Hillary’s Floor is Trump’s Ceiling

I have a theory as to why Hillary and Trump are essentially tied in the polls right now: Trump is at his ceiling and Hillary is at her floor. 44% is where Hillary is at when she’s having a poor news week, and 46% is where Trump is at when he’s having a strong news week.

I don’t think Trump has any more voters he can really attract. All the low-hanging fruit is picked. The Republican base, the Republican Party as a whole, and conservative leaning independents: that’s Trump’s 46% (max).

So I predict that once Hillary starts to consolidate the Democratic vote, you won’t see many polls–not even Rasmussen–that consistently put her in a dead heat with Trump. She’ll always be in the 44-55% range and Trump will always hover in the 39-46% range. The rest will go to the Libertarian candidate.

This shouldn’t make for complacency. Democrats will need to get out the vote to guarantee a win in November. But I think what we’re seeing is Trump’s high water mark in polling right now, in this very week (the last week of May, 2016). It looks close, like Trump could break out to a new level, peeling off Hillary voters, drawing 50% or more of the vote–but this is illusory. Trump really has nowhere to go from 46%, but down. Every percentage point above 46% is going to be, for him, akin to the dieter knocking down those last few pounds of a goal. They’re the most difficult. Like a dieter, even if Trump were to get closer to his goal (50%+1)–which he won’t–the gain would be brief and unstable–and vulnerable to rapid collapse.

Trump getting between 39-46% of the vote is his natural level. Given the demographics and voting patterns of the country (women are more likely to vote than men; Hispanic voter registration is on the rise, etc.), Trump’s natural level of appeal to the American voting population in 2016 is about 39-46%–and that’s where Trump is likely to land on election day (somewhere below Romney, who got 47% of the vote).

Trump’s fundamental weakness in the polls is why he dodged a debate with Bernie this week. The moment Trump has voters’ full attention on issues that he’s supposedly strong on (protecting blue collar workers, etc.), people will register just how fully he is in the pocket of the rich, Wall Street, and the Republican Party. (Bernie would point out Trump’s hypocrisies forcefully.)

Take the minimum wage, for instance. If Trump commits to raising the minimum wage, he alienates key Republican voters, and if he won’t go as high as Hillary and Bernie on a number (Bernie’s number is $15 an hour), he loses the argument that he’s for the workers anyway.

This will all be absorbed by the electorate when the Super PACs start swift-boating Trump, demonstrating that where Trump is seemingly strong, he’s actually weak. In the Republican primary, the ad war was tepid, but in the general election, it will be fierce and relentless. Trump will have great difficulty maintaining 46% of support from the electorate as a whole, let alone 50%. Hillary will get her swift-boating from pro-Trump PACs as well, but, again, her floor is roughly equal to Trump’s ceiling.

Or, to put it in Emily Dickinson terms, Trump’s cornice is in Hillary’s ground. Because Trump could not stop for demographic death, demographic death will kindly stop for him. This is what the 2016 election is about: demonstrating to Republicans in real time that a party devoted to anxiety politics and blue collar white resentment, even when combined with celebrity (a hyper-confident, TV-familiar con-man), cannot win in America’s fast-evolving demographic environment–and even if Democrats put up a relatively weak candidate like Hillary Clinton.

There’s no substitute, Republicans will discover, for the hard work of adaptation. Donald Trump is the ultimate corner-cutter. That’s what he sells to desperate people. His appeal is akin to the carnival barker who sells a diet pill that (he claims) can lead to weight loss without a change of behavior.

So reality over the next several months will assert itself in the ongoing polls, and on election day itself. That reality is demographic reality. Donald Trump is presiding right now over a cargo cult that imagines its leader has a Reagan-imitative formula for achieving flight: combine the existing Republican constituency with Trump Democrats (the equivalent of the Reagan Democrats of the 1980s). But Trump’s seeming magic in this moment–he’s at parody with Hillary in the most recent polls–does not mean he is on the verge of resurrecting the ghost of Reagan over the 2016 electorate, and casting a populist spell on them. The reality is that Trump is simply not that popular. A minority of Americans will vote for him–and will express support for him in polls–but not a majority.

So what will be shown over the next several months is that there’s nothing really sustaining Trump’s fantasies of everybody loving him, and he will soon leave his devotees–the bulk of the Republican Party–to pick through the wreckage of a devastating electoral loss.

The Republican Party is vulnerable to a cult leader right now because it is not yet able to adjust to the country’s demographic reality. Like an immune system in a novel environment, the Republican Party is susceptible to exotic diseases. Its disease of the moment is Donald Trump. After the election, Republicans will be walking around, saying, “How could I have believed in that guy’s con game? I really got snookered. I got carried off. How embarrassing.”

