Has Donald Trump destroyed his chances - by his own hand?
Upper hand Republican candidate enjoyed over Hillary Clinton has disappeared
Donald Trump’s advantage over Hillary Clinton in some polls after last month’s Republican convention seems light years ago.
The damage done to his campaign in the three weeks since then has been self-inflicted – his call on Russia’s cyber-spies to hack US records for Clinton’s deleted emails; his pillorying of Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the Muslim-American parents of fallen US army captain Humayun Khan; his claim that President Barack Obama is the “founder” of the Islamic State militant group, and his apparent incitement to violence against his rival, claiming that second-amendment gun rights activists were the only ones who could stop Clinton.
Drifting wildlyAny transformation to a more even-tempered candidate and a pivot to the centre that Republicans had hoped for in the three-month campaign to the November 8th polling date have failed to materialise.
Instead, the party is at sea with an untethered nominee drifting wildly and, according to reports of anonymous Republicans in contact with his campaign team, his own crew are struggling to anchor him.
Republicans are frustrated the New York businessman has not changed from grandstanding showman to measured nominee with a strong message, organisation and discipline, and that he is still trying to appeal to the same minority that won him the primary.
So is Trump’s campaign over? “It is obvious that the campaign has been in a complete meltdown since the convention. He has careened from one self-inflicted disaster to another and pushed more Republicans away from his candidacy than addressed new voters,” said Ryan Williams, a former spokesman to 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney not supporting Trump.
“We are reaching the period of no recovery. We are in late summer. She has taken a big lead. It is looking like it wasn’t just a convention bounce and that is because Trump has made it worse. He has no one to blame but himself.”
Poll numbers have not been kind to Trump since the Democratic convention in Philadelphia last month.
Real Clear Politics, a poll- tracking website, puts Clinton’s lead at almost seven points, 48 per cent to 41 per cent. At the end of last month, data website FiveThirtyEight gave Trump a slight edge, with a 50.1 per cent chance of winning.
aheadIf the election were held today, Clinton would trounce him; the website puts the odds of her winning at 89 per cent.
In the all-important electoral votes on the path to the 270 required to win, Real Clear Politics shows Clinton performing strongly in Pennsylvania and Michigan – key targets for Trump – and in the critical swing states of Virginia and Colorado, while the former secretary of state enjoys slight leads in the other toss-up states of Ohio, Florida and North Carolina. “In the big picture, he is not even remotely close to where he needs to be nationally or in the battleground states,” said Democratic strategist Stefan Hankin, president at Washington DC data analytics firm Lincoln Park Strategies.
Unless Trump can win 100 per cent of white male voters, a near improbability, the billionaire property and entertainment mogul needs a radical improvement in his standing among women and black, Hispanic and other minority voters, and that seems unlikely given the bombastic rhetoric and incendiary language he is sticking with.
Relying on a white vote declining as a percentage of the electorate means Trump needs to win this demographic at a level not seen since Richard Nixon’s and Ronald Reagan’s landslide victories in 1972 and 1984 respectively to have any kind of chance.
“Clearly Trump is not a 49-state winning candidate,” said Hankin.
Grasp of sarcasmIn the face of poor poll and favourability numbers, the businessman has ramped up his attacks, against Clinton, the media and the electoral system itself – for example, claiming that he will only lose Pennsylvania “if cheating goes on”.
Since his primary victory, the media has increased its scrutiny of Trump’s gaffes, his loose tongue and his grasp of sarcasm – his excuse for his most outrageous recent claims.
Clinton has enjoyed the benefit of positive campaign ad runs and hitting Trump with his own words in attack ads during the Olympics coverage, while the billionaire has relied on the celebrity profile of his campaign appearances that are playing negatively.
Trump is on the back foot but there are still 84 days until polling day and the campaigns kick into another gear after Labour Day (September 5th) and the official end of summer.
“We have got a long way to go, a lot of things can happen,” said Timothy Hagle, politics professor at the University of Iowa. “It is possible that Trump can get his act together. It is going to be hard for him, but if polls continue to look rough for him, he may get the message – or stay on message – to do something about it.”