Presidential campaigns can run into trouble for a variety of reasons. Sometimes there are external events over which they have no control that put them at a disadvantage, such as an economic downturn that makes it hard for the party in power to resist calls for change. Sometimes there’s a scandal that engulfs the candidate, or a string of campaign-trail mistakes. There may be fundamental demographic patterns working against the candidates that are hard to overcome. Or one campaign might just be doing its job better than the other, building a better organization to turn out voters, managing the media better and raising more money.

And sometimes, everything goes south at once. That’s what’s happening to Donald Trump right now.

One of Trump’s interesting quirks is that he doesn’t use a computer, even though he’s obsessed with reading news about himself. “Every morning, staffers print out 30 to 50 Google News results for ‘Donald J. Trump,’ ” as Olivia Nuzzi recently described his routine. “He then goes at the sheaf with a marker, making circles and arrows and annotating things he likes or doesn’t like.” So imagine how things look this morning, as he’s reading headlines such as “GOP Insiders: Trump can’t win,” or “GOP donors, fearful of Trump-fueled electoral rout, direct big money down-ballot,” or “As Trump struggles, Clinton goes on offense to win over GOP,” or “Team Clinton tasting victory.”

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So now even the supremely confident Trump is wondering what he has to do to turn things around. And he’s looking for help:

Donald Trump’s campaign and top Republican Party officials plan what one person called a “come to Jesus” meeting on Friday in Orlando to discuss the Republican nominee’s struggling campaign, according to multiple sources familiar with the scheduled sit-down.
Though a campaign source dismissed it as a “typical” gathering, others described it as a more serious meeting, with one calling it an “emergency meeting.” It comes at a time of mounting tension between the campaign and the Republican National Committee, which is facing pressure to pull the plug on Trump’s campaign and redirect party funds down ballot to protect congressional majorities endangered by Trump’s candidacy.
The request for the Orlando Ritz Carlton meeting originated with Trump’s campaign, according to a source familiar with the broad details, and is being viewed by RNC officials as a sign that the campaign has come to grips with the difficulty it is having in maintaining a message and running a ground game.
“They want to patch up a rift that just keeps unfolding,” one source said. “They finally realize they need the RNC for their campaign because, let’s face it, there is no campaign.”

When that person says “there is no campaign,” what they’re referring to is Trump’s skeletal operation, not only at his headquarters but even more critically in the field. To take just one example, Trump has one field office in Florida, the largest swing state in the country. One. Less than three months from Election Day, he ought to have dozens. And understand, if Trump loses Florida, it will be essentially impossible for him to win the electoral college under any plausible scenario.

Last week, I offered a somewhat tongue-in-cheek description of eight things Trump could do to turn around his campaign. My point was that everything that would be necessary is something Trump either can’t do or won’t do. So one has to wonder, what are they going to talk about at that “come to Jesus” meeting? Even if Trump’s aides could convince him that things are going badly, what could they change? They might put in a crash program to assemble a genuine field effort, but it would be so far behind Hillary Clinton’s that it could mitigate only some of the damage. They might hire some more communication staff to work with the journalists assigned to his campaign, perhaps not treating them with such naked contempt. But most important, can they change Trump himself?

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It’s hard to imagine anyone believing that they could. Trump is who he is, and so much of what made him appealing to Republican base voters and thus enabled him to become the nominee made him toxic to general-election voters. When we look back on this election, we’ll see that as one of the central dynamics: The Republican base was so far from the center of the American electorate — in its demographics, its agenda, its values, and its anger and resentments — that every step Trump took in its direction pulled him farther and farther from the voters he needs to win over if he’s to assemble an electoral majority.

This is his weakness, but it’s also the Republican Party’s weakness. The candidates who might have been more appealing to the broader electorate, such as John Kasich or Marco Rubio, couldn’t assemble anything close to a plurality of Republican primary voters.  

There are still some undecided voters out there, but the most troubling question for Republicans may be whether the public’s image of Trump is beyond repair. At this point, is there anything he could say or do that would persuade Latinos to forget what he said about Mexican immigrants or about the judge in the Trump University case? Can he make moderate Republicans forget that he mocked a disabled reporter and got in a fight with the parents of a fallen soldier?

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If the past is any indication, Trump will tell the party that he gets it, that he realizes things have to change and that he’ll follow the party’s advice (whatever that might be) and do what’s necessary to give himself the best shot to win. And then within 48 hours, he’ll get before a raucous, angry crowd and say something appalling, and the cycle of controversy will start all over again.

This election is not over yet. We’ll have the debates starting next month (which should be pretty interesting), and who knows what will happen in the world that might change voters’ perspectives on the race. But there are only 88 days until Election Day. That’s not a lot of time, even if Trump knew exactly what he had to do to win. And there’s little reason to think he does.

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