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Clinton’s Lead Shrinking Ever So Slightly

trump-clinton-debate-townhall

Several new polls are out which show Hillary Clinton’s lead over Donald Trump diminishing. While all of the variation is within the margin of error on a per-poll basis, the fact that it’s happening in most polls would indicate a minor trend.

The only “news” that has happened is an FBI announcement that it has found some emails in the Anthony Weiner investigation that could possibly have bearing on the closed investigation into the Clinton email controversy. But the trend started before that and there hasn’t been much time for that to settle in, since the announcement hit Friday afternoon.

Additionally, looking closely at the numbers, Clinton is remaining quite steady while Trump is gaining a bit.  There are two, related, explanations for this.

First, from yesterday morning’s ABC News tracking poll:

Changes in the poll’s latest four nights compared with the previous four are not mainly about people shifting in their candidate preference, but about changes in who’s intending to vote. Among those results in this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates:

  • As Trump’s controversies last week and the week before move farther into the rearview mirror, Republicans are expressing greater likelihood to participate: Eighty-one percent of registered Republicans now are likely voters, up from 75 percent a week ago.
  • In one example, there are 6 points more Republicans and GOP-leaning independents showing up in the ranks of non-college white women. This group was broadly for Trump a few weeks ago, then less so; it’s now back, favoring him by 59-29 percent.
  • Loosely affiliated or reluctant Clinton supporters look less likely to vote, perhaps given their sense she can win without them – a supposition that looks less reliable today.
  • Vote preferences also are part of the mix. At its lowest early this week, 82 percent of Republicans supported Trump. It’s 86 percent now. And his share of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents has gained 6 points, from 78 to 84 percent.

Trump, further, has gone from a 6-point deficit to a 16-point advantage among independents, with more Republican leaners in their ranks.

This is, in other words, a type of regression to the mean. Republicans disgusted by Trump’s antics but never went over to Clinton had dropped out of the likely voter mix. They’ve gradually filtered back, somehow rationalizing their candidate’s bad behavior by recollecting their disdain for Clinton and her bad behavior.

Second, as Dan Roberts notes for The Guardian:

Hillary Clinton’s dominant lead over Donald Trump in opinion polls is narrowing slightly as the final week before the US presidential election approaches, with independents and undecided voters appearing to gravitate toward the two main candidates.

[,,,]

A well-regarded rolling average of national opinion polls calculated by Real Clear Politics showed a 4.4 percentage point lead for Clinton over Trump on Friday, with libertarian Gary Johnson and Green candidate Jill Stein dropping to their lowest levels since polling for the 2016 election began.

Ten days ago, after struggling in the first two presidential debates and still fending off damaging allegations of sexual assault, Trump was 7.1 points behind in the same four-way rolling average of national polls, though much of his gain since appears to have been at the expense of Johnson rather than Clinton.

None of that should be surprising.  Partisan loyalty is amazingly hard to overcome. And, while fringe candidates that more accurately reflect one’s preferences are exciting during the run-up to the election, it’s really hard to muster up the enthusiasm to cast a protest vote when there are only two possible winners.

We spend so much of our energy focused on the candidates and campaigns that we forget that decades of political science research shows that elections are mostly about public perceptions about the economy and the sitting president. As Steven Taylor has been noting, while this has been an inordinately unusual campaign, it’s a surprisingly normal election.

Further, while the trends are exciting in a horse-race sense, the fact of the matter remains that Clinton has a substantial lead and one that’s reinforced by the Electoral College. As Taylor pointed out yesterday, her polling lead is closer to Obama’s relative blowout in 2008 than the tighter races of 2004 and 2012.

Beyond that, to the extent that campaigns matter, the dynamics almost certainly favor Clinton. Not only is there little doubt that she’s put more resources and expertise into a professional get-out-the-vote effort but there’s a much higher likelihood of a late-breaking event damaging his turnout than hers. She’s been extremely vetted for a quarter century now and new revelations are likely to be of the level of Friday’s news: irritating but not damaging. Conversely, I would be shocked if there aren’t more sexual abuse allegations against Trump and a well-timed release of unaired footage from “The Apprentice” or the Howard Stern show.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He earned a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Tony W says:

    There is an air of desperation from the deplorables on my Facebook feed. That’s usually a good sign.

