- - Thursday, September 22, 2016

Hillary Clinton is smart — she has the academic credentials to prove it — but she can’t figure out why she isn’t scoring above 50 percent in the public-opinion polls. Life on the hustings just ain’t fair. She’s running against “only” Donald Trump, after all, and she had her head measured for a crown more than a year ago, and the acclamation has been put on hold. The election is barely two months away and she just can’t get it. If she can’t get it, she can’t figure out what to do about it.

Her family, her friends, her aides and all those rich folks to whom she sold access to be delivered later assured her that she was not on her way to a contest, but a cake walk. They were “Ready for Hillary,” and wasn’t everybody? The Democrats grew more certain when more than a dozen loyal Republicans declared themselves ready to run against her, even including a Manhattan real-estate developer and sometime television entertainment personality who was running for laughs. The Republican field would make quick work of him, and when he won the nomination — fair and square, despite the tantrums of the sore losers — Hillary and her friends couldn’t believe their good fortune. What a blow-out lay in store.

Donald Trump was a patsy she would drive from the field without popping even a ladylike glow. Hillary might suffer a few imperfections, but none so large as those of the Donald. He was his own worst enemy, an opponent with a thin skin and a streak of vulgarity. Vulgarity is the mark of the age, the signature of the culture, and not to worry. He might be both the leader of the free world or the world’s greatest tweeter, and who wants a president like that?

What’s more, rather than uniting his party the Donald seemed to determined to put his party elites in an unaccustomed place. This, Hillary and her coterie reassured themselves, would guarantee her the landslide, the slam dunk, the runaway — choose your metaphor — that she deserves. The Democrats could go about their tasks humming “Happy Days are Here Again.”

But that was then, and this, alas, is now. Hillary can see tightening polls and worse, a suddenly disciplined opponent, a cloud overhead no bigger than a lady’s dainty hand. Now she can understand the wisdom of Satchell Paige, the great pitcher from the previous century, who warned “never look back, something might be gaining on you.” That “something” looks like a yellow-haired nightmare.

Worst of all, the Donald’s message is resonating with the voters. She’s raising more money than anyone this side of Jeb Bush, more than any presidential candidate before her, and the harder she hits him the swifter he just keeps gaining on her.

Neither she nor all those Democrats who are “ready for Hillary” understand the Donald’s appeal to voters who have been ignored, mocked, pushed around, lied to, and taken advantage of by smug and self-satisfied elites of both parties. He’s neither a wonk nor a maven, but millions of voters seem to be concluding that understanding how to do the wrong thing right maybe isn’t such a terrific idea. The man gaining on her doesn’t always get the details right but he sounds like he knows which road to take, and the importance of getting there.

If Hillary really wants to know why she’s where she is and with time beginning to run out, she could listen to the tape of one of her speeches, and if she can bear it, look in her mirror. She would find the answers she seeks.

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