Cokie Roberts and Steven V. Roberts

The Fall Campaign Starts Now

Winter won't turn to spring for several weeks, but the fall campaign for president starts now.

After Super Tuesday, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump can see clear paths to their parties' nominations. True, the anti-Trump forces show faint flickers of life, but battle lines are already forming. And at this point, Clinton rates as the clear favorite.

Trump is a clever campaigner who has confounded conventional wisdom for months. He has a keen ear for the fears and phobias that trouble his supporters, and deftly exploits the economic and cultural shifts that leave them confused and frustrated.

Many Republican officials will support him, like Rep. Tom Marino, a third-termer from north central Pennsylvania who told Politico that Trump enjoyed "overwhelming support" in his district.

"He's the man for the unprotected ... not the protected, not for the Wall Street people, not for the D.C. insiders, but for the hard-working taxpayers," Marino said.

The primaries have also revealed sizeable weaknesses that have long clouded Clinton's ambitions. She's done poorly with young people, white men and voters who value honesty and trustworthiness. Ongoing investigations into her email habits could produce new and damaging revelations, even a criminal complaint. And Trump will surely run a virulent, vicious and highly personal campaign.

Still, Clinton starts with important advantages, and the first is the widening split in Republican ranks. A recent CNN poll showed that 1 in 4 Republican voters harbor grave doubts about supporting Trump in the fall, and they are epitomized by Meg Whitman, co-chair of Gov. Chris Christie's finance committee.

After Christie endorsed Trump, Whitman accused the governor of "an astonishing display of political opportunism." Trump, she complained, "is unfit to be president. He is a dishonest demagogue who plays to our worst fears. Trump would take America on a dangerous journey. ... For some of us, principle and country still matter."

Certainly some Sanders backers disdain Clinton, and might stay home in November. But the level of vitriol is far lower among Democrats, and their prospects for unity are much greater.

Few party loyalists believe Hillary is "unfit to be president," for example. And on Super Tuesday, Clinton and Bernie Sanders barely mentioned each other, while Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio continued to hammer Trump and he blasted them back.

Clinton's second advantage is that the Republican primaries have provided her with a vast store of ammunition, ready to fire against Trump. She doesn't have to call him a "con man" or a "fraud" or a "liar;" she can just show clips of Rubio and Cruz making those charges.

Other Republicans focus on Trump's biggest weakness: his unsteady and unreliable temperament. In fact, two GOP strategists floated ideas for an anti-Trump ad they described: "We want voters to imagine Donald Trump in the Big Chair in the Oval Office, with responsibilities for worldwide confrontation at his fingertips."

That ad never got made in the primaries. It will in the fall.

These attacks haven't worked with Trump's hard-core supporters, but the general election is a very different arena. Will moderate suburban moms living outside of Philadelphia or Cleveland or Orlando really trust Trump's judgment in a crisis?

Republicans can hardly take Sanders' "attacks" and turn them against Clinton. Are they going to accuse her of being too cautious on health care? And how do you lambaste her for "befriending billionaires" when your standard-bearer is, well, a billionaire?

That raises Clinton's third asset: demography. Barack Obama won the women's vote by 11 points (while losing men by 7 points). Hillary is already testing themes aimed at women voters, and they're working: She won women by 32 points on Super Tuesday.

These words in South Carolina were aimed directly at her sisters: "I believe with all my heart, we have to start treating each other with respect, listening to each other, holding out hands, a fellowship."

She's already demonstrated her appeal to black voters, and Trump's strident attacks on undocumented immigrants give her a clear shot at increasing her support among Latinos.

Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Republican from South Florida and the son of Cuban exiles, told The Wall Street Journal he could not face his two children if he backed Trump: "I could never look them in the eye and tell them that I support someone so crass and insulting and offensive to lead the greatest nation in the world."

That's why Clinton is the favorite. Too many Republicans won't be able to defend Trump to their children. Or trust him to keep them safe.

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