THE MORNING PLUM:
This morning brings a truly rare sighting: Donald Trump admitting error. Sort of, anyway. He tweeted this:
In effect, Trump admitted that a claim he had been making for days — including at a blustery rally yesterday — was pure invention. He’d said he had witnessed video of the $400 million cash transfer made by the United States to Iran, even though no such video existed. Now he’s admitting the video he saw was actually of the prisoner swap.
This episode undercuts one of the most cherished assumptions about this race, one explicitly voiced by Trump and even entertained by some neutral observers: That Trump can win through sheer media dominance alone. In this particular episode, Trump gained enormous amounts of media attention by publicly hallucinating about video of the cash transfer. But did he really gain anything from all that attention, other than widespread ridicule, at a time when his poll numbers are tanking? Press coverage tends to get harsher when a candidate gets weaker, and that’s what this episode brought.
Trump himself has repeatedly said, in various ways, that his strategy is premised on sucking up all the media oxygen. After Melania Trump’s convention speech was revealed as plagiarism, Trump said that all the publicity devoted to the speech was a positive, because “all press is good press.” Before that, Trump flatly stated that he had an advantage in the general election because “I have the loudspeaker.”
But it’s becoming increasingly obvious that “the loudspeaker” is turning voters against Trump, perhaps to a point from which there will be no coming back. The events of the last week strongly suggest this. Trump’s ongoing battle with the Khan family drew enormous media scrutiny, but, given that it brought with it widespread media coverage of Republicans and military figures criticizing his conduct, all this attention has been simply awful for him. Indeed, the Clinton team is now explicitly premising its strategy on the idea that all the coverage has grown so lethal that its best play is to get out of the way and let it continue. The Post reports this fascinating nugget:
Trump’s tough week has been met by relative silence on the Clinton trail. The principle is to let Trump dominate the news cycle, while Clinton garners local headlines on her jobs plan.
After the Denver stop on Wednesday, for example, the Denver Post’s three-column, front-page headline read, “Clinton pledges millions of jobs.”
Judging by the polls, this appears to be the right approach.
One thing that has become obvious about Trump is that he has not proven able to move into the general election, in the sense that he is still very much living in the mental universe he inhabited during the GOP primaries. Trump’s whole strategy was to win the nomination by putting on a big show, one characterized by constant boasts about size — about the size of his fortune, his poll numbers, his rallies, his jet plane, and even his
penis size strong, manly hands. Trump reportedly told a confidante in 2013 that he would win by making sure the media “never take the lights off of me.” Trump was right: He could do literally anything and the resulting media attention only seemed to lift him further aloft with Republican voters. And his media dominance probably did play a big role in his nomination.
But, crucially, Trump’s recent suggestion that “all press is good press” came during the general election, suggesting he still thinks media dominance can carry him to victory now.
And yet, as Jonathan Bernstein smartly argues, structural factors driving how the media covers political campaigns have turned his media dominance against him in the general election. As Bernstein notes, the major news orgs basically milked “the Trump Show” for good ratings during the primaries with relatively uncritical coverage. But now, “it’s harder for the media to ignore long-standing norms of fairness in the general election,” so the coverage and scrutiny are inevitably getting a lot harsher, at precisely the moment when Trump is devolving into his worst bouts of depravity and unhinged behavior yet.
Indeed, given the events of the last couple of weeks, there is no way to argue that all the media attention is helping him — it’s sinking his candidacy. His favorable numbers among the very groups he must expand his appeal among are as awful as ever. Large majorities see him as fundamentally unfit for the job. He is falling far behind in the national polling averages and remains stuck at around 40 percent. Democrats may be broadening the map.
The idea that Trump’s media ubiquity is largely a positive for him is merely a subset of larger myths about this race — that everything he does is shrewdly calculated and a reflection of his ingenious media manipulation, or even worse, that he possesses some species of Magical Trumpian Political Powers that allow him to defy the conventional rules of politics. Trump could still win, of course. But as of now, all of this has been thoroughly discredited.
* HILLARY AD FEATURES CONSERVATIVES AGAINST TRUMP: The Clinton campaign is airing a new ad that features a variety of GOP and conservative voices arguing that Trump cannot be trusted to control our nuclear arsenal. Given that the ad is running on national cable, it looks like the target audience is D.C. elites, with the goal of getting more and more center-right voices to declare Trump dangerously unfit for the job.
Note the juxtaposition of this argument with footage of Trump mocking a disabled reporter.
* PRESIDENTS WIELD VAST POWER OVER NUKES: The New York Times looks at the power a president has over the nuclear arsenal, and concludes:
Is there any check on a president’s power to launch nuclear arms that could destroy entire cities or nations? The short answer is no, though history suggests that in practice, there may be ways to slow down or even derail the decision-making process. No one disputes, however, that the president has an awesome authority….The commander in chief can also order the first use of nuclear weapons even if the United States is not under nuclear attack.
As one expert puts it: “There’s no veto once the president has ordered a strike.” President Donald Trump?
* CLINTON LEADING…IN GEORGIA? A new Atlanta Journal Constitution poll finds Clinton with a slight lead over Trump among registered voters in Georgia, 44-40. Previous polls have found it close, and the polling average has Trump up there by only three points.
Clinton advisers have said they think Georgia might be in play. But the real tell will be if Democrats invest any time or money there.
* A GOOD JOBS REPORT: The July jobs numbers are in:
Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 255,000 in July, and the unemployment rate was unchanged at 4.9 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today.
But…but…but…those WRONG TRACK NUMBERS GUARANTEE A TRUMP VICTORY!!! Cue up Trump claiming the employment numbers are “rigged”…
* SANDERS MAKES CASE FOR CLINTON: Bernie Sanders takes to the pages of the Los Angeles Times to make the case for Clinton, arguing that she favors universal health care, making college more affordable, and overturning Citizens United. And:
Clinton understands that climate change is real, is caused by human activity and is one of the great environmental crises facing our planet. She knows that we must transform our energy system away from fossil fuels…Trump, on the other hand, like most Republicans, rejects science…He believes that climate change is a “hoax,” and that there’s no need to address it.
If there were any single thing that would compel Sanders’ young supporters to back Clinton, you’d think this would be it.
* DEMS WARY OF CONVENTION BOUNCE: CNN reports that Dems are not taking Clinton’s current high in the polls all that seriously, and are still bracing for a very tough race:
“There’s a reason they call the convention bounces a ‘bounce.’ They can shoot you up to an artificial high and then come down to reality,” explained Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri, a longtime veteran of presidential politics. “We are really glad that our convention was so well-received but believe that we continue to face an electorate that is still very divided and know this election will be close.”
Clinton strategist Joel Benenson has also warned against reading too much into poll swings. The plain fact is that Democrats still think this could be a very close, hard fought race.
* AND RIGHT NOW, TRUMP IS LOSING — BIG: Philip Bump looks at all the recent national polling and reaches this stark conclusion:
Clinton…now leads in the average by seven points. How big is that? Big. Relative to Election Day in 2004, 2008 and 2012, Clinton’s lead is more than twice that of the eventual victor at this point. In 2004, George W. Bush had a six-point lead for a few weeks; in 2008, Barack Obama led by six points or more for the final month or so. Other than that, though, Clinton’s lead is exceptional.
This is very likely to subside, but still: Trump is beginning the next stage of the general election in a very weak position.