Can Trump Beat Hillary?

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump puts his notes back in his jacket after talking about Democrat opponent H
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump puts his notes back in his jacket after talking about Democrat opponent Hillary Clinton at a Trump for President campaign rally in Raleigh, North Carolina December 4, 2015. The notes read, "Beat Hillary, No Strength, No Stamina, Goes Away". REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

You've seen the headlines: Can Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton?

The short answer: Of course he can.  And so can she beat him.

It's a long time until November, and so much can (and will) happen between now and then.  But some obvious points about the volatility of this year's presidential race:

1. Both candidates have high negatives. An NBC/Wall Street Poll suggests that 68% of voters doubt whether they could vote for Trump - and 58% of voters doubt they could vote for Hillary.  High negatives suggest lack of enthusiasm as well as antipathy.  Turned off by the candidates, many voters may simply stay home in November.  And that makes for a volatile race.

2. Trump is prone to gaffes. The man will say almost anything: Women seeking an abortion deserve to be punished.  Women reporters who challenge him are cranky from their period.  Mexican immigrants are thugs and rapists.  Muslims must be banned from the U.S.  Terrorists' families should be hunted down and killed.  Protesters at his rallies should be punched and thrown out.  And on and on.  So far, Trump has been a Teflon candidate: His outlandish statements have not harmed him appreciably.  But how long before he says something equally offensive, or worse, as we head toward the general election this fall?

3. Trump's business record. Trump University, anyone?  That trial should be interesting.  As lawsuits stalk Trump, how long before some past deal, either dodgy or dishonest, blows up in his face?

4. Hillary's political record. Benghazi, anyone?  But potentially worse than Libya is the ongoing FBI investigation into Hillary's emails.  Perhaps she'll be cleared of wrongdoing, but the taint of wrongdoing will remain.  Indeed, a hint of scandal has always surrounded the Clintons - and it's not just because of a "vast right-wing conspiracy."

5. Hillary's lack of political acumen. It's hard to get enthusiastic about Clinton. Other than the fact she'd be the first female president (a big milestone, of course), there's nothing new about her.  Consider her race against Bernie Sanders.  It was Bernie who drove the narrative.  It was Bernie who won the vote among the young, both male and female. Hillary is the staid old establishment.  When she raves, it's about continuity.  But who wants continuity in America today?  What American is truly happy with the status quo (besides members of the establishment, of course)?

6. Wildcard events. Another 9/11-like attack. A bear market on Wall Street.  Wider conflict in the Middle East.  An incident with China in the Pacific.  A Russian move against Ukraine.  Will a crisis favor the "experience" of Clinton, or will people prefer Trump because "he gets things done" or "puts America first"?  As Yoda the Jedi Master says, "Difficult to see.  Always in motion the future."

7. Finally, consider the fact that Bernie Sanders has run an issues-oriented campaign against Clinton. He hasn't attacked her on her emails.  He's left Bill Clinton's past behavior out of the mix.  But just wait until the fall when the Republican attack dogs are unleashed.  Hillary is fond of saying she's seen it all from Republicans, but with the stakes this high, I'm guessing there's much she hasn't seen.

So, yes, Trump can beat Clinton, and vice-versa.  The sorry fact is that regardless of which candidate wins, the country will be left with a deeply flawed leader who'll be despised or disliked by more than half the electorate.

A retired lieutenant colonel (USAF) and history professor, Astore blogs at Bracing Views.