THE MORNING PLUM:
So here’s a prediction. With his national and state poll numbers slipping, and his odds in the major forecasts rapidly dwindling, Donald Trump will roll out a new, last-ditch strategy at the debate this Sunday and beyond: Make the real Donald Trump disappear.
A new, self-effacing version of Donald Trump appeared on the campaign trail late yesterday. In Nevada, Trump said this:
“A vote for me is a vote for change, and common sense, and a strong military, and great veterans’ care, and Second Amendment rights, and good health care….But it’s also a vote directly for you. Because I am a reflection of you.
“You’re voting as people who believe in yourselves. You are voting to believe in your future. You are voting to believe in your great country. All together, we are going to make our country wealthy again….And we are going to make America great again.”
“This isn’t about me, it’s about you” is standard political boilerplate, of course. But in Trump’s case, it may signal a closing strategy.
In a way, this was telegraphed by Mike Pence at the Veep debate, when he resolutely pretended Trump hadn’t said what he actually has been saying for the last year. But now, there’s grounds for thinking this could signal a broader shift. We’re learning today that top Republicans think Trump’s political travails may be worse than even his slide in the public polls suggests, as the New York Times reports:
Private polling by both parties shows an even more precipitous drop, especially among independent voters, moderate Republicans and women, according to a dozen strategists from both parties who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the data was confidential.
As the Times piece adds, GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell has privately “expressed concern that Mr. Trump might not have bottomed out yet and could lose even more support among women.”
One way to deal with this might be to do everything possible to make bigoted, misogynist, abusive Trump disappear entirely. But there’s more to it than this, and I think Pence also telegraphed as much at the debate. In addition to pretending that the real Trump doesn’t exist, Pence also laid out a very conventional Republican agenda of tax cuts, deregulation, and Obamacare repeal, which he combined with standard-issue GOP attacks on Clinton over her emails, the Clinton Foundation, and the Obama administration’s policies in the Middle East.
This is all about reminding Republican-leaning college educated whites that a vote for the GOP ticket isn’t just a vote for Trump — whose racist campaign, erratic temperament, and abusive streak have alienated those voters — but also for the GOP agenda they’ve repeatedly voted for in the past. As I argued yesterday, Pence had nothing to say that could reassure those voters about Trump’s character and emotional stability, or lack thereof. But as Ron Brownstein has explained, those voters tend to lean Republican and also harbor doubts about Clinton’s character and honesty. So if Trump can somehow continue to sow doubts about Clinton — say, with the sort of attacks Pence launched on Clinton’s ethics and Mideast policies — while temporarily suppressing the ugliness he’s displayed for the past year and articulating a conventional GOP agenda, he might get back some of those voters.
Of course, this effort would likely suffer yet another setback if Trump makes good on his repeated threat to make an issue of Bill Clinton’s affairs at the next debate. GOP focus groups have already shown that this line of attack backfires by engendering more sympathy for Hillary Clinton among female voters. Coming from Trump, who is already seen by college educated whites, particularly women, as sexist, the backlash could be even worse. So such an assault could further alienate college educated women by reminding them of Trump’s year of attacks on their gender.
And that’s why Trump is now telling the New York Post that he won’t go after Bill’s affairs at the next debate, after all. He emailed the Post to say he’d be taking the “high road,” adding that he’d be stressing a conventional GOP agenda instead:
“I want to win this election on my policies for the future, not on Bill Clinton’s past. Jobs, trade, ending illegal immigration, veteran care, and strengthening our military is what I really want to be talking about.”
Of course, like everything else, this is subject to change, and Trump might relapse on the debate stage. But if he doesn’t, the imperative of making the old Donald Trump disappear might explain why.
* HOW THE CLINTON CAMP’S DEBATE STRATEGY WORKS:
Abby Phillip reports that Team Clinton is fine with how the Veep debate went, because the real objective was to place Trump’s disgusting insults of women, Mexicans, and Obama before the nation:
“Kaine had a very clear and simple plan for the debate: remind a national televised audience of all of the offensive things Trump has said and done in this campaign,” said Dan Pfeiffer, a former senior adviser to President Obama. “The Clinton campaign was smart enough to know that who ‘wins’ or ‘loses’ the VP debate doesn’t move votes. Instead it’s an opportunity to communicate a message to a very large audience.”
