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)

You can love Donald Trump. You can hate him. But what you cannot dispute is that the way he has run his campaign since winning the Republican nomination two months ago has been absolutely disastrous.

Campaigns are complicated things. No one gets every piece of them right. Some candidates are great at big rallies. Some are only good at small events. Some are terrific TV communicators but bad on the stump. Some delegate well; others don't. Some never waver from a message, while others can't seem to find one with a 10-foot pole.  It's a high-wire balancing act every day with tens of millions of people watching.

But there are basic blocking and tackling elements of any campaign that are less complex — and absolutely necessary to do if you want to win. The most basic of all?  If your opponent is having a bad day or a bad week, let them have it. Just get out of the way.

For example: When Hillary Clinton found herself at the wrong end of a scathing report about her email practices delivered by FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday, Trump would have done well to, literally, talk about nothing other than that for the rest of the week — and maybe even the rest of the month!

Trump seemed to grasp that early in the day on Wednesday when he tweeted this:

That is absolutely, 100 percent the right thing to do.  And not only that: Trump also released his June fundraising numbers — a surprisingly solid $51 million raised.

The daily story in the presidential race, as of Wednesday afternoon, was this: "Clinton tries to change subject on tough email report; Trump rakes in cash." Pretty good for the Republican nominee!

Then Trump went to Cincinnati for a rally with vice-presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich. And it all fell apart.

As the New York Times reported, Trump spent the first 20 or so minutes of his speech reading from prepared notes — hitting Clinton on her email practices and raising questions about her honesty and trustworthiness.

Then something snapped. He threw away the notes and lit into the media — and society more generally — over two recent controversies: (1) his campaign tweeting out and then removing an image that looked suspiciously like the Star of David, and (2) his comments about how late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was "so good" when it came to dealing with terrorists.

"I said: 'You shouldn't have taken it down.' You know, they took the star down," Trump said to a crowd of several thousand at a rally on Wednesday night. "I said: 'Too bad. You should have left it up.' I would have rather defended it — just leave it up and say: No, that's not a Star of David. That's just a star."

But, he wasn't done! Again, Johnson:

"I wake up, I turn on the television: 'Donald Trump loves Saddam Hussein. He loves Saddam Hussein,'" Trump said, dramatically raising his voice in a caricature of a television news anchor. "That's not what I said. So, that's the narrative."

But, he still wasn't done! Once the event in Cincinnati was over, Trump took to Twitter to drive home his point about being unfairly maligned on the alleged Star of David tweet.

Remember that good headline out of Wednesday that Trump looked headed toward?  It got replaced by "Trump says campaign shouldn’t have deleted image circulated by white supremacists" (WaPo), "In a Defiant, Angry Speech, Donald Trump Defends Image Seen as Anti-Semitic" (New York Times), and "Trump Says Deleting Allegedly Anti-Semitic Tweet Was Mistake" (Wall Street Journal).

It's hard to explain how bad that turnaround is for Trump. And how avoidable it all was. What's even more remarkable is that Trump seemed to have the blueprint — read the speech, blast Hillary, get out of the way — for a good day. Instead, he voluntarily dipped into two issues — debating whether he was anti-Semitic and defending his praise for a brutal dictator — that are straight losers, politically speaking.

Wednesday is far from an isolated incident. Think back to the end of May. The State Department released a brutal report lambasting Clinton for her email practices. It was an absolute gift for Trump and Republicans, a perfect illustration of the narrative of corruption and pocket-lining they had been telling about Clinton. Less than 48 hours later, Trump went to San Diego and delivered an 11-minute rant against a federal judge named Gonzalo Curiel, who the real-estate mogul said was biased against him due to Curiel's Mexican heritage. (Curiel was born in Indiana, but his parents hail from Mexico.)

Trump spent the next two weeks, at least, trying to get out from under the Curiel controversy — a timeline extended by his unwillingness to simply apologize and move on. (Sound familiar?)  Eventually, he said he had been misunderstood.

Malpractice is a harsh word. But there's no other word for taking a good day and turning it not only into a bad day but potentially a bad week or a bad month. Winning campaigns play up their strengths and downplay their flaws. Trump seems committed to doing just the opposite.

This isn't the campaign's fault. The campaign — from manager Paul Manafort on down — is clearly telling Trump the right things to do to win days. He just isn't willing to do them. The blame is his. Pure and simple.

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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)