As more Republicans realize that President Trump is hurtling toward defeat, they can no longer pretend as if things are going swimmingly. Instead, they haul out the old chestnut: It’s a communications problem.

On Trump’s tweets attacking NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace, Republican strategist Karl Rove declares: “The question is, did what the president tweeted on Monday advance the cause that he laid out on Saturday? And I think the answer is an unambiguous no.” The problem, according to Rove, is not Trump’s dog-whistling speech at Mount Rushmore, but the tweets that let on what Trump really thinks. “The president has a limited number of days between now and the election. And when he tweets, it’s a powerful message. And the question is, does that message continue to advance the narrative that he and those around him decided that he would lay out on [Friday] at Mount Rushmore? And the answer is no, it didn’t."

It does not dawn on Rove (or he won’t admit) that what Trump said at Mount Rushmore was about as subtle as George Wallace’s race-mongering. Perhaps the problem is that Americans do not think there is a left-wing horde seeking to destroy the country. Maybe Americans see Trump’s spewing of racist rhetoric as a distraction from his massive failures on the novel coronavirus and the economy, unprecedented corruption and sniveling subservience to Vladimir Putin.

CNN’s Rick Santorum also thinks Trump’s problem is that “he can’t stay on a message that is a unified message and one that is a positive one for the country.” Maybe Trump’s problem is that he has no positive message or any discernible rationale for a second term. The only things “on message” for Trump are the vilification of immigrants (to the point of economic self-sabotage, such as threatening to deport foreign college students if their classes go online); celebration of the Confederacy; demonization of protesters seeking an end to systematic racism; and hatred of the mainstream media that point all of this out.

Trump Republicans are not the first to claim that their candidate is losing because of failure to stay on message or failure to communicate clearly with voters. It is a tried and true explanation for a disastrous campaign, seeking to shift fault away from the candidate, his record, his performance and his message. Better to blame the campaign operatives (“getting bad advice”) or poor execution (the Tulsa debacle was the result of poor planning, you see) than to put the finger on the real problem. In the case of Trump, the problem for the Republican excuse-mongers is that they have supported a racist, unfit and incompetent president who has no record to run on. Rather than recognize Trump as a hopeless case and support for his campaign is both fruitless and immoral, they talk in cliches.

Instead of arguing candidate Trump is fixable and his campaign rescuable, Republicans might do better to tell down-ticket candidates to abandon him and start running a campaign in favor of divided government. (Don’t give Democrats control of the White House, Senate and House!) They won’t of course, not now anyway. But wait until after Labor Day. Then “distancing” may be all the rage for Republicans.

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