The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Trump is entirely delusional about why he’s losing. His new campaign shakeup proves it.

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The big news of the morning — that Donald Trump has shaken up his campaign and is doubling down on the narrow strategy that worked in the GOP primaries but is failing catastrophically in the general election — would appear to leave only two possibilities.

Either Trump is delusional, to the point of being entirely incapable of appreciating why he’s currently losing to Hillary Clinton. Or he has a diabolical plan to break apart the Republican Party and pocket a big chunk of it for himself, for post-election fun and profit. My money is on the former.

Robert Costa and Jose DelReal have the grisly details on Trump’s shakeup. Trump has installed at the top one Stephen Bannon, who runs Breitbart News, while relegating Paul Manafort to a lesser role. Here’s Costa’s account of the internal thinking, based on conversations with Trump aides:

Trump’s stunning decision effectively ended the months-long push by campaign chairman Paul Manafort to moderate Trump’s presentation and pitch for the general election. And it sent a signal, perhaps more clearly than ever, that the real-estate magnate intends to finish this race on his own terms, with friends who share his instincts at his side….
While Trump respects Manafort, the aides said, he has grown to feel “boxed in” and “controlled” by people who barely know him. Moving forward, he plans to focus intensely on rousing his voters at rallies and through media appearances.
Trump’s turn away from Manafort is in part a reversion to how he ran his campaign in the primary with then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. Lewandowski’s mantra was “let Trump be Trump” and Trump wants to get back to that type of campaign culture, the aides said….
Bannon, in phone calls and meetings, has been urging Trump for months to not mount a fall campaign that makes Republican donors and officials comfortable, the aides said. Instead, Bannon has been telling Trump to run more fully as an outsider and an unabashed nationalist.

This appears to confirm, as I have argued, that Trump remains trapped in the mental universe he inhabited during the primaries. That was a place where the size of his crowds at rallies actually did portend victories over less colorful and entertaining opponents who failed to create a mystique to rival his. It was a place where he really could win through sheer media dominance alone, because the bigotry, xenophobia, and all around depravity and wretchedness that drove that dominance — and with it, the name recognition that allowed him to blot out his rivals — did not alienate large numbers of Republican voters in the manner he is currently repulsing key general election constituencies. Trump now appears determined to prove that the same formula — which basically constitutes whipping up white backlash through rousing rallies and a continued emphasis on ethno-nationalism (leavened a bit by pretend minority outreach gestures) — can work in the general.

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One way to understand how unlikely this is to succeed is to look at yesterday’s Post poll of Virginia, which showed Clinton leading Trump by 52-38. Virginia is a New South state that is slowly slipping into the Democratic column, due to demographic shifts that are growing the state’s populations of college educated whites and nonwhites. It represents in microcosm the broader demographic trends that are driving the Democratic Party’s success in national elections. Our poll finds that Trump is viewed unfavorably in the state by 70 percent of college educated whites, 70 percent of women, 84 percent of nonwhites, and 73 percent of voters under 40 years old. These are precisely the demographics Trump must improve among to win. Yet he is doubling down on precisely the approach that continues to alienate them, with the result that the map is broadening for Democrats.

Polling Manager Scott Clement conducted The Post's most recent poll and answered questions about the results and methodology. (Video: Thomas Johnson, T.J. Ortenzi/The Washington Post)

Does Trump really think that will work? If so, who knows, perhaps he will be proven right. He could succeed in uniting Republicans in the home stretch. External events or new Clinton revelations could enable him to prevail, even as he resolutely sticks to his approach. But that seems unlikely at this point.

One other explanation for Trump’s latest moves comes courtesy of CNN’s Brian Stelter, who suggested this morning that Trump may be positioning himself to launch a new media enterprise after a November loss. Bannon and former Fox exec Roger Ailes (who is also advising Trump), Stelter noted, would be just the team for Trump to do that. If so, perhaps Trump is very consciously sticking to his strategy of fusing white nationalism with rousing WWE style political entertainment, and very consciously avoiding broader demographic outreach that might dilute this approach’s appeal to his core constituencies, in order to split off a chunk of the GOP and keep it for himself later as a following and national audience. As I said, my money is on the Trump-is-delusional explanation, and the reporting appears to confirm it. But this alternate rationale does make some sense, too, and bears watching.