So here’s the bell curve: (1) Trump shock (that is, the stunned realization over the past month that Trump has truly captured the GOP nomination); (2) fight or flight (the majority of Republicans are choosing right now, to their shame, to go ahead and fight alongside Trump, rather than fly from him); (3) no matter how hard his enthusiasts peddle their bicycle of support going forward, Trump’s poll numbers will remain stalled in the 39-46% range; (4) Trump’s stalled poll numbers will serve to break the Trump spell generally, and that’s when the sharks will really start to circle the corpse of his candidacy; (5) fatigue and demoralization will set in as Republicans realize Trump is almost certainly going to lose; (6) demoralization will turn to panic in some quarters, and anger that Trump has brought the GOP to such an electoral impasse–and perhaps even a cliff; and (7) on election day, Trump will lose badly (as the polling averages predicted he would all along).


About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
This entry was posted in donald trump, hillary clinton, Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Hillary’s Floor is Trump’s Ceiling

  1. andrewclunn says:

    I say this as someone who will vote for Gary Johnson. You are delluding yourself. Trump is going to win this election most likely. And when compared to Hillary Clinton, that is not a bad thing.

  2. Santi Tafarella says:


    If the Republicans had put up a better candidate, I bet you would be voting Republican this year, but you aren’t. That’s one white dude lost this year to the Republican Party because of Trump, right? And think of all the libertarian-leaning Republicans who are going to join you.

    Now ask yourself this: when Hillary, as she invariably will, counters Trump’s populist appeal to the working class with a VP like Bernie, Warner, or Castro, where does Trump go to catch Hillary when the Democratic vote consolidates? How does Trump reach, objectively, 50%+1? Where do those votes come from?

    You’ve told me I’m deluding myself, but you don’t back your claim with evidence. Take a look at the link below. Are you sure you’re not the one who is deluding yourself?


    Is there some analysis or data that persuades you that Trump has the capacity to reach 50% of the vote? Where are those votes coming from?

    • andrewclunn says:

      Hahahaha. I’ve never voted for a Republican presidential candidate in my life. You don’t know how deep the hatred against Hillary is. She is going to lose. She never could win. I’d have taken Sanders, Rubio, Trump, Bush, even Carson over her. None of the independepants like her or trust her or want her as President. This election will either be the ascention of a third party or it will be about voting against not for, and the hatred against Clinton is stronger than you ij your left wing ivory tower realize. I’m not here to convince you, merely to inform you that you do not see what is clear to anyone who talks to ordinary people of differing positions. Nobody is excited for Clinton. She will not get out the vote.

  3. Santi Tafarella says:


    My hope is that Hillary will be indicted by the FBI, drop out, and Biden etc. will take the mantle for the general election. But since that is a less than 50% proposition, I’m saying that IF Clinton is in, she’ll win because the dice are so loaded (demographically) in favor of the Democrats. You’ve given me no evidence or reasons to think that Trump can get to 50% of the vote.

    I’m disappointed that Hillary has made the situation against Trump precarious at all (as to outcome). Trump is, I believe, far too mercurial and temperamentally fascist to be an American president. A person like Trump should never get this close to power. It shouldn’t be close. Only Hillary could make it this close.

    If the FBI decides that Hillary did nothing worthy of indictment, and she wins, I think she’ll make a decent president. Why wouldn’t she? She’s an awful campaigner, though.

    • andrewclunn says:

      When Bengazhi happened there was a film maker thrown under the bus by Clinton. Now she knew that this was a planned attack by jihadists, but she saw fit to call for criminal prosecution of an individual for exercising their First Ammendment right because she thinks it’s politically damaging to call out Islamic terrorism as being just that, Islamic.

      She voted for the Patriot Act.

      She waited until after polls switched so that more than 50% of people supported gay marriage to change her stance.

      She slandered women who her husband coersed into sex while he was President when they had the gall to come forward and speak the truth.

      She pushed for censorship of video games and other media, “to protect the children.”

      And that’s if you don’t hold her at all accountable for some very questionable policies by her husband, assume that all that bank money has no sway on her, and think this email thing is being overblown. Fuck that cunt.

  4. Santi Tafarella says:


    You’re right to call attention to her flaws. The Benghazi filmmaker thing is shameful and worrisome. There’s an undeniably callous aspect to her; a Lady Macbeth thing going on at numerous levels. No doubt. At some point in her life, she resolved to fight to the end, never to go down willingly. And she’s navigated rough political terrain with a longstanding determination not to shoot herself in the foot by getting out ahead of polls, and by letting others take falls for her (whenever that becomes plausible or necessary). She has unsavory aspects to her character, to be sure.

