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Trump may have frittered away the only other commodity that is as valuable as money in an election campaign: time.
Wednesday, June 22, 2016
Cleveland is being forced into a rush job, converting the Quicken Loans Arena from a basketball court into courting the Republican Party.
At the rate things are going, the Republican National Convention may become every bit the cliffhanger that the Cavaliers-Warriors final was. After a couple of woeful weeks on the campaign trail, Donald Trump has been looking less like a slam dunk for the nomination and more like the first presumptive presidential nominee who could foul out of a game.
Most pundits attribute Trump’s slippage to a series of misbegotten statements, including knocking members of his own party whose support he needs and lashing out at the judge with Mexican parentage who is presiding over a class action suit in which Trump is the defendant. His comments in reaction to the Orlando massacre succeeded in offending both the politically correct with his anti-Muslim rhetoric and his own supporters with his callous and self-congratulatory tone.
Much of the criticism raining down on the Donald is coming from expected quarters, mainly Democrats and hard-core anti-Trumpers. They cannot be faulted for grabbing for Trump’s jugular. That’s politics.
Another strong dose is coming from mainstream Republicans who held their noses until Trump surpassed the magic 1,237-delegate mark to clinch the title of presumptive nominee before granting him lukewarm support. This is also understandable, considering many are worried about their own jobs. A half-dozen Republican senators are either trailing, or locked in tight races with their likely Democratic rivals, and fear that an unpopular candidate named Trump at the top of their ticket will sink them too.
The perception that Trump is doomed is reinforced by some new public opinion polls, namely MSNBC, which shows Hillary Clinton turning a 1-point deficit into a 6-point lead over Trump in their first post-Orlando poll, and a Bloomberg poll (most of which was taken before Orlando) that gave Clinton a double-digit lead.
However, when Bloomberg scrambled to add a couple of questions, post-Orlando, asking which candidate would better deal with a similar attack a year from now, Trump bested Clinton 45%–41%. And a Reuters/Ipsos poll taken in the five days after the attack showed Hillary’s lead over Trump slipping from 14 points to 10 points.
The Real Clear Politics average poll, which aggregates results from as many as 18 different public opinion polls, also shows Clinton turning a tied race on May 25 into the 6% lead she enjoyed at press time.
“What seems interesting is that it has mainly been a drop in Trump support, with little increase for Clinton, but I’m not sure of the significance of that yet,” says Sean Trende, senior elections analyst for Real Clear Politics.
The evidence from the polls would tend to poke a hole in the narrative that Trump has suffered a serious setback mainly because of his post-Orlando comments.
The Trumpites, as columnist Charles Krauthammer calls them, are a solid core. It’s probably safe to assume that Trump’s call for prohibiting certain Muslims from entering the US and profiling others neither added to his support, nor offended his core constituency.
Still, everyone seems to agree that Trump has gone wrong in frittering away the only other commodity that is as valuable as money in an election campaign: time.
He became presumptive nominee a full month before Hillary Clinton, yet has done little to build out a comprehensive national campaign team, including a seasoned cadre of economic and foreign policy advisors that he will need as president. Furthermore, his campaign has been roiled by inner turmoil. Trump has parted ways with both his national political director, Rick Wiley, and at press time, his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski.
Trump’s biggest drawback is not what he says or how he says it, but that he lacks experienced hands that can guide him as chief executive of a $17 trillion economy and commander in chief of the world’s most powerful military. He has made scant efforts to get up to speed, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the sluggishness of his campaign.
After becoming the presumptive nominee the morning of May 5, when his last opponents unexpectedly dropped out after his win in Indiana, and a full month before Hillary Clinton reached that same milestone, Trump has been relatively passive.
NPR’s Jessica Taylor documented that in the two days following Indiana, he visited three states — West Virginia, Nebraska, and Oregon — that possess a grand total of 17 electoral votes. He then took almost two weeks off, before appearing in New Jersey to help Chris Christie pay off his campaign debts. Another five-day gap, and Trump was off to Albuquerque, New Mexico, with five more electoral votes — a campaign stop marred by street riots and snarky comments aimed at Governor Susana Martinez, who might have made an ideal running mate for Trump had the Donald played his cards differently. He spent most of the next ten days in California, a state that last voted Republican in 1988.
At press time, the RCP average showed Clinton leading Trump 211 to 164 in the Electoral College race (270 are required for victory), but some 163 additional votes are still considered toss-ups.
While the map is not favorable for Trump, neither is it solid blue for Hillary in areas such as the Northeast and most of the Rust Belt, which Obama swept in 2008 and 2012. The 2016 ballot will be decided in battleground states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, Virginia, and North Carolina, with a total of 95 electoral votes. Clinton’s lead is 4% or less in all of those states, with Trump ahead in North Carolina.
It would be an uphill battle for any Republican candidate. In his race against Clinton, Trump is opposing a Democrat in a country where the demographics are trending in her favor. She is running on President Obama’s platform, with a few tweaks. Obama’s approval rating among Democrats is 82% according to the latest Reuters/Ipsos poll. Hillary lived in the White House for eight years when her husband was president, she served as US senator from New York, and as Secretary of State. While holding a job doesn’t imply you did a great job — and Hillary has more than her share of critics, political opponents, and whiff of scandal — she deserves her front-runner status.
Yet, Trump’s condition is probably not as fatal as the media coverage of the past two weeks indicates. The latest movement to dump Trump, either before or at the convention, is likely to fall flat for lack of any viable alternative. It would antagonize the 13 million people who voted for him during the primary season, and raise the possibility that Trump would run as a third-party candidate and cause an irreparable rift in the Grand Old Party.
But he also can’t go it alone, as he threatens. Both sides are stuck with each other, and are going to have to come to terms before the convention — or at it. If not, the Donald and the Republicans may make Barry Goldwater’s showing in 1964 — when he won six states and 52 electoral votes — look good.
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