As the calendar marches towards Labor Day, the dynamics of the presidential campaign seem to have stabilized.
I say "seem to" because this is the most volatile political season in my lifetime (note: I was born after 1968).
Going forward, I think these are the critical factors that will decide the race.
Polling is useless
I know that the establishment types love to rip on Trump supporters who question the accuracy of the polls, but this is a genuine concern. Polling uses samples and formulae that seek to duplicate the turnout of past elections and all of that fails when we move into new territory. I've said it before: 2016 is a black swan event. The usual rules do not apply.
In this respect is it similar to the Brexit election in the UK, where polling was wildly off target. Even here in the States we've seen huge misses, most notably here in Michigan where Sanders was 20 points behind and still notched a narrow win against Hillary.
Thus when people pronounce Trump doomed because a poll shows bad numbers, it's just static. Meaningless except as content filler.
The press is openly campaigning for Hillary
We've seen bias before, but nothing like this. The press is to the point where they are simply making up nasty stories about Trump. They have openly admitted this. Their ability to sway opinion is diminished, but the practical effect is that it's going to be hard to know anything given that straight news reporting is effectively gone.
Hillary is widely hated and she knows it
The Democrats at a certain level know that their Queen Bee is hated and distrusted. Unlike Obama, she has no true believers, only a hardened veterans fighting out of party loyalty and hatred of all things Republican. Had Bernie Sanders shown an ounce of political savvy, he would have crushed her, and his supporters know it.
In practical terms this means that even with a huge spending advantage, the media determined to drag her across the finish line and the GOP establishment acting as a Fifth Column against their nominee, she is still unable to pull away.
Hillary is a hostage of events
How about that ransom for Iranian hostages? Did anyone see that coming? Of course not. There is more to come. Hillary and Obama have been kicking the can down the road for eight years and an entire warehouse full of shoes is waiting to drop. The loathsome Julian Assange has conceived a bitter vendetta against Hillary and is biding his time to strike again. Vladimir Putin also despises the Clintons (perhaps because of how Russia was treated under Bill and the way Obama has spit on him), so he too will exploit circumstances.
Every race riot, every terrorist attack, every Russian move or Chinese provocation will make Hillary's claims to competence that much harder to sustain. Joe Biden pissed off Japan last week - naturally while trying to show Trump was incompetent.
These people are utterly incompetent and they've exhausted the design margin. What happens if Obama's "dear friend" Recep Erdogan demands we hand over alleged coup-plotter Fethullah Gulen and prohibits operations from our bases there until we do?
How will the Dems blame a Russian invasion of Ukraine on Trump, or the fact that we are sliding once more into recession?
The Never Trumpers are collapsing
I figured that as the race heated up, most of the energy would go out of the Never Trump movement. These guys are - at their core - moral cowards who have made their careers trying to show liberals that they are the "nice" conservatives. At every turn where they could have gone full-on after progressives, they have pulled back on grounds of etiquette and their imagined propriety.
Their current line of reasoning is that the base deserves to suffer through a Clinton restoration to learn their place. This is utterly insane. This is like a general purposefully losing a battle to discipline his army. Assuming anything survives, the troops will kill him first, not meekly submit to his authority.
Two factors are at work here. The first is the continual drip-drip of Clinton sleaze, making it clear that if she wins, the Republic will be finished. Even the tame establishment GOP will be subject to midnight police raids because she will be above the law.
The second is that Trump is showing better skill, backing down his rhetoric, and this gives them cover to say "he's changed! I'm for him now!" and preserve their precious principles.
The Never Trump crowd isn't big, but it's capitulation will help firm up the new coalition.
The race is Trump's to lose
Trump's campaign has been undisciplined and unfocused since the primaries. It's shown moments of genius but then squandered these opportunities. The latest reshuffle could well be decisive. All Trump has to do at this point is show that he isn't a horrible, child-eating monster and he will win.
My co-blogger remarked that Hillary is promising everyone everything and he views that as a critical edge. The problem is that no one believes a word she says. Even her defenders know she lies all the time about everything. Indeed, progressive thinkers like to sit around admiring her lies, and comparing them with better ones from Obama and her husband.
Either way, they know none of what she says counts.
Trump had a good week, and he can still screw this up, but with just a little more discipline, he can take control of the race. Advertisements juxtaposing him unloading relief supplies in Louisiana with Obama and Clinton relaxing on vacation will send a powerful message.
During the debates, he can remark that she still won't release the transcripts of her speeches to the big banks - which she apparently regards as more important than classified national security documents and her claim to competence and fighting for the "little guy" will be destroyed.
In short, she's spectacularly vulnerable. We'll see if Trump can finally exploit this.