What Donald Trump is doing on the campaign trail

U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event at Trump Doral golf course in Miami, Florida, U.S. July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Over the course of the primaries, one could predictably expect Donald Trump to bring up the topic of poll numbers while he was rallying his supporters. There would usually be a minute or two of Trump peering down at a sheet of paper with the latest results from whichever highly respected pollster was out most recently — any pollster showing Trump with a lead was "highly respected" — rattling off his opponents' weak positions relative to his own numerical dominance. It was part of his shtick, but it was also part of his value proposition: Trump is a winner.

That's no longer the case. On Sunday, two new polls — one from The Washington Post and ABC News, and another from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal — showed Trump trailing in national polling against Hillary Clinton. And so Trump went to his other go-to script: bashing the polls on Twitter.

First, he argued that the Post-ABC poll, which showed him down 12 points, oversampled Democrats.

(Huffington Post's Pollster has a good explanation of how the Post-ABC poll and the NBC-WSJ polls differed.)

Then, he called it a "dirty" poll (adding the quotes himself for some reason), stating that even the pollsters "admit" that more Democrats were polled. Which isn't really an admission so much as it is an articulation of methodology; the main Post story about the poll states explicitly that more respondents identified themselves as Democrats. We also noted that this "accounts for less than half of Clinton’s gains in the new poll." After all, only 77 percent of Republicans picked Trump this month in the head-to-head matchup with Clinton. Last month, 85 percent of them did.

Let's set aside Trump's petulance about this particular poll. His goal, as is always the goal when he's confronted with bad news, was to undermine confidence in the result. But by doing so, he twice insisted that "other polls were good."

And those other polls all show Trump losing.

In only three live-dial polls since the beginning of the year has Trump not trailed Clinton. Two of those polls, in January and May, were from Fox News. The other was the Post-ABC poll that was released in May. (At that point, Trump tweeted praise for the Fox poll, but not ours. Sad! In December, though, he called our poll "phenomenal.") If Trump's "other polls" refers only to those polls taken in June, there have been 19 (online and live-dial). Trump leads in none. He trails by an average of 6.1 points. Excluding the Post-ABC poll, the average is 5.7 points.

Those polls, in Trump's words, are good. One is reminded of his tweet from the middle of the month, after a slew of stories about how his campaign was stumbling. "THANK YOU!" he tweeted, and highlighted a recent poll from Gravis Marketing — showing him trailing by 2 points.

No longer is Trump trumpeting his poll leads. Now he's embracing a close race.

Of course, he'd be better served — as would we all — by focusing on state contests. The general election is a national one, of course, but as we are reminded every four years, it's the results in a handful of swing states that actually make the difference. And in those swing state polls, Trump is doing much better than he is nationally.

Last week, Quinnipiac University released its latest round of polls from Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. In Florida, Clinton's up big. In Ohio and Pennsylvania, she isn't. In those two Rust Belt states, Clinton and Trump are essentially tied. Florida is worth 29 electoral votes — but Ohio and Pennsylvania together are worth 38. Obama won all three states in 2012; flipping Ohio and Pennsylvania would have dropped his electoral vote lead from 126 to 50. (Game it out for yourself here!)

An even better idea for Trump — and, once again, all of us — would be to step back a bit from polling entirely. At this point in 2004, 2008 and 2012, 134 days out, the person leading in the RealClearPolitics polling average ended up winning, but in each of those contests, the eventual winner would lose his lead again before Election Day.

We'll close with this tweet from Trump, a retweet from a supporter.

The new polls, including our own, aren't fake, regardless of their showing Trump behind. But maybe that's what the tweeter slyly meant. After all, the polls in the primary showed Trump winning, which he did.

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(FILES) This file photo taken on October 17, 2016 shows former US Secretary of State Colin Powell waving before arrival of President Barack Obama at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School in Washington,DC on October 17, 2016. Republican ex-secretary of state Colin Powell announced Tuesday he will vote for Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November 8 presidential election. The announcement by Powell, a retired four-star US Army general who served in George W. Bush's administration, is the latest from a long line of Republican former and current officials and politicians who have announced they are not voting for their party's nominee Donald Trump. "General Powell said at a meeting of the Long Island Association that he would be voting for Hillary Clinton," his assistant Peggy Cifrino told AFP October 25, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / YURI GRIPASYURI GRIPAS/AFP/Getty Images (Yuri Gripas/AFP/Getty Images)