When this general election for president began (I said it began when both Clinton and Trump had achieved nominee-apparent status back in May), it was clear that the battle would be between two very flawed candidates. In such a race, I argued, turnout would be low, and that would give Donald Trump a chance to actually become our next president. However, a winnable race for Trump would – and will still – require ample and repeated focus on Clinton’s shortcomings.
Since the close of the Democratic Convention going on two weeks ago, we’ve seen what can happen when Clinton is not the focus. Donald Trump has taken a major hit in the polls as a result of his run-in with the Khans, a Gold Star family. If his campaign doesn’t effectively shift the news from his blunders to hers, his bid for the presidency will be effectively done.
So what does Trump need to do to turn the tide? The first thing would be to stop feeding the media with cringe-worthy material news cycle after news cycle. However, given Trump’s bombastic, speak-before-you-think persona, a less controversial GOP nominee is unlikely.
Another big help would be to take the case against Hillary to the voters themselves through political ads. Many a political hopeful has been undone by negative advertising, and few are as ripe for such attacks as Hillary Clinton. But that strategy doesn’t appear to be on the Republican’s radar. A quick look at reserved ad buys over the next several weeks reveals evidence of what some conservative observers fear – Trump isn’t even trying.
The following table shows where the two candidates and their teams are targeting ad buys and how much they are investing. Taken at face value, the table seems like a joke, something you might see on the pages of The Onion or some other parody rag, not real data from a nationwide election of this magnitude.
I tend to avoid conspiracy theories like the plague, but it seems clear to me that if Trump were indeed just going through the motions, his campaign would look no different than it currently does. Sure, he’s still filling up stadiums, but a couple hundred-thousand insanely enthusiastic supporters in each battleground state will net him exactly ZERO electoral votes. He needs the voters who would never show up at his rallies to show up for him at the ballot box – and in droves – for him to be competitive in this year’s race for the White House.