THE MORNING PLUM:
Hillary Clinton returns to the campaign trail today with a speech in North Carolina, amid a real tightening in the polls that has raised questions about whether she has been damaged by her temporary disappearance from the national spotlight. And the Clinton campaign is now hinting that it may undertake a change in strategy as the race enters the final stretch.
The Clinton campaign today made a key concession about its analysis of the fundamentals of the race. This concession was made almost in passing, as an afterthought, in a statement released late last night by Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri:
One upside to Hillary Clinton’s break from the trail was having time to sharpen the final argument she will present to voters in these closing weeks. So when she rejoins the trail tomorrow, Hillary Clinton will deliver the second in a series of speeches laying out her aspirational vision for the country: that we are “Stronger Together.” Tomorrow’s remarks will focus on what has been at the core of who Hillary Clinton is as a person and the mission of her campaign — how we lift up our children and families and make sure that every child has the chance to live up to their God given potential.
Our campaign readily admits that running against a candidate as controversial as Donald Trump means it is harder to be heard on what you aspire for the country’s future and it is incumbent on us to work harder to make sure voters hear that vision.
In one sense, this looks like boilerplate — a non-concession, in that the Clinton campaign is not conceding any problem with its message or proposals, but rather with its inability to convey her message and ideas to voters through the din of media attention paid to Donald Trump. But, looked at in the larger context of this whole campaign, this actually does amount to a real admission about the Clinton campaign’s failure to recognize Trump’s unique power to dominate media coverage, and raises questions about what Team Clinton will do about it.
For many months, the Clinton campaign has assumed that Trump’s fundamental operating strategy was deeply flawed. Trump had publicly stated on many occasions, and in various ways, that he would be able to win the White House largely through media dominance alone. Clinton’s advisers conceded Trump’s ability to blot out attention to Clinton, but also projected public confidence that Trump was only hurting himself with this strategy. The basic idea was that all the crazy, depraved, bigoted, and pathologically abusive things Trump said and did to dominate the coverage were also alienating the key voter groups he needed to improve among — college educated whites, especially women; younger voters; and nonwhites, creating limits on his ability to expand his appeal. Your humble blogger also made a version of this argument.
After the Dem convention, when Trump was destroying himself amid a battle with the Khan family that saturated the national media coverage, this still looked like it would hold. But now that it’s clear Trump could win — even if Clinton does remain favored — this analysis is now worth revisiting. At various points throughout this campaign, Clinton has opted for less visibility than was perhaps warranted. This goes back to the battle among Dems over the debate schedule, when the Clinton campaign privately pushed for fewer debates, probably to deny exposure to her primary opponents. Many critics pointed out that Clinton should have wanted more debates, in order to keep herself and Democratic ideas in the public eye, to contrast with the ongoing display of lunacy otherwise known as the GOP primaries.
More recently, in August, Clinton mostly disappeared from the campaign trail to raise money. In the last few days, of course, Clinton was forced to remain out of the public eye by her illness. But now that she’s back on the trail, the campaign is admitting that she needs to do more to break through Trump’s dominance of the media, and to make an affirmative case for her candidacy. That would appear to mean less of an emphasis on simply allowing Trump to romp wildly across the airwaves, and counting on him to continue destroying his appeal in the minds of the voter groups among which he needs to improve and expand.
I don’t know how sincere this concession is, or whether it will lead to any major changes. And to be clear, the Clinton campaign’s original analysis could still prove to be right. Clinton is still ahead, and if she turns in strong debate performances, she could very well go on to win. But with this admission, Clinton and her team have set themselves a new challenge — breaking through the clutter with a more positive case for her candidacy — and it’ll be worth watching how they try to meet it.
* TRUMP IS LEAST TRANSPARENT NOMINEE IN MODERN HISTORY: Jenna Johnson and Mary Jordan have a terrific, detailed look at just how un-transparent Trump has really been:
Trump remains the least transparent major presidential nominee in modern history. He is the first since 1976 to refuse to release his tax returns. He has declined to provide documentation of the “tens of millions” of dollars he claims to have donated to charity. He has yet to release a comprehensive accounting of his health….At the same time, Trump and his aides are criticizing rival Hillary Clinton as secretive and demanding more information from her about her emails and health.
