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)


Donald Trump has begun to contemplate the unthinkable: he might lose. At a rally in Florida yesterday, Trump lapsed into an uncharacteristic moment of self-doubt, diverging from his script to wonder aloud whether running for president was a good idea: “I’ll let you know on the evening of November 8th.” And two days earlier, Trump actually uttered the words, “if I lose…” before trailing off.

Nonetheless, Trump continues to repeat his favorite lies with supreme confidence in their effectiveness. In his last few appearances, Trump again claimed that rampant voter fraud ensures a rigged election, that the media is in on the conspiracy to rig the outcome, that Hillary Clinton is physically weaker and sicker than we all think she is, and that Clinton has been allowed to skate on lawbreaking that should have disqualified her from running at all.

New polling from ABC News suggests these lies are failing him.

The key finding in the new ABC News tracking poll, which finds Clinton leading among likely voters nationally by 50-38, is that affirmative support for Clinton among her supporters, as opposed to a motivator only rooted in dislike for the other side, is growing:

As ABC’s polling memo notes, the percentage of Clinton supporters who say their vote will be for her is at a new high, while the percentage of Trump supporters who say the same about him has remained flat. Crucially, this “affirmative support can be a stronger motivator to vote.” The ABC poll finds something similar on voters’ enthusiasm about their choice:

Levels of enthusiasm for the candidates, while similar overall, also have followed different trajectories. Fifty-two percent of Clinton’s supporters now describe themselves as very enthusiastic about their choice, the most to date and up sharply from 36 percent in early September. Among Trump supporters, 49 percent are strongly enthusiastic; he peaked on this measure in late September.
The result of these trends is that Trump’s 12-point advantage in strong enthusiasm just after Labor Day is now a (non-significant) 3-point deficit to Clinton. In ABC News/Washington Post polling since 2000, the candidate with more strongly enthusiastic support has won.

Strong enthusiasm for Trump has flatlined among his supporters, while strong enthusiasm for Clinton is rising among hers. True, this is only one poll. And there are some signs of flagging Dem enthusiasm in the Rust Belt in particular, so we can’t be sure of what all this will mean. But a recent Post national poll did turned up something similiar to ABC’s findings, showing Clinton with an enthusiasm edge that appears to be driven by flagging enthusiasm for Trump among Republican women. (What on earth could account for that?)

Trump tells an audience in Naples, Fla., that he'll let them know if he's happy he decided to run for president on the evening of Nov. 8. (The Washington Post)

Trump’s final fusillade of lies has two key aims. As Trump’s own advisers have confirmed, going scorched earth (on her health and supposed lawbreaking) is about depressing enthusiasm and turnout among Clinton voters. And the “rigged election” nonsense is designed to accomplish the same, by stoking fears of voter intimidation and generally casting a pall — a wet blanket of impressions of corruption — over the whole process. And of course all of this is also about driving GOP voters into a frenzy of excitement.

But if Trump’s strategy is all about dragging Clinton down into the pig slop with him — and about generally spraying a fine mist of pig slop over the whole process, to make (some) voters turn away in disgust — it looks as if this all may end with Trump floundering around in the pig slop all alone. (And are there any signs that this is boosting GOP voter enthusiasm?)

All this suggests yet another way in which the punditry got this race all wrong. Yes, it’s true that Clinton is one of two historically unpopular candidates. Yes, she is widely distrusted. Yes, she is a flawed candidate. But this campaign just isn’t a “race to the bottom,” as the cliche has it. One candidate is widely seen as fundamentally lacking in basic decency and fitness for the presidency, while the other just isn’t. And increasingly, one is affirmatively preferred by her supporters, to a degree that the other just isn’t. This last metric will be important to keep an eye on as we seek to understand what’s happening in the race’s final days.


* GOP GROUPS SCRAMBLE TO SAVE DOWN-BALLOT CANDIDATES: The New York Times reports that three GOP-aligned groups are running ads that urge a vote for Senate and House GOP candidates to act as a check on President Clinton. As one operative puts it:

“There are many districts where we are going to be running ads that talk about the Democrat being a rubber stamp for Hillary Clinton. In many districts, it is a very, very potent weapon to use against a Democratic candidate for Congress.”

The premise of GOP ads is now that Trump will lose, and that you need to elect Republicans to ensure gridlock.


The Senate will be won, insiders say, in a half-dozen states that could go either way on Election Day: The traditional swing states of Nevada, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, and the newly competitive states of North Carolina, Missouri and Indiana, which historically lean Republican. By virtue of simple math, the outlook favors Democrats because they have far more paths to victory.

With Wisconsin and Illinois seemingly in the bag, Dems have to hold Nevada and win two of the remaining five. Of course, as Politico also notes, there is no sign yet of an anti-Trump wave in the Senate contests, so all of those will be very close.

The nightmare scenario for the GOP is that high-information Republican voters, seeing Trump imploding and not necessarily having been happy with him as their nominee in the first place, feel free to cast a protest vote at the top of the ticket. Meanwhile, lower-information Republican voters don’t turn out at all, given that Trump’s rigging rhetoric could suppress their vote and that Republicans don’t have the field operation to pull them back in. That’s how you could get a Clinton landslide…

If Trump’s “rigged” talk depresses GOP turnout, that would be poetic justice, but the best repudiation of it would be a high turnout election on both sides.

* CLINTON’S TURNOUT OPERATION CRANKING IN FLORIDA: Marc Caputo, who is based in the state, reports that the Clinton operation is outperforming by two metrics:

GOP vote-by-mail ballots (41.7 percent of 1.2 million cast) exceeded those cast by Democrats by 1.6 percentage points. In 2012, the gap was about 5 points….As of Sept. 30, the most recent date for which voter-registration numbers are available, active registered Democrats outnumbered Republicans by 2.4 percentage points out of the nearly 12.7 million active registered voters.

When all of this is over, we may look back and realize that the most conventional campaign techniques (such as contacting voters) played an outsize role in the outcome.

* NO, TRUMP IS NOT AL GORE: Trump spinners keep claiming his “rigged election” is similar to Al Gore’s position in 2000. E.J. Dionne sets the record straight:

Gore’s call to George W. Bush after midnight conceding the race actually showed how much respect he had for the electoral process. It was only after news organizations withdrew their calls of Florida for Bush, depriving him of an electoral-college majority, that Gore decided a recount was called for….even though Gore won the national popular vote by more than 500,000, he nonetheless conceded with exceptional graciousness.

Yes, and unlike Gore, Trump is sowing doubts about the integrity of the process and outcome well in advance of the election, which is absolutely central to his real game here.

* AND TRUMP’S SUPPORTERS REALLY HATE THE MEDIA: CNN’s Sara Murray brings us some disconcerting reporting from the campaign trail:

Members of the media walk into an event like Trump’s mid-October rally in Cincinnati, greeted by a crowd of thousands screaming at us about biased coverage and flipping us off….That was the day someone tampered with the cables of our live truck. We struggled to take the news…live while our cables were cut not once, but twice.

You have to wonder how bad this will get after a Trump loss.