    Her email problem, which could result in an indictment, was generated by her most petty and paranoid character flaws. It was her desire to keep politically embarrassing and frank emails from, say, Drudge, thereby preserving her presidential ambitions from distracting mini-fires. So if she goes down because of them, that will be ironic. It’s akin to buying a gun to protect yourself from hypothetical intruders, who you imagine lurking, then shooting yourself with it.

    But I’m with Andrew Sullivan that Trump is of a different order of problem, existentially. You don’t abandon Wiemar democracy, however flawed, for Hitler, and you don’t abandon Hillary for Trump.

    If Trump is not vanquished decisively in November, he will have opened the door to outright Putinism in America–if not during his presidency, then during one in which, say, a major depression is in force. He will have shown that his model of white domineering and authoritarian militarism, contemptuous of the separation of powers, can get to 50%+1 of the American electorate.

    What troubles me most about Trump is that he’s doing well in an environment in which the economy is expanding. He is regularizing, in a low unemployment and modest growth economy, a Mussolini-style swagger. Imagine his appeal in a deep recession or depression.

    And I’m worried about the environment, Andrew. Trump is serious about tearing up the Paris accords; of blowing off alternative energy and environmental politics. I want to see the United States move in the direction of energy efficiency in the manner of Germany and California. Rejecting that vision could hobble our competitiveness, harm our soft power relations with other nations moving in that direction, and resonate for a generation or more, should he win. Anti-environmentalism sends a signal that our country is broken and backward; ill-adapted to the 21st century.

    I also don’t want Trump stacking the Supreme Court, and I don’t want simplistic answers offered up to complicated questions; to issues where competing goods have to be grappled with. (When he came to California recently, he simply denied the state is in drought. There’s plenty of water, he claimed. Everything has a simple liberal conspiracy behind it for Trump, and all that has to happen is the removal of the liberal, and everything becomes okay.

    So this election is too fundamental to not choose between the lesser of evils. I therefore think your Libertarian vote is an indulgent cop out; a desire not to face the genuinely hard choice of what sort of future you can live with for this country. I want a future that does not have Trump’s imprint all over it. Your Hillary hatred prevents you from doing the one thing that matters on November 7: stopping Trump electorally by voting for the Democratic ticket. You imagine (perhaps) that you are maintaining your purity by declaring a pox on both houses. But if you lived in Wiemar, sitting out the election or voting for a minor party that couldn’t directly serve to resist Hitler’s rise would be irresponsible.

    And I continue to believe, despite Hillary’s flaws, that she is likely to do reasonably well as president. And it would be nice to see a woman as president. She was a popular New York Senator; she had high approval ratings when she was Secretary of State. She’s intelligent, she seems reasonably competent, and she surrounds herself with smart advisers. She has control of herself. She’s cautious. She’s not mercurial. And she shows evidence that she learns from her mistakes.

    Trump, by contrast, seems to have ADHD, so he’s not ever really going to master anything in foreign or domestic policy, should he win. He’ll make judgment calls, and sometimes (largely by accident) they’ll prove to be good ones. But he’ll be cutting corners and winging it the whole way.

    And he has no experience to learn from because he really hasn’t lived. He got out of Vietnam. He escaped four bankruptcies and marriages. His dad’s assistance through his life amounted to approximately 150 million dollars. All his early real estate deals were co-written by his father. He really doesn’t know what it means to live outside of palace walls.

    So no serious consequences have ever attended this man’s actions, and he’s run no serious risks to himself. He’s played with other people’s money, not his own. He has learned that con-men win. He has hidden behind walls his whole life, like Rapunzel. He’s lived in a bubble of wealth and threats of litigation. He’s paranoid and rigid in his confidences (global warming is baloney, etc.), and largely childish in his resentments and grudge-holding. He takes conspiracy theories–but not scientists–seriously.

    So no telling what he might do with a tactical nuclear weapon in a fit of pique.

    • Andrew Clunn says:

      EVERY election we’re told that this is too important NOT to vote for the lesser of two evils. EVERY SINGLE ONE. I’m done voting against, I’ll only vote for, and you know what? Trump would be better than Hillary anyways. If it comes down to it and I were forced to choose between the jingoistic fascist and the Machiavellian big brother candidate, I’ll go with the fascist. So you should be thankful that I’m “Wasting my vote” on a third party candidate. But since I know literary quoting might be the best way to reach you on this:

      On its world, the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people.”

      “Odd,” said Arthur, “I thought you said it was a democracy.”

      “I did,” said Ford. “It is.”

      “So,” said Arthur, hoping he wasn’t sounding ridiculously obtuse, “why don’t people get rid of the lizards?”

