As I explained a few days ago, I am tracking five key areas where Donald Trump’s campaign continues to fail at the all-important basics of electing a major party president. You can read a more extensive argument for my analysis here. The short version is that elections are not determined by racist tweets or bathroom politics, but rather by the demography of Election Day. Quite simply, the relative quality of the candidates matters much less than the quantity of their voters.
This week, matters have deteriorated for Trump faster than anyone had expected. Seeing the wreckage of the previous 48 hours, after Trump picked a fight with the family of a dead Muslim soldier and refused to heed advisers trying to rein him in, Martin Longman of the Washington Monthly suggests we are on the cusp of a breakdown, that “This charade will not hold for another three months.” Trump has already begun to spin his looming defeat as the result of a “rigged system,” but any objective person given the following data-set would conclude that he has probably doomed his own candidacy without anyone’s help.
longtime ally of Paul Manafort, Trump's campaign manager: "Manafort not challenging Trump anymore. Mailing it in. Staff suicidal."
— John Harwood (@JohnJHarwood) August 3, 2016
1 – Gutting out the vote
Trump actively refuses to do modern campaigning, with its geeky lists and databases and voter engagement techniques. He’s given that boring job over to the state Republican parties. Instead, Trump prefers to hold rallies, and while they do feed his ego, these events accomplish very little in terms of motivating people to the polls on his behalf. That’s a very sharp contrast with Clinton, whose operation is an order of magnitude bigger and has most of that staffing and resource advantage dedicated to modern ‘get out the vote’ (GOTV) work.
The difference is stark — and quantifiable.
In Pennsylvania, Democrats have a field staff of more than 100 while Republicans have 54. In Ohio, Democrats have 70 on staff as of June 11; Republicans have 53.
“Ninety-plus days before a totally winnable election and I’m stunned,” Gary Nordlinger, president of a political consulting firm and adjunct professor at George Washington University’s school of political management, told FoxNews.com, regarding the on-the-ground organizing. “I’m just shocked that Republicans did not learn from their mistakes in 2012.”
Despite campaign promises going into the Republican National Convention in Cleveland to step up their operations this month, staffing on the ground may still be spotty. FoxNews.com called Trump headquarters in Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and North Carolina — but only in Florida’s office in Sarasota did a person answer the phone.
Contrary to what he seems to believe, ‘retail politics’ stand to be Trump’s greatest liability in the race. He has been chasing potential votes away by attacking and smearing a Gold Star family, by kicking a baby out of a rally, by unveiling his deep narcissism at every turn. There is a finite number of American voters who can be persuaded to vote — and since his convention ended, Trumps’s been repelling them at a steady rate.
2 – Making extremism uncool again
Last night’s Kansas primaries were a debacle for Gov. Sam Brownback and his radical Republicans, who got massacred by moderates. One of Brownback’s key allies, Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, lost his reelection bid to a former community college president critical of Brownback’s education cuts. This bloodbath extends into the state’s congressional delegation, as Tea Party goofball Rep. Tim Huelskamp also lost to an establishment challenger by thirteen points. Polls show soft support for Trump in Kansas, too, and while Clinton is unlikely to become the first Democrat since 1964 to win the state’s six Electoral College votes, she is still much closer than any Democrat in a very long time.
We say that “all of politics is local,” of course, but Kansas isn’t the only locality where a blue or purple trend is underway. Fresh polls confirm that Clinton is tied with Trump in Georgia, for example, which makes the state a perfect place to try leveraging her GOTV advantage into a crushing Electoral College upset. Mormon Utah, where Trump’s rivalry with Mitt Romney has led to widespread disapproval of his candidacy, may also be in reach.
Having begun as the ‘year of the outsider,’ 2016 could be seeing the pendulum swing back towards the safety of the establishment, and Trump may just be the reason. Wouldn’t that be ironic?
3 – Almost no friends left
Here’s where we have some real evidence of a disaster brewing for November, because an increasing number of Republicans is breaking ranks to repudiate Trump and even endorse Clinton. It remains to be seen how much of this lost support will actually lift Clinton, who remains a bugbear to right wingers, in November. But there is just no precedent for Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY) to endorse a Democrat at all, much less after the nominating convention. Trump is in uncharted waters.
Yesterday, he refused to endorse senators John McCain and Kelly Ayote against their primary opponents, withholding his enorsement of House Speaker Paul Ryan as well. Trump is “not quite there yet” with Ryan, but is “giving it very serious consideration,” because that’s how a thin-skinned narcissist responds to the gentle rebukes of party leadership. Meanwhile, Republicans on Capitol Hill are sick and tired of taking questions about the things that Trump says.
If people are paying a political price for your candidacy, yet reap none of the rewards, then you can’t be surprised when hardly anyone wants to campaign with you, especially those in the most competitive districts.