I would add that Trump’s campaign regularly refuses to provide any substantiation of his claims when fact checkers call them out, another important way in which he’s giving us all a big fat middle finger.
* CLINTON HOLDS SLIGHT NATIONAL LEAD: A new CBS/New York Times poll finds that Clinton leads Trump by 46-44 among likely voters nationwide, while among registered voters, she leads by 46-41. In the four-way race among likely voters, it’s 42-42:
The third-party candidates draw their strongest support from younger voters. Twenty-six percent of voters ages 18 to 29 say they plan to vote for Mr. Johnson, and another 10 percent back Ms. Stein. A little more than one in five political independents say they will vote for one of the third-party candidates.
Note that this poll was taken from September 9-13, right through the “deplorables” flap and her illness, meaning this might have been a low point. Beyond that, maybe it’s time for the Clinton campaign to do a little more to reach younger voters.
* PUBLIC DOESN’T CARE MUCH ABOUT MEDICAL RECORDS: Another key nugget from the new CBS/NYT poll:
Poll participants expressed ambivalence about the need for more information on the candidates’ medical histories. For each candidate, just 45 percent of registered voters said they wanted to see more medical records released. (Questions about Mr. Trump’s and Mrs. Clinton’s medical records were asked starting on Sunday afternoon, after news broke that Mrs. Clinton fell ill at a ceremony commemorating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.)
We’ll have to wait to see polling on whether Clinton’s illness raised concerns for voters, but it’s possible that it won’t have a long term impact.
* THE RACE IS TRENDING TOWARDS TRUMP: Nate Silver looks at the most recent polls and concludes that while the race is trending towards Trump, it’s still too soon to say whether that will continue:
My best guess on the effect of the weekend’s news, based on what the model shows so far, is that the race is continuing to trend moderately toward Trump….But we can’t rule out a more acute shift toward Trump or that the “Hillary’s bad weekend” meme is a false alarm — there isn’t quite enough data yet….Trump has whittled down an 8-point lead for Clinton into about a 3-point lead instead — about a 5-point swing. With there having been several shifts of that magnitude since the primaries ended, with there being a large number of undecided voters, and with the debates still ahead, neither Clinton nor Trump should feel all that secure.
Have we mentioned that you should stick to the polling averages and the forecasts, and not obsess over individual polls?
* LEFTIES RENEW PUSH FOR PUBLIC OPTION: A coalition of progressive groups — including the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Democracy for America, UltraViolet, and Presente — today will announce a new campaign to try to pressure the Democratic Party to make adding a public health insurance option to Obamacare a central priority on the Dem agenda.
The groups are pointing out that Hillary Clinton has endorsed the public option, showing that the debate is slowly being shifted leftward on health care. Their petition urging Democrats to get more fully behind the idea is right here.
* THE HEADLINE OF THE DAY: NBC News’s headline gets it right on the obvious lack of equivalence between Clinton and Trump on medical disclosure:
Clinton Releases Health Stats to Public, Trump to Dr. Oz
As NBC notes, Clinton released a real letter from a doctor that actually shed more light on her condition, while Trump’s release “added little to an already-thin amount of known details about Trump’s health.” That wasn’t so hard to say, was it?
* TRUMP QUESTIONS WHETHER CLINTON CAN ‘STAND UP’: Another lovely moment from Trump at a rally last night:
Mr. Trump’s campaign has urged supporters to refrain from talking about Mrs. Clinton’s health, a frequent topic of speculation among some Republicans before her pneumonia diagnosis. But at a rally in Ohio on Wednesday night, Mr. Trump said he hoped Mrs. Clinton was improving but added that she was “lying in bed.” He also noted his ability to keep standing in an overheated room. “I don’t know, folks,” he said. “Do you think Hillary would be able to stand up here for an hour?”
But Trump is being a lot more restrained now, we’re told.