Donald Trump thinks he can win, even when nobody else thinks he has a chance. It was the same when he cut through 16 Republican opponents, many of whom were better funded, better organized, and–well, just better.
Though he’s behind, such minor details don’t worry the King of the gold-trimmed Orange Throne.
Trump controls Clinton’s polling
Trump is in control. He lives in Clinton’s head, and in voters’ heads. He gave Clinton her 7 point lead. James Downie’s take:
Given these numbers, it would seem then that the Democratic convention was a complete success. But what is particularly interesting is that, despite one of the convention’s goals of reintroducing and rehabilitating Clinton to voters, her bump seems to have come less from improving her image and more from convincing people that Trump is worse.
Trump is his own worst enemy. This certainly can be his advantage. If he can give points to Clinton, he can take them away. Clinton, on her own, has no control of her polling. All the cash she spends on advertising is for naught, just to tread water.
The data indicates that Trump can move the polls toward Clinton, and he (in the past) has been able to move them back.
Clinton’s battleground choices
We react with horror at states like Georgia going for Clinton, but if we believe that these bumps are due to Trump’s missteps, then Clinton should be attacking these weak spots aggressively to cement those gains. But she isn’t.
Clinton’s team doesn’t rule out an effort at Arizona, a state with a booming population of Latino voters that polls find are loath to support Trump. And Georgia, a bastion of the Deep South, echoes recent population trends in other Southeastern states where Clinton is competing aggressively.
But neither is among the 11 battleground states that Clinton’s television advertising plans and her travel schedule point to as her focus. Those states are the perennial top-tier targets Florida and Ohio, plus Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin. President Barack Obama carried them all in 2008, and missed out on only North Carolina during his 2012 re-election campaign.
Clinton is sticking to the winning states, which makes sense, politically. Trump is focusing on Hillary’s weaknesses: Pennsylvania, Ohio, and the rust belt. The battle may come down to states like New Hampshire. She thinks like a liberal politician; he doesn’t think like a politician at all.
While Clinton, her PACs and the DNC have bought $98 million in television ads Team Trump has bought practically nothing, under $7 million. Yet in July, Trump/RNC nearly matched Hillary’s cash haul with $80 million.
Trump has dry powder to hit where he needs to, and three more months to go. He may not have cash, but he doesn’t need a lot. Ground organization is just not part of Trump’s plan. He plans to motivate GOTV by personal appeal and social media. It has worked in the past (look at Iowa, even though Trump lost, he made a very good play; look at New Hampshire).
Trump isn’t afraid to fight dirty (not even his defenders argue this). Of course, Clinton just needs to echo what Trump says, but Trump has fresh absurdity daily. He’s actually enervated voters to his scandals. George Will compared it to the Tammany Hall Democrats of the 1870’s.
He seems to understand that if you produce a steady stream of sufficiently stupefying statements, there will be no time to dwell on any one of them, and the net effect on the public will be numbness and ennui. So, for example, while the nation has been considering his interesting decision to try to expand his appeal by attacking Gold Star parents, little attention has been paid to this: Vladimir Putin’s occupation of Crimea has escaped Trump’s notice.
Essentially, the argument goes that anything Clinton throws at Trump just slides off a mountain of manure and joins the compost heap. By this, Trump can wait an infinity of time and not release his tax returns. But Trump has plenty to throw at Clinton, even if it’s not really true.
Clinton’s tax plan is pretty bad: a $1.3 trillion tax hike. But Trump, ever conscious of the middle-class, manages to twist Clinton’s words, so instead of benefitting them, the hike is on them. (Notwithstanding that Trump is unquestionably right, but only by accident.) Watch for this kind of dirty play in swing-state television advertising. She’ll cry foul, and the media will make a scandal, but Trump will build his confirmation bias.
Trump only needs to make people think something, not have it be real. That’s the essence of the Trump movie drama that pretends to be a political campaign. It’s all a fantasy, but it makes people want to believe it. They want to believe it so badly that they suspend disbelief to swallow it.
Confirmation bias and terrorism
The biggest weapons Trump has is external events and confirmation bias. Unfortunately (for the country), this weapon has been extremely reliable for the master con man. Even disregarding Russian DNC email hacks and Trump’s claims that the general election is rigged, the gold-tufted dodo bird knows that ISIS is on his side.
Every week or two, radical Islamic terror strikes. It’s as reliable as Old Faithful. May 7, 11, 15, 17, 23; June 12, 14, 28; July 1, 3, 8, 14. It’s almost a certainty that we will see 4 or 5 major news stories about terror attacks in the next two to three months. Trump has set up a very strong confirmation bias about these attacks.
Any gain the Democrats received from Khizr Khan’s attack could be wiped out by one event. Gold Star family or not, Khan is an Islamic set piece. Trump planted that fact in his statements, while covering himself by walking back the worst of his disgusting verbal attacks.
The Democratic response to these attacks is predictable. Trump will take full advantage of that and give more life to the scary Hillary-Benghazi-Iran story thread.
What pivot? The value of chumps
Trump has no intention of pivoting. He will play the same way he’s played for a year. The man is incapable of anything else. Pivot or no, there are some strong indicators that this race will be closer than it appears right now.
Of course, there could be a fairly quiet three months between now and November. President Obama could make some significant gains fighting ISIS. Some piece of Clinton’s opposition research on Trump that hasn’t already been beaten to death could gain traction and cause Trump to hit back awkwardly.
The Democrats could successfully mock and bait Trump into more damaging statements without events that cause him to recover. These things could widen Clinton’s lead into double-digits and build a wave that Trump might not–despite his cashless and organization-deprived strategy to win–be able to overcome.
The race is not over by any means, and Trump is playing the odds. Warren Buffett is actually wrong about Trump.
“In 1995, when he offered this company, if a monkey had thrown a dart at the stock page, the monkey would have made on average 150 percent,” Buffet said. “But the people that believed in him, that listened to his siren song, came away losing well over 90 cents on the dollar.”
He’s wrong because the monkey would have made a 202 percent gain, if it reinvested dividends. Nonetheless, where Buffett was wrong about Trump is that Trump plays for himself to win, not anyone else. Trump made $44 million from his failed public company. He played everyone for chumps and won.
Never underestimate the rock solid reputation of chumps.