As I’ve argued, Pence said nothing to reassure college educated whites and suburban women about Trump’s temperament, while Kaine again reminded them why they’re worried about it.
* MAP SHIFTS TOWARDS CLINTON:
The folks at Sabato’s Crystal Ball have updated their ratings, and they now see enough states leaning Democratic to give Clinton over 300 electoral college votes, including Florida and North Carolina:
Although polls are still close in Florida and North Carolina, it appears that Clinton is opening up a little bit of a lead in both….Clinton’s lead in Pennsylvania appears solid right now….There’s also no indication that Trump is improving in Michigan, New Hampshire, or Wisconsin…Practically speaking, Trump probably can’t win unless he carries at least one of those, and maybe two…That’s because Colorado and Virginia, two growing, highly-educated states that George W. Bush won twice, have never looked all that promising for Trump.
Clinton can win without either Florida or North Carolina, but they are both must-wins for Trump, meaning he’s basically on defense everywhere at this point.
* OBAMA’S RISING APPROVAL MATCHES REAGAN’S:
A new CNN poll finds that President Obama’s approval rating has hit 55 percent, the highest approval he’s earned during his second term. Note this:
In a further measure of the education rift among whites that’s been highlighted by this year’s presidential race, 55% of whites with college degrees say they approve of Obama’s work as president vs. just 44% of whites who do not have degrees. Obama’s approval rating is well above President George W. Bush’s numbers at this point in his term in office, and about on par with Ronald Reagan’s numbers at this time in 1988. He is just a hair behind Bill Clinton’s 58% measure in October 2000.
Barry Obungler’s approval is on par with that of Saint Ronald Reagan? Unpossible.
* CLINTON HOLDS SOLID LEAD IN MICHIGAN:
A new Free Press/WXYZ-TV poll finds that Clinton now leads Trump among likely voters in Michigan by 43-32, after Clinton only led by three points last month.
Blue-leaning Rust Belt states like Michigan are worth watching, because if Trump can’t manage a surprise pick-up of one of them, Clinton can win by holding Virginia, Colorado, and Pennsylvania, and adding only one more battleground. Along these lines, we need a quality poll of Wisconsin.
* IS TRUMP REALLY UNDER AUDIT?
Trump has justified his refusal to release his tax returns by claiming he’s under audit, which is itself bogus, but CBS News raises the question of whether Trump actually is under audit at all:
Trump won’t provide proof he’s actually under audit. Taxpayers under audit receive a phone call or letter from the Internal Revenue Service informing them their returns are under review….Four emails to Trump’s campaign seeking this IRS letter yielded no reply.
As CBS notes, the Trump campaign has pointed to another letter from his lawyers saying his returns have been under “continuous examination” since 2002, but that doesn’t specify which years from 2009 onward that even applies to.
* GOP’S MORAL CORRUPTION IN THE FACE OF TRUMP:
Recently GOP Senator Kelly Ayotte said Trump would be a role model for children, then quickly walked it back. E.J. Dionne ties this to Pence’s debate performance, in which he pretended the real Trump doesn’t exist:
He won style points for being smooth, but staying smooth meant ignoring or denying most of what Trump has said and inventing a statesmanlike Trump who doesn’t actually exist. So to Trump’s many ill effects on our politics, add another: the intellectual and moral corruption of the Republican Party. Too many Republicans outside the Never Trump ranks have to deceive themselves about who Trump is or deceive the public about how they really feel about him.
And by the way, even if some Republicans are secretly rooting for a Trump loss, because they view him as dangerous, that’s even worse.
* AND A MEGA-FEUD ERUPTS AT FOX NEWS:
Megyn Kelly, who has been on the receiving end of Trumpian insults on occasion, actually said this last night about Sean Hannity:
“Donald Trump, with all due respect to my friend at 10 o’clock, will go on ‘Hannity’ and pretty much only ‘Hannity’ and will not venture out to the unsafe spaces these days which doesn’t exactly expand the tent for either one of them.”
Hannity, a Trump supporter, retorted that Kelly “supports” Clinton, which is probably the worst conceivable insult he could have lobbed at her.
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