book.  Indeed, he has written many books, and in them, we can see that he has mostly fond memories of military school and its shaping influence. And so today, we can judge him, and his works, as we might wish. Trump isn’t perfect, but as we have seen, politics is relative—and the biggest difference for the voters to evaluate is that Trump, unlike Clinton, is no fan of the incumbent status quo.  

Meanwhile, Clinton’s life is an open book, too—and that seems to be a bigger problem for her.  

And the real campaign is just getting started.   


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.