THE MORNING PLUM:
With Donald Trump falling farther behind in state and national polls, the vast bulk of the reporting this morning tells us that his plan for the home stretch will be to return to the themes and messages that catapulted him to the GOP nomination. As one GOP policy hand put it, Trump installed Breitbart chief Stephen Bannon at the top of his campaign because he is now “going back to the nativism and nationalism that fueled his rise in the primary.”
This is driven by the calculations and instincts of the candidate himself. Bloomberg’s Joshua Green has some important reporting from the inside on Team Trump’s strategy for the final two months of the race:
Trump’s own diagnosis of his campaign’s shortcomings led to this unusual prescription—which is the diametric opposite of what most Republicans have been counseling for their embattled nominee.
“The campaign has been too lethargic, too reactive,” says a senior Trump official. “They wanted to bring in someone who understood new media, understood digital. It’s not going to be a traditional campaign.”
Trump was frustrated by [senior adviser Paul] Manafort’s efforts to contain him and angry about his plummeting poll numbers. With Bannon in the fold, the source adds, Trump will feel free to unleash his inner Trump:
“It’s very simple. This is a change election. He needs to position himself as anti-establishment, the candidate of change, and the candidate who’s anti-Washington.”
You should take this seriously as a glimpse into what the thinking really is, because Green wrote the definitive profile of Bannon, and has a solid grasp of Bannon’s thinking and the world he inhabits.
What’s immediately striking about this is the campaign’s apparent idea that the “inner Trump” has somehow been contained since the end of the GOP primaries. The entire GOP convention represented a choreographed spectacle of inner Trumpism, from the angry chants of “lock her up” to Trump’s rage-and-hate acceptance speech, which relied on exaggerations, distortions, and lies to paint a dystopian portrait of America as seen through the very darkest lens Trumpism has to offer. Since then, the inner Trump has roared forth constantly, most prominently in his sustained battle with the Khan family. The idea that Trump had abandoned or toned down his basic themes and messages is daft. If anything, the big story of this race has been that he stuck to them, further alienating the very voter groups he needs in the general election.
What’s also noteworthy, though, is this apparent simplistic calculation that this is a “change” election that Trump can win simply by being “anti-establishment” and the “candidate of change.” This idea is also a favorite of pundits who like to claim that the American people want vaguely defined “disruption,” with little regard for the details, and that you should Be Very Afraid because Trump may be able to capitalize on that.
It’s true that some polls have shown that Trump, rather than Clinton, is seen as the one who would shake up Washington. It’s also true that Hillary Clinton may be perceived as belonging to an elite system that has let down American workers. It would be nice if she spent more time emphasizing her plans for political reform, particularly the goals of improving voting access and getting big money out of politics.
But one of the under-covered stories of this race is that the American people may be rejecting the particular brand of “change” and “disruption” that Trump is offering (to the degree that he actually has an agenda at all). A recent Pew poll found that 77 percent of voters say Trump would change how Washington works, while only 45 percent say that about Clinton. But here’s the rub: Of that 77 percent, more voters said Trump would change things for the worse, by 44-33.
At this point, it’s very hard to imagine that there are many voters who don’t think that Trump would disrupt the system and shake it up. He has vowed to deport millions, build a massive wall on the border, temporarily ban Muslims from entry to the U.S., and start trade wars with China. These policies are clear, vivid, and very simple to grasp. Indeed, their vividness and simplicity is precisely what allowed him to break out during the primaries. But that clarity is now working against him: Majorities have heard and fully grasp the story Trump is telling about what supposedly ails America and what he’ll do about it. They are recoiling. If anything, etching these themes and messages in darker, ever more lurid colors will likely further alienate women, college educated whites, young voters, and nonwhites — the very constituencies he needs to improve among if he is going to turn things around.
Of course, there is one other way that Trump’s doubling-down strategy does make sense — sort of, anyway. But that brings us to our next item.
* THE METHOD TO TRUMP’S MADNESS: The First Read crew offers up a new explanation:
There is one strategic way it makes sense: Team Trump views the 2016 presidential contest as a race to 40 percent. Under that scenario, you somehow assume that Libertarian Gary Johnson will get more than 15 percent of the popular vote, and that the Green Party’s Jill Stein will get more than 5 percent. And then you make a play for the base to carry you across the finish line.
