Well, it was premature to panic when Trump's ratings went up in May after he secured the Republican nomination and premature to become complacent when then went down in July. It was also premature to become complacent when Hillary's ratings soared following the conventions, but not as premature. And it is premature to panic now with Hillary's extended string of bad luck -- but not as premature.
It appears to be the e-mail scandal that is hurting her. The press has been paying extended attention to that scandal and treating it as a very serious matter, so it can hardly be surprising that the public treats it as a serious matter as well. In the meantime, there are any number of shocking stories about Trump out there, but none of them has caught on in the same way that the Hillary e-mail scandal has. Why is that?
I am inclined to think first and foremost that there is just so much stuff out there on Trump that none of it is really sticking because there is always a new bright, shiny object to move on to. The e-mail scandal, on the other hand, is one thing to latch onto. Or rather, it is not. It is actually three or four things going on at once. One is that Hillary Clinton sent State Department e-mails over a private server, which she was not supposed to do, and which makes them more vulnerable to hacking. Or maybe it was an attempt to hide them from investigators, and she did, in fact, delete some 30,000 personal e-mails before handing over the public ones. Also the e-mails include a number of large donor to the Clinton foundation asking for special favors, although there is no evidence that such favors were ever granted. All of these are separate, but they are similar enough to (understandably) be conflated in the public mind. There was also the Russian hack of the Democratic National Committee, which was not related and did not involve national security or classified documents, but also tends to become conflated because both scandals involve e-mails and electronic security. Besides, Trump tended more to conflate them by joking that he hoped the Russians had recovered those 30,000 e-mails she deleted. One comes away with the impression that either Hillary Clinton endangered national security by sending e-mails on a private server that was hacked, or that she is engaged in a massive cover-up of corrupt dealings. Or both.
Trump, in the meantime, has any number of crooked dealings in his past, but there are so many that it is hard to focus on any one.
Also, badly organized as his campaign may have been in the past, he has now mastered the importance of message discipline. His response to any accusation is simply to turn the subject to those damn e-mails. During the primaries, Trump joked that he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and it wouldn't cost him any votes. Just to be clear, that was purely a joke, and I do not believe that he would every shoot anyone, on Fifth Avenue or anywhere else. Nonetheless, imagine if Trump did shoot a political or business rival in the middle of Fifth Avenue.
Some reporter would ask if that made him look "unpresidential." Given his record, Trump might deny having shot anyone, despite the innumerable witnesses and possibly even being caught on camera. But if he couldn't get away with denying it, he would say oh yeah, well what about Hillary's e-mails? Campaign surrogates would say that the United States is a very big country, with some 300 million people. Out of that vast number, Trump shot exactly one. But Hillary put all of us in danger by sending State Department e-mails on a private server. Someone would point out that it is not unprecedented for a President to shoot someone. After all, Andrew Jackson killed a man in a duel. But no President up till now has ever sent State Department e-mails on a private server.* News stories would solemnly report that new questions were being raised in the Clinton e-mail scandal, setting forth the latest donor to request a favor, with the careful caveat that the favor does not appear to have been granted. In further news today, Donald Trump shot somebody in the middle of Fifth Avenue. Others would solemnly purse their lips and declare that both candidates were running into trouble, Hillary over unanswered questions on her e-mails and Trump over shooting a rival on Fifth Avenue. Though to be fair, if Trump denied the shooting Politifact would no doubt give him a "Pants on Fire" rating for it.
Is it any wonder given all the attention it is getting that large numbers of people are now convinced that sending State Department e-mails on a private server is the worst offense a candidate can possibly commit, They may conclude that Trump may be a crook, he may have built his business empire on fraud, he may be utterly corrupt and make no distinction between personal and public interest, he may not know or care a thing about policy, he may appeal to prejudice and hate, he may have a wildly unstable temperament and lash out wildly at personal insults, he may even wonder why we can't use our nuclear arsenal, but at least he never sent State Department e-mails on a private server. We have to focus on what is important here.
So what can Hillary do about all this? My advice is, learn a lesson from Trump about message discipline. He has committed so many outrages that no one can keep up with all of them, and any attempt to raise all will make most people's eyes glaze over. So do a bunch of polls and focus groups to find of of all the dirt there is on Trump, which offends people most. Which one really has legs? So next time someone asks her about those blasted e-mails she should deflect the question back to whatever scandal on Trump gives the most offense. And she should instruct all her campaign surrogates to keep raising the same issue. And she should get Democrats everywhere to also start talking about it at every possible opportunity.
And funny thing, but before long whatever Trump scandal turned out to have the most mileage will be in the news. And once the news media get going, it is very difficult to stop them (as Hillary knows all too well). So hurry up, Hillary. There isn't much time left.
*And that would, in fact, be true. While in the early 19th Century a President's Secretary of State was practically his designated successor, the Secretary of State to become President was apparently James Buchanan, who, of course, served long before e-mails were invented.