Enter the pollsters, with the news that Trump actually leads Clinton in voter preference (ABC/Associated Press) or trails her (NBC/Wall Street Journal) by a figure within the margin of error.
What's the word for it? How about "wow"?
None of this portends anything in particular concerning the outcome of an election still five months in the future. What we get some sense of, nonetheless, from the present polls is the low estate of Clinton's charm. A woman running against -- I skip the by-now-over-merchandised insults -- Donald J. Trump should be clobbering him in the polls.
She can't put him away? As I said a moment ago, wow!
I put it down to the fundamentals in American life changing so fast that a relic of the godawful late 1960s (Clinton's real identity) doesn't know what to say or do.
One could call Trump a relic, as well, of an easier, looser time that overlaps with Clinton's, but his public exposure in the political context is nothing compared to hers. She's basically clearance merchandise; he, by contrast, has a style not seen around the national scene since ... probably ever.
Clinton, with her earnest desire to save us all from ourselves, either bores or annoys: the first because she's played the power game so long, with the same disdain for honesty and candor; the second because she can't stop trying to lead us to Purity and Purpose. Her purpose, that of reigning as the world's Premier Woman.
I have said many uncomplimentary things about Trump in recent months. I am not sorry for saying them. We must, nevertheless, acknowledge this much about him. If he means to bore, he's the flop of the century. You somehow can't take your eyes off him.
The imagined adventure of a Trump presidency helps to drive up his ratings. We wizened, wistful conservatives in our frock coats and wing collars don't get that. But plenty of others do. American society is electric with tensions we didn't used to have and don't much enjoy. Among other things that weary us is the omnipresence of left-of-center scolds, in high and low places alike. These yahoos know the truth. Got that? We'd better do it their way -- or else!
We'd better, for instance, open those restroom doors to anyone who wants to enter.
We'd better make sure in all we do, wherever we go, whatever we say, that we don't offend someone who might be offended by a joke or a historical reference.
We'd better give fleeing suspects the benefit of the doubt in a confrontation with cops.
We'd better double the minimum wage irrespective of whether employers can afford it.
We'd better never "deny" climate change to a scientist or New York City commentator.
The space for freedom in America is conspicuously smaller than it used to be. And Clinton's Democratic Party is the major agent of that condition -- a party ever-meddlesome, never in error, wholly and entirely humorless about that task.
Clinton is that party's ideal candidate, and for that very reason Trump's ideal foe.
Donald John Trump is a walking catalog of human flaws. I think we understand him more readily now, though, than when a very large field of competing candidates partly blocked the view and the talk of the country was less about overhaul of existing defects in governance than it was about Trump's chutzpah. An air of impatience and irritation runs through the electorate, as even the weary wing-collar set, belching its Buckley-isms, can see.
It's early days. We don't truly know whether Trump is up to the tasks ahead of him: winning or governing. But he is smoking out, and worrying, the clearance-sale candidate -- which is kind of fun, not to mention a public service.