* TRUMP’S INCREDIBLE SHRINKING ELECTORAL MAP: Politico’s Steven Shepard looks at all the state-by-state polling and concludes:

Taken together, the state polling paints a bleak picture for Trump: He currently trails in all 11 of the states identified by Politico as Electoral College battlegrounds. If all safely Democratic states are allocated to Clinton, plus the seven swing states where her lead is greater than 5 points in Politico’s Battleground States polling average (Colorado, Florida, Michigan, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin), Clinton would reach 302 electoral votes, 31 more than necessary to win.

And this doesn’t even include North Carolina and Ohio, where Clinton is ahead. Of course, Trump has a secret plan to put secret states in play, so you should still Be Very Afraid.

* TEAM CLINTON’S GROWING CONFIDENCE: David Drucker reports this about the pro-Clinton Super PAC Priorities USA:

Priorities USA…intends to pull down television ads in two battlegrounds considered crucial to a Clinton victory this fall: Colorado and Pennsylvania; the Democratic group is already dark in a third swing state, Virginia….The moves are a product of Clinton’s significant lead over Republican nominee Donald Trump in those three states.

While the Super PAC intends to go back up in the three states in September, the temporary lull suggests growing confidence about them. And remember, Pennsylvania is central to Trump’s Awesome Rust Belt Strategy.

 * TRUMP GETS HIS FIRST CLASSIFIED BRIEFING TODAY: It’s set to take place at an FBI field office in Manhattan, and Maggie Haberman comments:

The nominees of both parties are eligible to receive the classified briefings after the conventions. But for Mr. Trump, the moment presents another in a series of opportunities for the businessman-turned-reality-television-star-turned-candidate to try to demonstrate gravitas.

Nobody is better at keeping classified information secret than Trump, believe me.

 * TRUMP’S STRANGE APPROACH TO UNITY: The Post reports that on the campaign trail, Trump has been emphasizing the “problem” of voter fraud and has been criticizing Black Lives Matter. And yet, Trump still thinks this:

Trump has spoken confidently about earning the support of Hispanic and black voters, dismissing his abysmal polling numbers among minorities as he seeks to brand himself as someone who can unify the country.

Here’s another area where Trump’s “unconventional” approach to politics — this time, to black outreach — just might end up failing him.

* AETNA THREATENED OBAMACARE PULLOUT: Aetna has pulled out of the Obamacare exchanges, prompting new worries about the law. But the Huffington Post now reports that Aetna privately threatened the Obama administration that it would pull out if its merger with Humana were not approved. It wasn’t, and Aetna made good on its vow.

Also note this basic point from HuffPo: The law might need fixing, but Clinton has proposed fixes that would preserve the law’s successful coverage expansion, while Trump vows to repeal the whole thing and replace it with something that would result in many millions losing coverage.

* LATINA WHO WORKED FOR BUSH ENDORSES CLINTON: Former Bush official Rosario Marin throws her support to the Democrat, citing the GOP’s decision to nominate a man who won the GOP primary in part by insulting Mexican immigrants:

The party left me and my community all alone again. It has had plenty of time to stand up for my community, but it has chosen not to do so. I have come to the devastatingly painful realization that my party right now doesn’t want my vote nor that of my community. Evidently it is not important, or not as important as some other voting bloc.

The GOP Latino outreach that the RNC’s post-2012 autopsy called for is going swimmingly.

* AND NEW ENGLAND REPUBLICANS FACE EXTINCTION: Bloomberg Politics’ Billy House reports this fascinating tidbit:

New England’s shrinking Republican delegation in Congress is moving toward the brink of political extinction in November with Donald Trump at the top of the party’s ticket. Only four Republicans remain in New England’s 33-member congressional delegation, and three are in competitive races this fall. The other, four-term Senator Susan Collins of Maine, doesn’t face re-election this year.

But Trump told us he was going to put Connecticut in play!!! In all seriousness, the idea of “New England Republicans” seems even more quaint in the Age of Trump, doesn’t it?

What Donald Trump is doing on the campaign trail

MANCHESTER, NH - NOVEMBER 7: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event at SNHU Arena in Manchester, NH on Monday November 07, 2016. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)