Well I was certainly wrong about Trump being Cruz’s stalking horse.
With a week to go until the real election in the US begins Hilly has let loose with a pretty much incoherent speech about how Donald Trump is a racist, KKK loving, Russian pawn of the “Alt-Right” and a racist. Did I mention racist?
My bet is that the Democratic internal polling is suggesting that the critical black vote is less than enthusiastic about turning out for the nice white lady. Which meant that the racist speech was brought forward by several weeks. There was always going to be a “Donald Trump is a big, fat racist” speech, what was interesting about Hilly’s effort was it was so early in the cycle.
My eager children have been badgering me for a prediction for a couple of months now and I have held them off with the fact the great American electorate will not pay much attention to anything until after Labour Day. Political junkies have had lots of fun with Trump’s revolving door campaign management, Hilly’s flat out lying to Congress – certified by the Director of the FBI no less, Trump’s perceived bumbling on assorted issues and Hilly’s failure to hold a press conference in 287 (close enough) days. None of it matters.
Hillary is going into the final stretch as the odds on favorite to win. I mean she’s running against a vulgarian who won’t pay attention to political professionals, has no ground game and very little money. Seriously, how can she lose?
The problem is not so much “How can she lose?” as “How can the race even be close?”. Polls at this point in the game are not terribly reliable but a fair number of national polls have Trump within the margin of error matched up against Hilly. My own view is that if he is within 5 points of her coming out of the Labour Day weekend he’s got a shot.
Elections are decided by the people who actually show up to vote. People who are committed to their candidate. And that commitment needs to be positive as well as negative. Hating Hillary is not sufficient to ensure that a person will show up and vote for Trump. And vice versa.
Hillary’s campaign, for all its professionalism and its money and its celebrities, does not seem to be attracting much positive enthusiasm. Worse, it seems to be predicated on protecting a perceived lead. In hockey terms, Hillary is coming out of the first two periods of play with a one goal lead. Her people have no offence left so they are going to try and run out the clock.
The problem with that strategy is that a lot of things can and will happen in the third period. More emails, more leaks, debates where the single worry for Trump is that he’ll come across as a bully, various October surprises and one huge issue – Donald Trump does not know he’s losing. He does not see the single point on the board as insurmountable or even particularly worrying.
Hillary’s game plan, as revealed in her attack speech, is to paint Trump as “impossible”, not fit to serve, stupid and, of course, racist. But this has all been said before. Some of it may even be true, but none of it is new. In a very real sense this sort of speech is designed to shore up her base and, in particular, put the fear of God into the black voters who are critical to any Hillary victory.
Apparently it didn’t work.
Because none of Hillary’s allegations are new, Trump barely has to respond to them. They have already been discounted out in the electorate. But what Trump can do and has been doing, is point out how badly the Democrats have treated the black community in the US and how badly the black community has fared under even a black Democratic President.
Trump presents the black community as well as the non-elite white community with a hugely simplistic view of “America, Great Again”. He talks about jobs and he talks about law and order. I very much doubt that Trump will win serious numbers of black votes, but his real purpose is to make black voters think twice about voting for Hilly and getting four more years of nothing.
His appeal to non-elite white voters is as much cultural an class based as it is about any particular policy prescription. It is not so much what Trump says – a moving target at the best of times – as who Trump is and isn’t. What to policy elites are his vulgar ways, his speech, his boastfulness, his gross simplifications, are the very things which endear him to more ordinary Americans. The fact he does not have a big sophisticated campaign organization, holds rallies which have line up to get in, does not have a big data driven ground game make Trump more sympathetic rather than less.
Nursing a one goal lead in a hockey game can be a winning strategy. After all, Hillary can count on the major media in the US to run a good defence and, more importantly, run out the clock. She can count on her own party establishment and much of the Republican establishment, to barrack Trump relentlessly. And she can count on Trump and his people to make unforced errors.
Against that she has to know that she’ll be taking some penalties in the final period: its funny how carefully deleted and over written emails have a nasty habit of turning up. Her own husband has a series of skeletons in his closet and the closet of his Foundation.
But the biggest problem Hilly has is that her opponent refuses to play a conventional political game. He takes wild, impossible shots. He’s willing to fight the corners in the hope a puck springs loose. He’ll take advantage of any opening (cf. Louisiana) and make mad down ice rushes simply to get a shot on goal.
A political campaign which is running out the clock on a one goal lead is playing defensively, cautiously and will look it. What little excitement there is about Hillary will slowly seep away. She never was much of a campaigner and a “Katie bar the door” strategy will just make her look old and tired and entitled.
Osama bin Laden is said to have made the observation that people will back the strong horse over the weak horse every time. Nursing a lead and shoring up your base means you are not attracting any new support, you are clinging on to the support you think you have.
The one prediction I have made to my boys is that this election is not going to be close as American Presidential elections go. If Hilly’s support goes a bit soft, a bit flaccid, Trump will beat her by five or six points in the popular vote. If, on the other hand, the great American electorate comes back from vacation, looks at the race and asks, “What is Trump even doing in this race?” Hilly will win by a similar margin.
If I were managing the Hillary campaign what would terrify me is if Trump’s outreach to America’s black community gained even a bit of traction. If his challenge “What the Hell have you got to lose?” is picked up at all in the black community, Hillary would be looking at a key piece of her support either staying at home or, unthinkably, voting for Trump.
Not at all clear which way that is going to go but I expect it will become a lot clearer in the week immediately after Labour Day.