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  2. Pch101 says:

    I’ve been expecting a close result, and my expectations haven’t changed over time. Fortunately for Clinton, Trump has probably alienated just enough women, minorities and a few male Republicans to clinch it for her.

    I was speaking to a blue state Republican friend of mine who has decided to vote for Johnson as a protest vote even though he doesn’t think much of him. The key point here is that he also said that he would hold his nose and vote for Clinton if he lived in a swing state. I suspect that there are just enough people like him in order to preserve Clinton’s lead, but his views won’t show up in a national poll because he can avoid voting her her without compromising his primary goal of keeping Trump out.

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  3. James Joyner says:

    @Pch101: Right. That’s essentially the position I’m in. I’m certainly not voting for Trump but find Clinton sufficiently distasteful that I won’t vote for her unless it tightens considerably here in Virginia.

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  4. Heading into the final week of the race, there are two points worth keeping in mind.

    First, this appears to be similar to the tightening we saw in the final week(s) of 2012 (see the chart at the link); and,

    Second, as both this post and Steven Taylor’s from yesterday note, it’s the Electoral College that truly matters and Clinton’s lead there is still fairly strong.

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  5. @James Joyner:

    Clinton’s lead in the Commonwealth appears insurmountable.

    Also, the reports I’ve seen regarding the early absentee voting to date indicate (1) overall, turnout is up statewide compared to 2012, and (2) early voting has been particularly heavy in Northern Virginia. We don’t know who these people are voting for, of course, but the fact that NoVa early voting is up is being taken by most as probably much better news for Democrats than Republicans.

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  6. rachel says:

    @James Joyner: But what to do? Jill Stein is a moron, and Johnson has been acting rather goofy lately. I don’t suppose McMullen is an option there?

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  7. One more thing from a set of NBC/Marist state polls released this morning:

    In North Carolina, Clinton is up over Trump 47% to 41%, with Gary Johnson at 8%. In a two way race it’s Clinton 50% Trump 44 %.

    Florida remains tight, with Clinton leading in this particular poll 45% to 44% with 5% for Johnson and 2 % for Stein. In a two way race it’s a 46%-46% tie

    Trump needs both of these states to have a realistic shot at 270 Electoral Votes. Clinton could lose both states (and Ohio) and still win the election.

    CBS also has a set of state polls out this morning:

    Penn: HRC 48, DJT 40
    NC: HRC 48, DJT 45
    Colo: HRC 42, DJT 39
    Ariz.: HRC 42, DJT 44

    Arizona seems to me to be the most significant here. Trump losing one Romney state (No. Carolina) would be a problem. Losing two states Romney won in 2012 would basically be fatal.

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  8. @rachel:

    McMullin managed to get on the ballot in Virginia.

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  9. Guarneri says:

    And in news from IL, former Gov Blagojevich held a press conference plaintively asking “so she sold political favors for cash? The Turks no less! What’s a man got to do to get a break?”

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  10. R.Dave says:

    @James Joyner: That’s essentially the position I’m in. I’m certainly not voting for Trump but find Clinton sufficiently distasteful that I won’t vote for her unless it tightens considerably here in Virginia.

    While I certainly understand that view, I’m of the opinion that Trump – or more particularly, his racist, sexist, xenophobic, belligerent messaging – needs to be as thoroughly repudiated as possible, including by running up the score in the states where Clinton wins. The national popular vote will be viewed by many as an indication of national political/cultural attitudes, and the two-party horse race approach will mean that it’s the spread between Clinton and Trump that will speak the loudest.

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  11. Mister Bluster says:

    …news from Illinois.

    Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is doing time at the Federal Correctional Institution, Englewood, Colorado.
    Just another reason not to pay any attention to GasBag G.

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  12. PJ says:

    @James Joyner:
    Please vote third party.
    Don’t listen to R.Dave above.

    The longer the Republicans fail to learn, the better.
    A huge difference in voting totals may end with the GOP changing.
    And then a Republican might be able to win the Presidency.
    We don’t want that.

    Vote McMullin.

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  13. JKB says:

    @Doug Mataconis: the fact that NoVa early voting is up is being taken by most as probably much better news for Democrats than Republicans.

    Well, of course, those in NoVA not in uniform have a fear of Trump as pointed out by Camille Paglia in the quote below. Of course, those in uniform have the real prospect of being abandoned in the field when under fire if Clinton is in the White House.

