Todd got it backward.
How the '16 campaign became a referendum on Trump
Here's a thought experiment: Imagine if Marco Rubio, not Donald Trump, were the Republican Party's presumptive presidential nominee. There would be considerable more attention to the Hillary email story, which still hasn't gone away. We'd be highlighting how Bernie Sanders still hasn't quit his race, creating a fissure inside the party. And we'd be fixated on Clinton's all-time low favorability numbers. Instead, the current stories are Trump attacking a federal judge, how the Republican Party is truly divided over its presumptive nominee (see below for a list of that disunity), and Trump having even worse favorability numbers than Clinton. Bottom line: This 2016 presidential race could have been a referendum on Clinton and the Obama White House, even with the president's 50%-plus approval rating. Instead, it has turned into a referendum on Trump. As Stu Rothenberg writes, "Donald Trump continues to make the 2016 election a referendum on his accomplishments, his past statements and his beliefs." And for Republicans, that's a hard race to win.That is exactly backward.
The question in November is simply: Is Donald Trump good enough to be president?
That was the question with Jack Kennedy in 1960 (the answer was barely), with Reagan in 1980 (overwhelmingly), and Obama in 2008 (yep).
Such a referendum on a newcomer does not happen often. The last time it happened was -- well, in the 2016 Republican nomination process when some loser named Trump sucked all the oxygen out of the room.
Trump's playbook is Reagan's. Why not? Steal from the best. Reagan's debate with President Carter settled the matter. It went from a close race to a blowout as people saw that Reagan was good enough.
Rothenberg, who is supposed to be an expert, wrote in the Washington Post (where Todd got his quote):
Unless you are Ronald Reagan running for re-election (“It’s morning again in America”), most competitive presidential campaigns are about a single objective: making the race a referendum on the opponent, particularly if he or she is a long-time politician who has high negatives.Oh him.
I quote Rothenberg in my book. Here is that passage:
Trump was a competitor who strove to win any contest he entered. His presidential campaign was no different. Experts in Washington did not understand that. Stuart Rothenberg, a political forecaster widely respected in Washington and largely unheard of outside the capital, gave Trump no chance. “To be taken seriously, you need political credentials,” Rothenberg wrote.Trump is succeeding not only in diminishing his opponents in size but in showing that the political experts wear no clothes. The emperor's courtiers in the press are the last to know.