A pair of polls released Tuesday provides further evidence of a scenario I posited would be conceivable back in December of last year, and predicted was possible in May: the Republican Party’s hilariously disastrous decision to nominate Donald Trump for president means that Texas is now in play. According to the Washington Post/Survey Monkey poll, he leads Hillary Clinton by a mere two points. The University of Houston, similarly, puts Trump’s lead at three.
These are not the first polls to find Trump with a surprisingly narrow lead in Texas, but my impression, from the reactions they’ve received, is that many people are just now starting to suspend their disbelief. The explanation for that would be, I suppose, that the evidence is aligned with the narrative that has emerged in the past several weeks. In 2012 Mitt Romney carried Texas by a nearly 16-point margin. But then Romney didn’t spend the final weeks of the campaign flailing around furiously, as Trump has been doing lately. It’s been a tight race in Texas all summer, but now the close margin makes sense to many people.
The narrowing Texas polls made sense to me even before Trump spent a week lashing out at the numerous women who’ve stepped forward to say that he assaulted them in precisely the way he bragged about doing, back in 2005. In fact, I predicted, in May, that Clinton could be the first Democratic presidential candidate in decades to put Texas in play. I thought that because I subscribe to the old saw: character is fate. Most Texans are decent people. On that basis alone Trump was bound to underperform Romney and the 2008 nominee, John McCain. Plus, as I noted in December, the same factor that made it hard to believe Clinton had a chance in Texas this year explains why she had a chance of doing so if Trump became the nominee: Texas is a red state. The Republican coalition runs the gamut from temperate pragmatists to principled fighters. Trump, by contrast, is gratuitously vitriolic and ideologically inconsistent at best; with him as the nominee, I wrote, many Texas Republicans would have cause to defect or abstain.
I point all of this out because the current Texas polls, and my ability to predict them, put the lie to Trump’s assertions that the election is “rigged.” He means that both metaphorically and literally. Over the past week, he’s repeatedly asserted that the media is actively colluding with Clinton and the DNC to make him look bad. He’s also insisted that voter fraud is endemic and widespread. As I wrote in August 2015, such arguments have ominous implications, in part because they are inevitably nonfalsifiable:
It’s no coincidence that [Trump] keeps casting himself as the victim. His supporters have already succumbed to the premise that Trump is a conservative outsider—a noble underdog, determined to fight the establishment and to speak truth to power. Having accepted that premise, they are predisposed to take any criticism or disagreement as further evidence for Trump’s claim that he is surrounded by powerful enemies who are determined to thwart him for their own selfish or corrupt or ideological reasons. His ultimate failure will be taken as proof that the game is rigged—against the candidate, but also against people like themselves, his supporters.
That prediction, too, seems to be playing out. The target audience, at least, is receptive to Trump’s claims. A poll taken last week found that 41 percent of voters, including 73 percent of Republicans, believe that the election could in fact be stolen from him at the ballot box. The more nebulous argument, about media bias, is even more intractable, as illustrated by this column by Breitbart’s Joel Pollak.
So I’ve been quite gloomy about Trump’s assertions and fatalistic about the prospects for debunking them. But it occurs to me that the tight race in Texas is evidence against Trump and his apologists. No one’s rigging anything here, in any sense of the word.
Our election laws, and our elections themselves, are largely under Republican control. Further, Republicans have carried all recent statewide elections by whopping margins; Greg Abbott was elected governor, two years ago, by roughly 20 percent. Voter fraud happens occasionally, as I noted in August, but it is vanishingly rare, especially in states like Texas, where Republicans have taken precautions against it. In other words, even if we assume Texas elections are vulnerable to large-scale fraud, it beggars belief to suggest that such shenanigans would be sufficiently common to obliterate the Republican margins we’ve come to suspect. Nor would impending voter fraud explain why the University of Houston poll, which put Romney’s lead at 17 points four years ago, now shows Trump and Clinton in a virtual tie.
Similarly, the fact that I’m in a position to spike the football the way I did above gives the lie to the idea that the media is rigging the election, either by directly colluding with the DNC or, more generally, by having helped prop up Trump thus far. People like Pollak, at Breitbart, can make a plausible argument that the media, writ large, has helped Trump get this far, if only by giving him so much airtime during the Republican primary. But Trump’s boosters can’t make that argument against me: I spent most of this year’s primary trying feverishly to warn Republicans against his nomination.
And in May, when I laid out my reasoning about why Trump’s nomination could put Texas in play, no one took it too seriously. Nor did people believe Clinton, later that month, when she mischievously posited that she saw a chance of winning Texas. And her campaign has, thus far, allocated its resources elsewhere; on Monday it announced its first ad buy in Texas—worth, at most, $100,000, as Abby Livingston explains at the Texas Tribune. Texas Democrats have, meanwhile, been characteristically subdued about the opportunity Trump represents. Even now, with the general election about three weeks away, many of them are surprised by the fact that Trump is struggling here, and reluctant to even get their hopes up.
Texas, in other words, is about the last state that anyone would even try to “rig” on Clinton’s behalf. Republicans have put plenty of precautions against voter fraud in place; they also swept the 2014 statewide elections by blistering margins, and Democrats effectively ceded the state’s electoral votes to them before this year’s election even began. And yet the new polls are in line with the prediction I made months ago. The only explanation that makes sense is the one I offered. Trump is struggling in Texas because he’s an incredibly weak candidate. And if he loses the election next month, that will be why.