    …yet if Trump wins it will be an amazing moment of change because it would destroy the power structure of the Republican party, the power structure of the Democratic party and destroy the power of the media. It would be an incredible release of energy… at a moment of international tension and crisis.’

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  14. dxq says:

    PJ, if you’re worried that republicans will get too smart too soon, I think you can relax.

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  15. PJ says:

    @dxq:
    Republicans could get perfect vision in the next election. It’s the 20/20 election after all!

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  16. Mister Bluster says:

    @PJ:..Republican perfect vision!

    Only if they wear these.
    http://www.legacyamericana.com/assets/images/catalog/5090_detail.jpg
    (Be sure to look for the smiling elephant.)

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  17. Ratufa says:

    @James Joyner:

    I won’t vote for her unless it tightens considerably here in Virginia.

    This is an election where one candidate is clearly lacking the knowledge and temperament to be President. Whatever your distaste for Hillary, whether or not to cast a vote for her should not be a decision decided by emotion. Wrt basing a decision on the polls: I think it’s a mistake to decide to not vote on the grounds that other people in your position will behave differently than you. Also, it’s possible that the race may tighten shortly before the election, and that tightening may not be reflected in polling data.

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  18. CSK says:

    @Tony W:

    From what I can tell from reading at some of their favorite hang-outs, the Deplorables seem to be split between those predicting a Trump landslide and those predicting violent revolution if Clinton wins. Funniest comment I saw today–so far–from a Trumpkin was the wish that there could be some way “traitors” to this country such as George Wiil and Bill Kristol could be jailed for tailing to get behind Trump.

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  19. Stormy Dragon says:

    I think both candidates are sorta immune to “late breaking events” at this point. In both cases anything that comes out is just going to confirm what voters already suspected about them. If someone is voting for either they’ve already decided that anything unseemly about them is outweighed by the unseemly things about their opponent.

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  20. CSK says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    I agree that it’s difficult to believe that there isn’t any voter who hasn’t made up his or her mind by now. But it’s in the interests of the Trump Cultists to push the notion that many voters will be so horrified by this latest batch of emails that they’ll switch to Trump, or decide in favor of him if they were wavering. It’s delusional, I know, but then the whole Trump campaign has been based on illusion and delusion.

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  21. dxq says:

    It isn’t even about policy–Trump proves it’s tribalism. They don’t care about trade issues or marginal tax rates for the rich, they care about ‘That guy’s with me against the foreigners and fancy-talkers!’

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  22. JKB says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Bill Clinton speaking on the law enforcement revelations so close to the election. Unprecedented, if you don’t go back as far as the start of the Clintons’ career on the national stage.

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  23. SenyorDave says:

    @PJ: The longer the Republicans fail to learn, the better.

    Fail to learn? Trump is a large part of their base. Bottom line is that he has done a half dozen totally disqualifying things in this election. But the birther thing to me stands out. He is a birther five years after Obama produced his birth certificate. I say is a birther since there is no reason to believe he has changed a bit, and he was extraordinarily proud of his birtherism in the first debate. In some ways this was his (and a large part of the GOP) most disgusting act of all, and I hope the African American community will always remember that most of the Republican leadership was silent on this issue or in some cases endorsed it.

    Its been said before but it needs to always be repeated. He is a racist, sexist pig who has openly bragged about being a sexual predator. He steals from his own charity, is totally ignorant of government, seems to welcome the idea of a trade war, is a cheat in business. As close to a worthless human being as I’ve ever seen in any election.

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  24. dxq says:

    The GOP won the popular vote for president one time in the last 25 years, and that was the sitting president after 9/11.

    Failing to learn from failure is their Core Competency.

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  25. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Plus, a lot of highly motivated voters have either already done early voting (like me) or mailed in their ballots (my mom).

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  26. Grumpy Realist says:

    Just voted early here in Cook County. Like usual, it was a fourteen-page ballot of which thirteen-and-a-half pages was the replacement or retention of judges. (Also two feel-good referenda to which I crankily voted on and one addition-to-the-Illinois constitution to which I also voted thumbs-down on. I’ve seen enough messes here in Illinois because someone attached something to the Illinois Constituition along the lines of “earthquakes are illegal!”

