Originally this column was going to be headlined “The Trump Who Listens,” and it was going to be an upbeat, positive piece.
But then stuff happened.
Although I do still want to tell you about The Trump Who Listens, because that guy was growing on me.
Following the GOP convention, Donald Trump was expected to pivot towards moderate and undecided voters, or at least that was the hope. Instead, he frittered away his post-convention bounce on a battle of tiny little words with a Gold Star family —- which was likely a trap set by the Democrats, but which Trump couldn’t resist sticking his foot into. And then there were more pointless rallies of the already faithful, a total lack of advertising, campaign stops in states like Connecticut which were never going to vote for Trump, and other campaign stops in states like Texas which were never going to vote for Hillary.
And over the course of just three weeks, Trump went from having an unlikely-but-still-possible path to 270 Electoral College votes, to having the Electoral College door effectively slammed in his face.
It got so bad, that even the most dubious of Trump supporters (like yours truly) put out pieces practically begging Trump to start running a professional and more traditional campaign. (See here and here.)
But then, lo and behold, it was as though Trump had listened. He said “You’re fired!” to his old manager and brought in new people -— including putting a respected pollster, Kellyanne Conway, in charge of his campaign. Trump even bought a little ad time (too little, but still!) in battleground states like Florida.
We wanted Trump to make an appeal to black voters —- and he did. We wanted him to open some damn field offices finally —- and he did. We wanted him to find a script that would appeal to voters outside his base, then stick to it -— and he did, in a pair of powerful and effective speeches.
And you know what? It was working. Running a professional and more traditional campaign, just like so many pundits had begged him to, was showing results.
Trump stanched the bleeding in states where it never should have been close, like Arizona and Georgia. He’s showing signs of renewed life in North Carolina, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, and crucial Ohio. If the door to 270 had been slammed shut, now at least some light was shining through.
The Trump Who Listens might just have a shot at this thing, after all.
But then Trump and Conway spent days sending mixed messages on exactly what President Trump would do about illegal immigrants —- his signature issue. Previously, his message was clear: Build a wall, one seriously tall wall from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean, and deport 11 million illegals. That message won him the GOP nomination.
Trump’s new position, if indeed he has one, was brutally summed up on Thursday by Michael Deppisch:
— Michael Deppisch (@deppisch) August 25, 2016
How bad is it really?
So bad that Ann Coulter —- who wrote Trump a book, fer crissakes -— unleashed an angry tweetstorm late Wednesday night. She even threatened to cancel her promotional tour for In Trump We Trust.
It must be all over already, right?
If Trump has stumbled, Clinton’s once smooth-running campaign is failing to capitalize on Trump’s blunders. Clinton had hoped to win by running a vanilla campaign, free of mistakes and, whenever possible, of content. But Tuesday’s AP report on the Clinton Foundation’s foreign finances made plain Secretary of State Clinton’s pay-to-play scheming. Even in the face of withering criticism however, AP is sticking to its guns. More damning is ex-NSA spook John Schindler’s report yesterday that “Hillary’s Secret Kremlin Connection Is Quickly Unraveling.” The Democratic-Media Complex has been circling the wagons something furious, but stories like these are the Drip, Drip, Drip that slowly corrode and then destroy a candidate. If she were a Republican, anyway.
How bad is it? Team Clinton has been reduced to attacking Trump for being some kind of “alt-right” white supremacist, or at least a bigot. Granted, the alt-right is racist and it is evil —- and it has attached itself to Donald Trump’s campaign. But as I’ve written elsewhere, Trump is no racist or antisemite: He’s a moderately liberal New York real estate developer who does business with virtually anybody of any faith or color. So if Clinton’s attacks reek of desperation, it’s because they are desperate.
Perhaps tellingly, Clinton has yet to score above 48% in RCP’s average of national polls, and although she’s ahead in almost every battleground state, she can’t seem to seal the deal with more than around 44-46% of battleground voters, even during the worse of Trump’s flubs. She’s dirty, and voters know it.
What we have then is something unique in presidential politics.
There is one candidate who has prepared most of her adult life to win the White House, but whose plan was to sell out American interests to win it. There is another candidate who never seriously planned to run for president, and whose lack of seriousness and planning hinders him at almost every turn.
This is a Race of the Cripples, run between two candidates who keep missing shots at one another because they’re too busy shooting themselves in the foot.