Had Trump not flaunted his “people’s billionaire” theatrics with racist gestures, shock value and derisive “entertainment,” he’d not be so vulnerable today. From now on, the key skill-sets of the candidates and their professional managers take over, not good news for Trump. Seemingly resistant to change, the continuing Trump primary hustle is flopping both with national audiences and in key battleground states. What resourceful stand-up comic won’t evolve when rising from backwater whistle-stop to national center stage? Where’s what Trump desperately needs — Act Two — and does one exist to save his hide?
Party, policy and personality aside, modern election wins track this trustworthy correlation: “they who run the best campaigns take home the big prize.” Despite embarrassing (sexual-trailer-trash) wounds, untested candidate Bill Clinton first deposed Bush, then out-campaigned Dole. Karl Rove’s Bush II outmaneuvered both Gore and Kerry campaigns, and Obama’s brilliant runs shellacked McCain and Romney, in focus, energy and Electoral votes. So far, Trump’s contempt for veteran advice explains his wildly inept campaign, rashly leaning on rote primary ploys: alienating potential voters (without offsetting gains), ridiculing party members, and making schismatic, unRepublican noises on trade and militarism.
What savvy political operative endorses that what worked for this bizarre, renegade primary winner should be repeated in the general election? Commanding one-third of the electorate, Trump still needs nearly 20% more — and in the right states. Where, when and how does his negotiation wizardry close the deal? If the casino gambler-insurgent keeps impugning minorities, piling on unforced errors, erratic messaging and lousy campaign strategy, he’s stuck replaying the same, doubtful partisan primary meme: “let’s burn down the capital; don’t ask for details.” That means the wary Clinton need only look presidential, pander to enough groups to overcome her negatives, and avoid damaging scandals. Remember, Hillary is well vetted while the Donald’s anti-worker, criminal skeletons are just pouring from the closet.
And the Winner, By Default?
In short, the alleged change-agent named Trump must change — or face more dire polling. Voters don’t have to like Hillary to favor her over a dicey magical mystery tour. In a capsule: if HC wins Obama’s blue states including Florida, MI, and WI (all leaning Democratic), she only needs OH or PA or NC (that is,12 Electoral votes). Trump (if he wins UT) needs to win virtually all the rest in play: NV, OH, CO, PA, and NC.
If Trump’s dominance comes down to chin-jutting, belligerent stand-up routines, what happens when he’s perceived as simply obnoxious or dangerous, not entertaining? And still without substance, as nothing in the primary shamed him to learn in-depth domestic and foreign policies, let alone trade, taxes and economics. Will a damped-down, disciplined Trumpster, if possible, garner scads of free coverage? And might not that inevitably reveal his dramatic shortcomings, especially his unstable, unqualified temperament? If Trump becomes ordinary, even boring, by repeating the same vacuous memes with the same declamatory, holier-than-thou tone of voice, where’s his ‘populist’ leverage? Trump has mic-presence but he’s no orator capable of visionary, inspiring speeches. Hard to communicate the big picture with clipped tweets or furious one-liners, all too often approximating Palinesque word-salad. “Crooked” Hillary works for a bit, but hardly qualifies as an overall, potent narrative for a stubborn underdog devoid of political resume, office or record. How long will Trump’s Negativity Crusade (as in doom and gloom or just mocking Hillary) succeed with centrists?
Weak Polling Befuddles DT
Already, the brash Trump is mystified that his genius finds no mirror in sagging poll numbers. Could that reflect fatigue with his campaign of invective or his outlandish allergies to reality? Or the monotonous delivery that rarely gets beyond righteous indignation to actual proposals? Could polling gaps have anything to do with Trump’s chronic end-of-days gloom and doom Jeremiads, red meat only for rightwing militants, fundamentalists and deranged conspiracy buffs?
For most politicians, producing boredom is not the worst political crime. But if you’ve bet everything on being off the wall, an entertaining, politically-incorrect celebrity TV star, boredom is an ominous result, cutting into your popularity and media dominance. Does Trump know how to move beyond his now iconic mendacity, racism and xenophobia — or figure he’ll charm everyone by insulting all critics or scolding defiant Republicans, triggering the inevitable whining “they” are out to get him? So far, Trump’s great weakness is not learning from failure, and his ongoing addiction to primary ploys proves he doesn’t know when enough is enough. Trump’s whole schtick is about crossing some line, then charging ahead as if intemperance is a self-evident virtue.
Is Trump the Historic Breakthrough?
Sooner rather than later, top politicians learn from great storytelling how to shift from merely telling to showing, communicating with accessible frames what their winning means. Otherwise, one-stump-speech politicians qualify as dull and defective, one-trick ponies. Where’s any evidence Trump knows how to transition from his rote sales pitch (“All is nearly lost, elect me”) to a convincing, inclusive narrative sustainable for six months? How much sneering nastiness wins over key undecideds — especially when displaying so little awareness of what D.C. trench governance involves? Can anyone win, let alone “Make America Great Again,” by never explaining the how or why or with what coalition stuff gets done?
After all, Trump faces two daunting tasks: 1) overcome the Democratic-Electoral College lean while 2) transitioning from the weirdest of primary spectacles to compete from sea to shining sea against this era’s best-prepared opponent. There are solid historical reasons why no politician (or con artist), having never held high political or military office), ever won the White House.
Throw in Trump’s unstable, racially-biased temperament, along with unceasing GOP dissension, and where’s the scenario for this suspect figure to remake American history? However flawed and disliked is Hillary, Yankee voters have never yet leaped into anything close to the unknowable, fantasy world Trump depicts. Finally, what sufficient constituency (not with Trump) will offset the huge numbers who predictably migrate to Hillary after Sanders’ unabashed, full endorsement and side-by-side campaigning? If Trump fails to break through today’s recalcitrant support ceiling, he gets to be a has-been loser without ever being a victorious player.