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  27. Gustopher says:

    @R.Dave: If the message one wants to send is that they would have voted Republican if not for Trump, third party is the way to go — if the third party candidates get a higher percentage than normal, it shows the votes that the Republicans left on the table very clearly.

    Dr. Joyner’s position of strategically voting third party — he will vote for Clinton if his state is close enough that it might make a difference — splits the difference, and can muddle that message. Its the right thing to do, if one believes Trump is dangerous, but it is harder to see the pro-Clinton votes from the why-did-you-idiots-nominate-a-racist-carnival-barker votes.

    All of this presumes that the Republicans are capable or willing to read anything into the election results, or do anything with that information.

    I don’t see any evidence of either — it will be claimed that Clinton has no mandate because beating Trump doesn’t count, and that Trump failed because of his personal issues and not because he was a racist with terrible policy goals that fit in disturbingly well with the Republican Party.

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  28. Gustopher says:

    @dxq:

    The GOP won the popular vote for president one time in the last 25 years, and that was the sitting president after 9/11.

    Failing to learn from failure is their Core Competency.

    Meh. It’s a cute talking point, but it falls apart if you look at it closely.

    We’re talking six elections, the first two of which had a very strong third party run in Ross Perot. So, only the last four are normal elections that can really be used predictively. And now we are down to 16 years.

    Bush-Gore was pretty much a tie (not an actual tie, but close enough that it is substantially different, and really cannot be seen as a repudiation of the party). So, down to 12 years.

    Bush-Kerry had the Republicans winning, showing that Republicans are still acceptable and the either-would-have-been-fine analysis for Bush-Gore was correct. So we are down to 8 years.

    Not enough to demonstrate any significant movement that cannot be fixed by moderately better candidates.

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  29. PJ says:

    @Gustopher:

    We’re talking six elections, the first two of which had a very strong third party run in Ross Perot. So, only the last four are normal elections that can really be used predictively. And now we are down to 16 years.

    Exit polls in 1992 showed that Perot voters would have split evenly between Clinton and Bush. In 1996, if you would have given Dole every Perot vote, Dole would still have lost the popular vote.

    So, Republicans have lost the popular vote in every election in the last 25 years but one.

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  30. PJ says:

    Just to add, for Clinton to lose the popular vote in 1992, Bush would have needed almost two thirds of the Perot voters to vote for him.

    (This obviously based on every Perot voter either picking Clinton or Bush and not staying home. Would be different if the Perot voters who would have picked Clinton over Bush stayed home in larger numbers than those who would have picked the reverse. But anyone arguing that would need to show data supporting it.)

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  31. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    Partisan loyalty is amazingly hard to overcome.

    Yes! We’ve been seeing this phenomenon in both the posts and the threads here.

    I want to know where Camille Paglia buys her weed. She’s said off the wall stuff before, but that one was jaw dropping level off the wall.

    Hmm… I don’t recall that WJC was head of the FBI in 1992. He was doing something else at the time… as I recall, it was something to do with someone running for office or something…

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  32. Pch101 says:

    @PJ:

    Comparing 1992 to 1988, there were 12.8 million more votes cast for the president. The Democrats added 3.1 million, the Republicans lost 9.8 million.

    Comparing 1996 to 1988, there were 4.7 million more votes cast for the president. The Democrats added 5.6 million, the Republicans lost 9.7 million.

    The exit polls of the time say one thing, the data says another. Republican votes were down about 10 million when Perot was running, while the Dems were getting more voters; it took until 2000 for the GOP to get them back.

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  33. JohnMcC says:

    @Gustopher: That tune…. The one you were whistling as you walked past the graveyard….. What was the name of that song? You never hear it anymore and we liked it so much way back when.

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  34. al-Ameda says:

    @CSK:

    From what I can tell from reading at some of their favorite hang-outs, the Deplorables seem to be split between those predicting a Trump landslide and those predicting violent revolution

    Exact-a-mundo. I was with family members (my father and 5 of my brothers and sisters) the other day and they are now fully expecting Trump to win big now. This is starting to resemble 2012, when my father and siblings were genuinely shocked that Romney did not win, they thought Mitt was going to win easily. They believed the Conservative opinionista claims that ‘mainstream’ polling that had Obama ahead was deeply flawed.