Of course, there’s a problem with this base play: If the 2016 presidential race is a contest to 40 percent, well, Hillary Clinton probably gets there first, especially with Trump’s percentage currently sitting in the 30s in many key states. And it’s doubtful that Johnson and Stein will get a combined 20 percent-plus of the vote; it will likely be half of that — if not less….Trump had two ways to go: One, try to broaden his appeal by changing his message and approach. Or two, double down on everything that’s gotten him this far. Trump has chosen Door No. 2.
The 40 percent solution! Has a nice ring to it.
* TRUMP WOULD ‘THROW OUT’ OMAR MATEEN’S FATHER: A good catch by Aaron Blake: Sean Hannity asked Trump whether he would “throw out” anyone with “extreme views.” Trump pivoted to Florida shooter Omar Mateen’s father, who was recently pictured in the background at a Clinton rally, and said:
“I’d throw him out, If you look at him, I’d throw him out. You know, I looked at him. And you look, he’s smiling.”
It’s not quite clear whether he meant he’d throw him out of a rally or out of the country. But it may be the latter, because elsewhere in the appearance, he suggested that any Muslims in America who don’t “help us” root out terror are “to blame also.”
* CONSERVATIVE ACTIVISTS VERY EXCITED BY TRUMP MOVE: The Post reports that conservative activists are very exited by Trump’s installation of Breitbart chief Stephen Bannon. Note this, from activist David Bossie and his colleagues:
Bossie and others hailed it as a sign that Trump, whose campaign has wobbled since the GOP convention, will return to the messages that won him the Republican nomination.
One imagines that Democrats are “hailing” it for precisely the same reason.
* CLINTON TEAM BRACES FOR SLIME FEST: Bloomberg Politics reports that the Clinton team is interpreting the Bannon hire as a sign that the final stretch is going to get incredibly nasty:
Clinton’s team is bracing for what Donald Trump’s campaign shakeup portends: a political fight that that could drag out every Clinton family drama, tabloid scandal, and conspiracy theory of the past three decades. But the Democratic presidential nominee doesn’t plan to adjust her strategy or shift staffing in response, according to interviews Wednesday with campaign advisers, surrogates, and party strategists….Clinton aides say she has built her general-election strategy around combating such tactics.
Trump and Bannon may be particularly disgusting and slimy about it, but Republicans were always going to take this route.
* FORECASTER PROJECTS BIG CLINTON WIN: Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball updates its ratings, moving New Hampshire into the “Likely Dem” column. This is important, to the big picture:
New Hampshire’s new status is no small change, since we are putting Clinton over the 270-mark in the Electoral College (273 electoral votes, to be precise) with states we have classified as Likely Democratic or Safe Democratic….This means that Trump has to find a way not just to sweep all Republican states and the remaining states classified Leans Democratic (see our map, below) but to dislodge at least one Likely or Safe Democratic state.
Trump’s decision to double down on all the messages that got him to this point seems like a good idea right about now.
* TRUMP AND THE ‘EUROPEAN FAR RIGHT’: E.J. Dionne notes that new Trump campaign chief Bannon embraces the “European far right,” and adds:
Bannon’s rise dramatizes the catastrophe GOP establishmentarians brought upon themselves by imagining that they could use the far right for their own purposes while somehow keeping it tame….he is far more impressed by right-wing third parties than by traditional Republicanism. He believed the anti-establishment rhetoric that Republican politicians deployed but never really meant when they were attacking President Obama. Now, the GOP faces the possibility of a real split.
Perhaps Trump is actually trying to bring about this split, so he can pocket a chunk of the party for himself as a media following after losing.
* AND BREITBART IS ‘MIRROR’ OF TRUMP CAMPAIGN: The New York Times profile of Bannon today notes:
The website he runs, Breitbart News, recently accused President Obama of “importing more hating Muslims”; compared Planned Parenthood’s work to the Holocaust; called Bill Kristol, the conservative commentator, a “renegade Jew”; and advised female victims of online harassment to “just log off” and stop “screwing up the internet for men,” illustrating that point with a picture of a crying child. With its provocative content, bare-knuckle style and populist message, Breitbart is, in many ways, a mirror of Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign.
Great work, GOP voters.