      “It honestly doesn’t occur to them,” said Ford. “They’ve all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they’ve voted in more or less approximates to the government they want.”

      “You mean they actually vote for the lizards?”

      “Oh yes,” said Ford with a shrug, “of course.”

      “But,” said Arthur, going for the big one again, “why?”

      “Because if they didn’t vote for a lizard,” said Ford, “the wrong lizard might get in.”

      -Douglas Adams, So Long and Thanks for All the Fish

  5. Santi Tafarella says:


    I like very much the Douglas Adams quote. That’s excellent–but I simply don’t think it’s a serious contextual argument for what to do in relation to Trump-Hillary 2016. If you seriously believe Trump would be better than Hillary in 2016, then you really should vote for Trump and be honest about what you’re choosing.

    The reality is that our government is an emergent phenomenon out of a collectivity of contending democratic voters/constituencies. Hannah Arendt called the large human institutions that take on an inhuman mind of their own, “The Blob.” Adams called it (perhaps), The Lizards. It’s the same idea. Humans seem (at first) to be in control of the large social arrangements they set up, but don’t really exercise as much control as they imagine. Blobs and lizards take over.

    Then, in horror at the unintended consequences, simplification sets in: it becomes a narrative of shaming of the populace. Why haven’t we risen to retake control? Why don’t we vote for what we really want?

    This is too childish and naive an analysis of the situation–especially the situation we are in right now. Trump is an emergent phenomenon out of the Republican Party that now threatens to take on a life beyond Trump himself. Giving the steering wheel of state to a fool doesn’t mean the fool is in control, steering. It means the fool will be out of control, with control ever more difficult to retrieve.

    No human institution remains human and wholly under human control. It’s why every adult and voting citizen in America right now needs need to think very carefully about what it means (or is likely to mean) to deliver something that is already unwieldy and difficult to predict to someone who is mercurial.

    The key isn’t the casting of blame on Trump or Hillary as lizard people–both Trump and Hillary are all too human, and representative of many humans we know–but in recognizing that what you’ve got to work with has always been a blob: the emergent phenomenon that has evolved out of our 230+ year experiment in democracy.

    Our global economy is a blob. Our technology is a blob. Our institutions are blobs. Our democracy is a blob. Part of what it means to be in an evolutionary cosmos is that emergent phenomena arise out of competition, variation, and experiment. Humans have much less control than they imagine over their own evolutionary trajectory–but they have some, and they can make reasoned choices grounded in what they take to be the most probable outcomes on offer. They do not have to check out existentially in the name of purity.

    You can pretend, Andrew, that the world is different from what it is, or you can make your choices from what actually is–and accept responsibility for the world that you are allowing to emerge. In such a context, voting for Hillary over Trump is a no-brainer from my end (just as turning over the wheel of an unstable car to a non-alcoholic is better than turning it over to an alcoholic). Giving an already unwieldy vehicle to an alcoholic narrows options and response time. Mistakes can be made that you can’t readily correct for.

    At bottom, George Will is right that Trump does not have the minimal temperament for the presidency. He could readily flip the car of state without giving others sufficient time to even counter his maneuvers or deliberate. Why would you choose that for your country?

    What if Trump decides, for instance, that, to get ISIS’s attention, he’ll use a tactical nuclear weapon on a target? You wake up one morning and discover in the paper that Trump has unilaterally used a small nuclear weapon to achieve an objective.

    Trump’s very election poses this sort of possibility–and every leader of other countries recognizes this. If you don’t like the lizards we have now, imagine the lizards that will emerge out of a renewed global arms race–and the blob of unpredictable consequences that will follow from it–where every country in the world, in response to Trump’s election, decides it has to increase its own military spending and give way to harder-edged politicians. Harsh politicians have a way of breeding harsh politicians. These things have a way of escalating. The global economy runs on trust, not suspicion. There’s no telling where the dominoes of such an escalation in global armaments and suspicion could lead. And there’s no reason whatever to take such risks with global history by electing Trump. None.

    I don’t want a trade war with China–or the risk of alienating China from the United States. I have children. I want them to live in a somewhat peaceful, trustful world. Hillary’s business as usual politics can roughly get us, at minimum, to that. Trump’s cannot. Trump means suspicion, irrationality, walls, wars.

    Everyone should thus take a deep breath, think clearly, and not be so glib or indifferent about what voting for Trump means, not just for America, but for the family of nations, the global economy, and the planet. This is a dangerous moment.

  6. Pat says:

    Interesting Perspective; possible that in a general election, Trump may lose more voters than he gains, especially with his current pattern of failures due to the temperament he’s displaying.

  7. Santi Tafarella says:


    You most certainly were right about Trump, but I wish you had your “told you so” moment with me on something less substantial. : )

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