Even as Americans pause for this week’s Memorial Day holiday, much attention is focused on the presidential contest, where almost-daily twists and turns are confounding conventional wisdom in what has become an unusually turbulent end of the primary campaign season.
In January, New York businessman Donald Trump was one of more than a dozen Republican presidential contenders in a field with no clear favorite. By contrast, Hillary Clinton stood as the front-runner over just two Democratic rivals.
Last week, Trump clinched the delegates required to become his party’s nominee.
“We’ve won the nomination – big – by numbers that you can’t believe,” he said to thunderous applause at a recent campaign rally in California.
Clinton, meanwhile, has the delegate math squarely in her favor. But she is campaigning hard to avoid embarrassing defeats closing out the primaries.
Making matters worse was last week’s inspector general report that her email usage as secretary of state violated agency policies. The controversy has been swirling for more than a year and once again put Clinton on the defensive.
“The use of personal email was a practice by other secretaries of state,” she said Friday. “And the rules were not clarified until after I had left. And, as I’ve said many times, if I could do it over again, I would have done it differently.”
Trump was quick to pounce. “I watched Hillary Clinton, as I say ‘Crooked Hillary’. She is crooked. She lies, she lies so much. It’s sad,” the businessman said. “Hillary is a disaster, folks. She has bad judgment.”
But Trump has been making headlines of his own by first agreeing to and then turning down a proposed debate with Clinton challenger Bernie Sanders.
Sanders said he would have relished the chance to debate Trump.
“What I hope will happen is that, in fact, I will run against him [Trump] as the Democratic nominee for president of the United States. And if I do, we’re going to beat him and beat him bad,” the Vermont senator said on ABC’s ‘Jimmy Kimmel Live’ program.
Beating Trump is one idea Sanders and Clinton agree on.
“The stakes could not be higher,” Clinton said at a recent campaign stop in San Francisco. “There is absolutely no way that we can let Donald Trump get anywhere near the White House.”
But with Clinton and Sanders still battling each other, the Democratic Party is not unifying behind either. Rank-and-file Republicans, meanwhile, are showing some signs of rallying behind their nominee-to-be, leading to the first polls showing Trump tied or slightly above Clinton.
“I’m leading in the polls. We’re leading in almost every poll now,” Trump said. “Do you believe this? It’s so great.”
Primary season ends next Tuesday, when America’s most populous state, California, and several others get their say.