Polls show the presidential race tightening, and the pundits have decided to worry. (More)

“But here’s the thought that’s making me nervous”

So (almost) begins Josh Barro at Business Insider:

The polls have moved markedly in Donald Trump’s favor in the past month. And now everybody who doesn’t want him to be president is trying to figure out why — and whether he will keep gaining.

Obviously, it’s been a rough few weeks for Hillary Clinton, and most of the poll analysis has focused on how she has hurt herself and what she can do to improve her position.

But here’s the thought that’s making me nervous: What if the shift in the polls is more about Donald Trump campaigning better?

Barro’s tacit premise is that Clinton is such a weak candidate that, to win, Trump need only be not-horrible:

These of course are all very low bars I am describing Trump as having cleared, and he has continued to make various outrageous statements and face various scandals.

But low bars might be the right measure for the “Can Trump win?” question.

For most of this campaign, Trump has been polling just a few points behind Clinton despite running a comically inept campaign. What if running a merely somewhat inept campaign is good enough for him to catch up?

He’s not alone.

“A candidate who is loathed and distrusted and has few redeeming qualities”

Politico’s Rich Lowry piles on:

Democrats should be feeling a creeping sense of panic:

They are trying to win with a candidate who is loathed and distrusted and has few redeeming qualities. As Yuval Levin, editor of National Affairs pointed out, corrupt and dishonest politicians are often entertaining, and dull politicians are usually earnest and honest. Hillary manages to be boring and corrupt. If she decided to sit out the rest of the campaign and rely on surrogates to hit the trail, she might do no worse and perhaps better.

No one can be certain that her health is what the campaign says it is. If Hillary did have a more serious condition than allergies and walking pneumonia, does anyone believe the Clintons would be forthright about it? Even if nothing else ails her, if Clinton has another episode in public like the one on Sept. 11, the bottom might fall out.

Consider it a measure of the Beltway media’s pervasive anti-Clinton bias that Lowry probably wrote that with a straight face. Despite 25 years and especially the past 18 months of digging, no one has found even a shred of evidence that Clinton is corrupt. The best they can come up with are “shadows” and “clouds.”

Meanwhile, Trump University is a scam, as is the Trump Foundation, which has been used to launder political bribes, by a candidate who admits he bribes public officials. Also, Trump used that charity – other people’s money – to buy a six-foot portrait of himself for one of his golf courses. Oh, and the Trump Organization’s for-profit ties to foreign leaders would create irresolvable conflicts of interest.

But Lowry and most of the rest of the Beltway media have convinced themselves that Clinton is “corrupt” and “has no redeeming qualities.” Uh-huh.

“Stretched the truth”

Speaking of dishonesty, here’s the New York Times’ Nick Corasaniti and Maggie Haberman doing rhetorical backflips to avoid using the words “Trump” and “lied” in the same sentence:

But in selling his case, Mr. Trump stretched the truth, saying that his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, has no such plan of her own and “never will.”

Mrs. Clinton issued her plan more than a year ago, and it guarantees up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave for a newborn or a sick relative, financed by an increase in taxes on the wealthiest Americans. On Twitter, her campaign posted a link to her plan after Mr. Trump’s remark.

“Stretched the truth?” Seriously? Lawyers, Guns, and Money’s Scott Lemieux explains:

“Stretched?” That sounds like a basically accurate claim that is perhaps somewhat misleading or imprecise or something.
[…]
This isn’t “stretching the truth.” This is “lying.” The claim about Clinton was just out-and-out false in every possible way. It’s nice that the story points this out, but their unwillingness to accurately describe it is another indication of the felt need to portray Trump as a fundamentally normal candidate. And, as Krugman says, this is effectively pro-Trump.

It’s especially pro-Trump when – by contrast – Clinton’s campaign announces that she has pneumonia and the New York Times’ head-Clinton-inquisitor Amy Chozik treats that as evidence of Clinton’s “seemingly reflexive tendency to hunker down” – complete with yet another reminder of the still-no-‘there’-there email brouhaha – because Clinton didn’t tell the media about her diagnosis the instant she received it.

“Are you a tad nervous?”

Even progressive Ed Kilgore climbed on the worry train at New York Magazine:

The Upshot, which rates Clinton at an even higher 79 percent win probability, offers this sobering analogy: “Mrs. Clinton’s chance of losing is about the same as the probability that an N.F.L. kicker misses a 45-yard field goal.”

So, in the fourth quarter of a very close game, when that placekicker trots out onto the field with everything on the line, how confident are you that he will nail that “high-probability” field goal? Are you a tad nervous?

Those who have laughed off Donald Trump’s chances while believing his election would represent a turn for the worse in their own lives should be nervous right now.

And lest Wall Street’s voice be omitted – heaven forbid! – a CitiGroup analyst chimed in:

Citigroup’s chief global political analyst Tina Fordham warned in her note that a “35% probability for a Trump victory is more meaningful than investors may be appreciating,” adding that “political probabilities are not like blackjack – there is only one roll of the dice, and 35% probability events happen frequently in real life.”

Actually, political probabilities are like blackjack, or any other probability. Yes, “35% probability events happen frequently in real life” … if by “frequently” you mean “about once-in-three-opportunities.” Which is to say: two-thirds of the time … they don’t happen.

“Neither Clinton nor Trump should feel all that secure”

FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver offers some less-hyperbolic perspective:

My best guess on the effect of the weekend’s news, based on what the model shows so far, is that the race is continuing to trend moderately toward Trump, when the momentum toward him might have stalled out if not for the events of the weekend. But we can’t rule out a more acute shift toward Trump or that the “Hillary’s bad weekend” meme is a false alarm – there isn’t quite enough data yet.

Whether or not the race will continue to tighten is a guessing game, in other words. But my impression is that the commentariat has been slow to recognize how much the race has tightened already. It’s never a good idea to freak out over any one poll. But the trend toward Trump has been clear for a few weeks now, and it’s been just as clear in state polls as national polls. Yes, the data is noisy. Polls are all over the place in Ohio, for instance. But over the course of all of this, Trump has whittled down an 8-point lead for Clinton into about a 3-point lead instead – about a 5-point swing. With there having been several shifts of that magnitude since the primaries ended, with there being a large number of undecided voters, and with the debates still ahead, neither Clinton nor Trump should feel all that secure.

So let’s say you’re in the huddle before that hypothetical 45-yard field goal. As you look at the kicker, should you focus on the probability he’ll miss (35%) or the probability he’ll win the game for you (65%)?

My thought is, you’re better off giving the kicker a look of confidence – one that says “we’ve got this” – and then doing your part – a clean snap, a clean hold, your blocking assignment – to give your kicker the best possible chance.

In other words, stop fretting and keep busy with your day-to-day activism. That is Clinton’s biggest potential edge … and she needs us to make it real.

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Photo Credit: Jet Magazine

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Good day and good nuts