If the top priority for politicians was simply to dominate news coverage through sheer volume, there's no question Donald Trump has succeeded like no other. Between the slights and non-endorsements, beyond the controversial comments about judges and Gold Star families, beyond the ability to drag out controversy from a retweet for days at a time, he's often crowded Hillary Clinton out of the news cycle almost entirely.
Which brings us to one of House Speaker Paul D. Ryan's (R-Wis.) big problems with Trump: He's often crowded Hillary Clinton out of the news cycle almost entirely. And that fact could cost Hill Republicans big in November.
Ryan — who's getting plenty of coverage right now himself, in no small part due to Trump — understands this better than most.
"We just came out our convention, and yeah he's had a pretty strange run since the convention," he told Jerry Bader of Wisconsin local radio station WTAQ in a Thursday interview. "You would think you oughta be focusing on Hillary Clinton, on all of her deficiencies. She is such a weak candidate that one would think we'd be on offense against Hillary Clinton, and it is distressing that that's not what we're talking about these days."
Talking about how Trump is not talking about Clinton is new way for Ryan to slap Trump on the wrist without un-endorsing him. It's also true.
As we've written on this blog before (and will probably write again), Clinton is a beatable candidate. She's well-known, not well-liked. She's struggled with questions of honesty and trustworthiness, and the FBI's recent rebuke of her use of a private email server while she was secretary of state didn't help her turn those numbers around.
In fact, a Gallup poll released in mid-July found that Clinton's favorability rating is on par with Trump's: More than half the country dislikes both of them.
A more recent CNN-ORC poll taken in the days after Trump's controversy with the Khan family found Clinton slightly more likable (42 percent) than Trump, who was at 33 percent. But 42 percent is still among the lowest she's polled in her entire decades-long career. Trump is shaping up to be one of the least-liked major party candidates in modern history, and Clinton is right along with him.
And yet, she's up 10 points in a Fox News poll released Thursday.
In fact, after the convention, her polling boost combined with Trump's net polling drop (a first for a major-party candidate after a convention) had the race looking like this:
Republicans like Ryan would love to spend every waking minute trying to bring Clinton's poll numbers down. And they think they have more than enough of a case to make to the American people that she's not the right fit. Here's what I wrote in May, when Senate Republicans' campaign arm released an ad called "Toxic" attempting to tie Senate Democratic candidates to Clinton's unpopularity:
Republicans think it's an undersold story that Clinton's approval ratings in many swing states, like Pennsylvania, are underwater — that is, more people dislike her than like her. Will they run from Benghazi? Her emails? What about Whitewater? Not to mention the fact she's a career politician who can come across as wooden on the campaign trail. Oh, and that politician-y "fake laugh," which is used liberally in the ad.
The most damning of all those accusations might be Clinton's emails. It's difficult to pinpoint a polling effect directly related to them, but a July Washington Post-ABC News poll found 56 percent of Americans disapprove of the FBI's decision not to charge Clinton for using a private email server while secretary of state, and her support against Trump shrank somewhat in the weeks after FBI Director James Comey systematically dismantled her defense for using the server.
In other words, the potential is there to knock Clinton down a peg by talking about emails. But we're not hearing much about that from Republican Party right now. Instead, the GOP candidate with the biggest megaphone of all spends his time talking about himself: his poll numbers, his rivalries, his complaints.
Seriously, we checked. Sure, in his Aug. 2 rally in Ashburn, Va., Trump mentioned Clinton a dozen times. But he spent even more time overall — including the entire first 10 minutes of his speech — talking about receiving a Purple Heart from a supporter, promoting his golf club in Virginia, and creating new headlines about his spat with the Khan family who lost their son in the Iraq War.
Controversies will come and go in presidential races (if you're Trump, mostly the former, with alarming frequency for Republicans). But the real problem for Republicans in 2016 isn't claiming a share of the spotlight. It's directing it at the other party.