Hillary Clinton (The Washington Post)

The media understandably are focusing on Hillary Clinton’s limitations as a candidate. She is having trouble putting away aging socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). She is not exciting young voters, and her untrustworthiness ratings are historically high. Republicans and other critics should not delude themselves into thinking she will be easy prey in the general election.

For one thing, she will run against Donald Trump from the left. She won’t play defense from the right, as she has had to do in the primary while her party rejects the middle-of-the-road liberalism that her husband popularized as the “Third Way.” Her appearance at the Service Employees International Union convention in Detroit on Monday showed how effective she can be against Trump. She declared:

At a time when families are struggling to pay for childcare and so much else, Donald Trump actually stood on a debate stage and argued that Americans are being paid too much. He actually talked, hear this because you need to tell your friends, he actually talked about getting rid of the national minimum wage altogether. . . . A lot of Republicans themselves say Donald Trump is a disaster waiting to happen to America. What little we know of his economic policies would be from running up our debt, to starting trade wars, to letting Wall Street run wild – all of that could cause another crash and devastate working families and our country. Trump economics is a recipe for lower wages, fewer jobs, more debt. He could bankrupt America like he’s bankrupted his companies.

Ask yourself, how could anybody lose money running a casino? Really?

She really is better — well, any politicians is better — against Trump. Against Trump, she can bond with the audience, something she isn’t always able to do with ease in the primary, by mocking Trump and regaling it with (accurate) tales of his loony policy pronouncements. Sure, this was a union audience, where she threw in plenty of goodies — from paid leave to subsidized child care (how we pay for all this is another matter) — but the message that Trump is a danger domestically and internationally is compelling. And it is one in which her deficits in the primary — staidness, lack of soaring rhetoric, etc. — become assets against the erratic, demagogic Trump.

It’s child’s play, really. Her latest video ad highlights how Trump rooted for a crash:

If you thought Mitt Romney had a problem with the “cares about people like me” question, wait until that ad and ones like it run wall-to-wall for months in swing states.

Also working in Clinton’s favor is the math. Republicans cannot get out of their heads a demographic model long out of date. They keep aiming to turn out more and more of the white vote when there are fewer and fewer white votes as a percentage of the electorate. The Post’s Chris Cillizza reminded us recently:

The current Republican disadvantage in the electoral map is less about any individual candidate than it is about demographics. As the country, and the voting public, has become less white and as Republicans have proved incapable of winning over nonwhite voters, a number of states have moved toward Democrats over the past decade. . . .

What has become increasingly clear is that any state with a large or growing nonwhite population has become more difficult for Republicans to win. Virginia and North Carolina, long Republican strongholds, have moved closer and closer to Democrats of late.

Trump’s dreams of “rewriting the map” come up against the hard realities of electoral math. The states trending more Republican with high percentages of white voters are few, while the number of states with more diverse populations grows. It becomes hard to think of electorally rich states that Trump could flip. Certainly not New Jersey, New York, California, Florida, Colorado or Nevada. What about Ohio? That’s not looking bright either. Democrats take comfort in analysis from groups such as the liberal Center for American Progress:

Demographic changes are occurring at such rapid rates that, in some states, regaining 2004 levels of support simply will not be enough for the Republican presidential candidate to win them back in 2016. In other words, as voters of color become a larger share of the electorate, winning a state in 2016 will necessitate a higher level of support among voters of color than in past elections.  . . . When President Bush won Ohio in 2004, voters of color collectively comprised less than 14 percent of the state’s electorate. By 2016, African Americans will constitute more than 12 percent of the electorate, and people of color collectively will account for 17 percent of the state’s electorate. In light of these changes, CAP’s analysis finds that in 2016, if—across racial and ethnic groups—voters cast ballots as they did in 2004, the Democratic candidate would win by a margin of 3.6 percentage points. …

In 2004, non-Hispanic white voters’ support for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) was higher than their support for President Obama in 2012, meaning that, under the second simulation, Democrats would pick up more support among white voters than they did in 2012. But even if the Republican candidate in 2016 maintains the high support that Gov. [Mitt] Romney received among white voters, while at the same time regaining 2004 levels of support among voters of color, the GOP would still lose Ohio.

Add in Trump’s considerable problems with women voters, and you see the advantage Clinton has.

In sum, while not by any stretch of the imagination a great candidate, Clinton is likely to be a better candidate in the general than in the primary election. Given her demographic advantage, which is aggravated by Trump’s racist and misogynist language, Clinton becomes formidable. Republicans taking comfort in national polls in May are kidding themselves.