Over the past week, POLITICO surveyed nearly 50 GOP candidates in competitive House, Senate and governor’s races on whether they’d be willing to campaign with the Republican nominee. Only a handful said yes — and the rest said no, refused to commit or didn’t respond at all.
[…] “I would recommend they have a perpetual scheduling conflict,” said Rob Jesmer, a former National Republican Senatorial Committee executive director who advises a number of the party’s most prominent lawmakers.
Trump is having uniformly negative effects down the ballot, and the GOP rank-and-file are ready to break the emergency glass. Yet there is simply no easy mechanism for replacing him at this point; they’re probably stuck with him at the top of their ticket for the next 96 days.
4 – A one man show
At its core, the problem here is that Trump refuses to ‘pivot’ to the general election in any meaningful way. He won’t hire the kind of communications staff necessary to keep up with hundreds of media outlets, for example, so instead he blacklists the ones which offend him. Trump has only a handful of surrogates; they are selected for loyalty, and carry a message honed by Trump instead of a professional PR team. The freest are those who have the most awful things to say — about the Khans, or Clinton, or whatever is in the news cycle — according to whatever conspiracy theory he digs up.
Campaign chairman Paul Manafort is reportedly “frustrated” that Trump doesn’t take advice from anyone when it comes to his messaging and communications — not even his children. Instead, the candidate spends his time watching TV and reacting on social media to the things that make him angry.
Trump does not take well to criticism, one official said, so any critique has to be prefaced with lavish praise ― as if dealing with a child.
One RNC member told HuffPost on condition of anonymity that Priebus routinely tells members that he frequently must “talk Trump down from a ledge,” and that the campaign would be in even worse shape if he didn’t.
But according to reports, there’s an intervention in the works.
Republican National Committee head Reince Priebus, former Republican New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich are among the Trump endorsers hoping to talk the real estate mogul into a dramatic reset of his campaign in the coming days, sources tell NBC News.
[…] The idea of an intervention is in its early stages, and there’s no guarantee that Trump’s team would entertain a conversation requiring such comprehensive changes for a candidate who has resisted calls to moderate his tone or reel in his most outlandish political positions.
Is Trump capable of taking suggestions? Of hearing good advice? Of shifting verbal gears? I doubt it, and his campaign is so skeletal that we can still see its shriveled heart beating.
5 – Moneyball
Clinton had her best fundraising month ever in July, taking in $90 million thanks to a strong spike in small donors as she wrapped up a successful convention. Today, Trump’s campaign says it received $80 million over the same time period. That’s his best month yet, and better than June, when Trump fell far behind. But it’s still not enough to catch up with Clinton — and now the post-convention phase is ending, so the candidates don’t have as much time to ask for money anymore.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott has agreed to chair a pro-Trump super PAC, but these efforts are late in the game. Trump has put off making any decisions about super PACs for too long, preferring to let them fight amongst themselves. So far, pro-Trump super PACs have not coordinated their efforts or found a way to operate in symphony. Rather, one super PAC co-chair can criticize Trump’s attacks on the Khan family even while another says their son shouldn’t have been allowed to serve in the military.
Furthermore, some of the conservative super PACs that had been ready to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into the race are now going quiet, and guess why?
Two major donor networks — one organized by Charles and David Koch, and Karl Rove’s Crossroads groups — are currently sitting out of the presidential race and focusing their dollars on Senate battles.
Several of Future 45’s original bankrollers are prominent Trump critics who have pulled all of their money from efforts to support the presidential ticket. Singer, who cut one of the original checks to the group and is the most prolific bundler in Republican politics, poured millions into defeating Trump during the primary and is now declining to endorse him in the general. Griffin, too, has so far declined to endorse Trump.
The Koch brothers loathe Trump and have rebuffed calls to throw their weight behind him. While the Kochs aren’t endorsing Clinton, they aren’t helping Trump, either. In fact, they drastically reduced the amount of money they plan to spend on politics this year. Trump might still benefit indirectly from the GOTV activity they’re conducting for some legislative and congressional races, but he will recieve no direct support.
Their decision, which was announced at a donor conference last weekend, made a big enough splash that Trump tried to spin it back in the other direction. But I don’t buy this characterization for a New York minute:
I turned down a meeting with Charles and David Koch. Much better for them to meet with the puppets of politics, they will do much better!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 30, 2016
The Trump campaign is still more theory than fact. He still refuses to engage in the nuts-and-bolts business of building of a modern campaign machine, prefererring to go on tour as The Donald Trump Show instead. While it might qualify as great television, it’s a really terrible way to run for president, particularly with an unfiltered character like Trump. He’s pushing his allies away and waving off opportunities to build a winning coalition. It’s not clear that he will have the resources to catch up even if he wants to. And unless there are drastic, immediate changes, Donald Trump could easily end up dragging the whole Republican Party down to dramatic defeat in November.
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