    This is the most amazing election season since 1968, but in a deeply warped kind of way.

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  35. Hal_10000 says:

    though much of his gain since appears to have been at the expense of Johnson rather than Clinton.

    I’m sorry, I have to snicker a bit at this after getting lambasted from the Left for the last month about how we can not possibly vote for Gary Johnson, that it was crazy to vote for Gary Johnson, that only a moron would vote for him. And this non-stop caterwauling by the Clinton supporters has lead to Johnson losing support to …. Trump.

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  36. Hal_10000 says:

    One thing I would note. You mentioned Clinton’s electoral college advantage. Silver is now projecting about an 8% chance that Clinton loses the popular vote but wins the electoral college. I’m REALLY hoping that doesn’t happen because it would be a nightmare with Trump. But if it does, there will be the cold comfort of watching everyone argue exactly 180 degrees from where they arguing in 2000 and watching blue states unsign the NPVIC as fast as they possibly can.

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  37. Gustopher says:

    @JohnMcC: It’s an old-timey tune, “Marching Through Georgia,” which was about the Union crushing the South for all time.

    There are demographic shifts that are making things easier for Democrats and harder for Republicans in presidential elections — but that doesn’t mean the Republicans are no longer viable, or even that this advantage will continue.

    Trump is probably the single worst candidate the Republicans could have nominated (Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina might have been worse), and it’s not going to be a massive blowout.

    Also, just for historical counterpoint, from 1968 through 1988, the Republicans solidly won all but one election — 4 out of 5, both popular and electoral. And, in 1992, some of the strongest Democrats held back from running since they didn’t think it was winnable. The current Democrat domination isn’t any more permanent than that, and it is as foolish to think that Democrats will be inevitable as it was for Cuomo to skip running against GHWBush.

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  38. wr says:

    @JKB: Always wondered what kind of person was dumb enough to take Paglia seriously. To be fair, though, I doubt JKB has any idea who she is — he just found some quote that either agreed with what he already believed or he thought would annoy liberals and ran with it.

    And this is what the self-styled greatest intellect of the 20th century — Paglia, not JKB — is reduced to: clickbait for mouthbreathers.

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  39. al-Ameda says:

    @JKB:

    Well, of course, those in NoVA not in uniform have a fear of Trump as pointed out by Camille Paglia in the quote below. Of course, those in uniform have the real prospect of being abandoned in the field when under fire if Clinton is in the White House.

    Camille Paglia is as relevant to cogent political analysis as is Anthony La Paglia.

    But since you bring it up … that is, abandonment of troops under fire, can you tell me why Republicans in 2012-2016 care more about the death of 4 American diplomatic staff in Benghazi (9 investigations of Hillary Clinton) than they did about the deaths of 240 marines in the 1983 bombing of the Marine Barracks in Beirut (no Republican investigations of why those marines were in harms way in the first place)?

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  40. Pch101 says:

    @al-Ameda:

    Camille Paglia is as relevant to cogent political analysis as is Anthony La Paglia.

    I’m not sure why you would insult LaPaglia like that. I have no idea what his political views are, but they couldn’t possibly be as cliched as hers.

    In any case, it should be obvious by now that right-wingers love their word salad. But as nutritionists know, empty calories aren’t good for you.

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  41. Kylopod says:

    @Hal_10000:

    Silver is now projecting about an 8% chance that Clinton loses the popular vote but wins the electoral college.

    I’m afraid you’ve got it mixed up. He gives Trump an 8% chance of winning the EC while losing the popular vote. He only gives Clinton a 0.3% chance of the same feat.

    Throughout the year he’s consistently given Trump a much higher chance of being the beneficiary of a popular/EC split than Clinton. The reason, apparently, is that Trump is wildly underperforming in red states where it’s much less likely to make a difference to the outcome of the election.

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  42. Mikey says:

    @JKB:

    Well, of course, those in NoVA not in uniform have a fear of Trump

    I live in NoVA and you’re full of shit.

    As per usual.

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  43. Jen says:

    This won’t make a darn bit of difference to his supporters, but Eichewald’s piece today about Trump’s companies’ behavior with emails certainly is an eye-opener.

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  44. Mikey says:

    @Jen: It makes me think every criticism Trump levels at Clinton is pure projection.

    Literally everything he slams her for, he himself does or has done.

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