Donald Trump is out of time.
With less than 100 days left in the run-up to the general election this fall, almost any other candidate in any other year could still turn it all around. Smart campaign advisers hunched around a conference room table could fashion a winning strategy to grow the base, entice donors into to the fold and prepare an effective line of attack that focused on his opponent’s most profound vulnerabilities.
Over and over again, he has proven himself an undisciplined, narcissistic bombast-blaster who is more interested in hurling bricks than laying them. If he is to recover at all from what has been the worst week of active campaigning since he entered the race last summer, Trump has just over three months to build a state-by-state campaign organization staffed by experienced true believers. That will take money and seasoned talent.
He can do neither.
To win, Trump will need to build coalitions fueled by much more than white male resentment. He will need full throated endorsements from national and local Republican leaders— including the center and center-right. Instead, even Newt Gingrich is calling into question whether he can handle the job. For Trump to have a prayer at turning the White House gold, independents, who are now breaking in favor of Hillary Clinton, must change course and link arms with the far right wing that he has already cemented. His campaign must begin luring the very voters he has mocked and derided: women and college-educated whites, as well as racial and religious minorities.
The problem for Trump is three-fold. He has lost racial and religious minorities. As for women and college-educated whites, Mitt Romney posted better numbers at this same point in 2012. And, even now, as Trump trades verbal fisticuffs with top elected Republicans—including House Speaker Paul Ryan and Arizona Sen. John McCain—he has placed once deeply red states in the toss-up column.
If Trump loses states like Georgia, Arizona and Missouri—even by small margins—the game is over.
The New York businessman and political neophyte is quickly losing his footing in swing states like Ohio, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. His chance to close the deal with the small percentage of “uncommitted” voters is slipping away and he only has himself to blame.
For her part, former Sen. Clinton has run a textbook campaign. (Well, except for the email mess.) Even in the face of a strong primary opponent, Clinton was able to successfully pivot and coalesce the lion’s share of disaffected Democratic voters. Clinton’s weaknesses notwithstanding, Trump did more than his part to help her unify the left—by squandering the RNC convention and spending the following weeks telling voters exactly why they shouldn’t vote for him.
Instead of laying the shovel down and backing away from the hole, Trump—dissatisfied with his handiwork— mounted an earth mover to finish the job. In various televised interviews and social media rants, he refused to focus voters on Clinton’s problems. He trampled over his own messages and wasted an opportunity to close the polling gap.
Political prognosticators were incredulous as he sat down with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos and used the time to skewer the mother of an Army captain who gave his life to save his unit. They had to be scratching their heads when he later refused to apologize. Then, too, Trump lied about receiving a letter from the NFL to bolster his complaints about the coming debate schedule. But, he didn’t stop there. The cantankerous, bloviator from Queens—who received multiple draft deferments as a young man— accepted a Purple Heart from a veteran. “I always wanted to get the Purple Heart. This was much easier,” Trump said.
No, really. He said that.
Republican leaders are rightly afraid of what will undoubtedly come next. Trump believes the same messages, the same erratic behavior that won a fractured primary will be enough to win the general election. He believes that he can get by without demonstrating that he understands substantive policy issues. He believes he can get by on apoplectic press conferences and keep fielding a cast of surrogates to defend the indefensible. He believes that demagoguery, playing to our worst fears, is a winning strategy.
Trump hasn’t simply run the Republican Party into the ditch. Trump is off-roading in mud pits and threatens to take the entire party down with him.
One would have to believe that those who work most closely with him are embarrassed by his lack of knowledge about how government works, by his unfamiliarity with the Constitution, by the way he bullies everyone who dares challenge him—from Gold Star families to crying babies.
Leave aside the profound ignorance and the frightening prospect of Trump administration—did you catch the talk about Trump wondering why he couldn’t use a nuke?—throngs of people still show up to his rallies because they believe the rhetoric. They believe a wall along our southern border will shield us from terrorist attacks and interlopers out to steal American jobs. Never mind that he regularly hires thousands of foreign workers to staff his glitzy resorts and that the vast majority of his Trump-branded products are made overseas. Never mind that he himself is the son of an immigrant, who spends more time praising Putin than celebrating the American promise.
The fact of the matter is Trump cannot change and, rather than accept that he is losing, he has begun advancing the narrative that the election is being stolen. As his campaign continues to implode, he has launched an orgy of indecency unlike any other in the modern era, stoking talk that he may drop out and then his party will be forced to take measures to replace him.
It’s too late for that now. It’s too late for Donald Trump.