There are now just five days until the long, strange saga of the 2016 presidential election ends (barring some 2000-style “overtime”). All signs point to the tightening of a presidential race dominated by Hillary Clinton for most of the general election campaign. National trends aside, there are polls showing Donald Trump surging in such Clinton “firewall” states as Colorado and New Hampshire, creating a clear path to victory for him if he gets a few late breaks. Any thought of coasting to victory, much less winning by a landslide, has probably disappeared from the minds of Team Clinton members. And although what happens down ballot could crucially affect the ability of a Clinton administration to accomplish much of its agenda, it is also time for the presidential campaign to forget about helping Democratic Senate and House candidates. Job One is to get Clinton into the White House, and that job has not yet been accomplished.
So what can and should Hillary for America do at this late stage to secure victory?
The first thing to understand is that most of the decisions a presidential campaign can make have already been made, sometimes months ago. Paid ad time in the battleground states has all been bought up. And although the residents of such states may feel like they are under attack from both sides when they turn on the tube or the radio these last few days, the truth is that the time for Clinton to make gains based on what was once an overwhelming advantage in paid media is over. In most places, Trump is now entirely competitive on the airwaves; indeed, in some “Clinton firewall” states she’s rushing to play catch-up after letting Trump “waste” his money in states once thought to be beyond his reach. Few voters in a competitive presidential general election are going to be persuaded at this point, though carefully targeted ads could send some micro-messages to certain constituencies to boost turnout. If there is any ad time left in the battleground states on Spanish-language or African-American-interest radio or cable stations, her campaign should buy it instantly.
Although in-person early voting will reach a crescendo in some states this weekend, that, too, is a die that has largely already been cast. Plans for get-out-the-vote drives next Tuesday must now take priority over everything else. Obama campaign veterans like to say that turnout operations are like a field-goal unit in football; they only become crucial to victory in close “games.” Well, it’s late in the fourth quarter and it is no longer clear Clinton has the touchdown advantage she had as recently as last week. So the field-goal unit needs to be ready.
That means above all that the Clinton campaign and its allies should deploy whatever discretionary resources they have — and there should be plenty of money left, even after all the ads available have been bought — with a very clear sense of the path to 270 electoral votes. Yes, it would be wonderful for a Democrat to win Arizona or Georgia, but at the moment the bigger concern should be about states Clinton cannot afford to lose, alongside a final big effort in Florida, the must-win state for Trump with a rich prize of 29 electoral votes that could offset the loss of several “Clinton firewall” states.
Everything the Clinton campaign does should be be driven by turnout considerations. This is where surrogates can be crucial. One of Clinton’s big headaches right now involves reports from early-voting states of relatively low turnout among African-Americans. Since she leads Trump about 20-to-1 (or more) in African-American communities, the problem is precisely the kind that can be addressed by an intensive “knock and drag” get-out-the-vote effort. Every dollar and hour spent among black voters, giving them the motive and the means to vote, are priceless. The Obamas should be deployed with that project in mind. And both they and Clinton herself need to pound home the message that everything Barack Obama was able to accomplish, and everything he hoped to accomplish but could not thanks to Republican opposition, is on the line on Tuesday. This is valuable not just in terms of the black vote, but also in motivating millennials to abandon their flirtation with Gary Johnson and Jill Stein and vote for a candidate who can win.
Some political observers, like most sportscasters, irrationally value “momentum,” and thus would caution Team Clinton against admitting that Trump is closing the gap. I do not agree. Fear of a Donald Trump presidency is so palpable in broad swaths of the electorate — especially among minority voters and college-educated women — that it has become a precious strategic asset for Hillary Clinton, which she should exploit aggressively. Every left-leaning marginal voter should, in every form of campaign communications available, be made to feel a personal responsibility for a Trump presidency if she or he does not vote. And minority voters in particular should be encouraged to view potential Republican vote-suppression measures on November 8 as creating an imperative to vote rather than an excuse to stay home.
It is too late, by the way, for Clinton to deal with emails or the perfidy of the FBI or perceptions of her relative level of honesty and trustworthiness. There will be plenty of time for that after Election Day, if it matters anymore. I wrote this very morning that Clinton will probably face impeachment proceedings if she wins alongside a congressional Republican majority. That should not matter either, and it probably won’t to the very tough-minded Democratic nominee. Anything would be preferable to going down in history as the major-party candidate who lost to Donald Trump, imperiling the republic in ways that we are just now beginning to fully envision. Awareness of the burden of history should permeate every moment spent by Clinton and her vast army of paid and unpaid campaign operatives for the next 100 hours.
Even if she appears to win on November 8, Clinton may have to defend that victory in court or in the political arena. Presumably armies of lawyers are preparing carefully for that contingency. For everyone else in her campaign, the future is now.