May 31, 2016
Donald Trump went to war this morning. Again. It’s both old news and worthy of dominating coverage for the next 48 hours or so. Responding to questions about his dispersal of funds raised for veterans groups, Trump went on the attack, lashing back at his press conference inquisitors.
Anyone who was still thinking he might moderate himself for the general election can officially jettison the concept. Trump is going to be Trump. Today, tomorrow, in October, and after January 20, 2017 if Hillary Clinton can’t stop him. Most of the talk about pivoting or otherwise limiting the bombast came from advisors such as Paul Manafort, not The Donald himself.
There is simply no reason for him to change course. A partially neutered Trump would not win over the voters who are currently very opposed to him. If he took that course and reverted at any point to the Trump we’ve become accustomed to, he’d lose whatever minimal gain he picked up. It’s a bad deal for him. The majority of GOP officialdom is now at least grudgingly on board with him. Maybe Paul Ryan formally throws in with him, maybe he doesn’t. How many votes actually depend on the answer?
So Trump is free to do Trump things. This means he can continue to dispense with the thing once considered most important in politics. Money. The campaign is broke(ish.) Unless he provides another cash infusion, they have a few million bucks to get them through the next several weeks. Once he becomes the official nominee, the campaign can tap into RNC funds.
Though we’ve heard plenty about Trump more actively taking outside contributions and people on his team have indicated they want to raise $1 billion for the fall campaign, the money isn’t there yet. New York Jets owner Woody Johnson is his finance chair, and recent reports indicate he hasn’t picked up the phone to dial for dollars just yet. It’s very likely Clinton will outspend him 2 or 3 or 4 to 1, if not more.
What better way to ensure plenty of visibility than to attack the media? They are currently spending the day analyzing what this all means, playing back clips, and interviewing the reporters who asked the questions at the press conference. Pundits are doing the normal bit where they question how this show of intemperance will affect Trump with persuadable voters, but his poll numbers are already well in excess of the percentage of Americans who think he has the temperament for the job.
Whether because they like him enough for other reasons, or simply detest Hillary, about a third of Trump supporters are planning on voting for him despite his bombast, not because of it. However, the vast majority of Americans don’t trust the media. If you’re looking for a way to unite voters, this isn’t a bad one. Especially when Bernie Sanders has become increasingly critical of the press in recent weeks.
Bernie’s core voters aren’t going to pick Trump in November. Millennial progressives, many of whom are non-white, will not flock to The Donald. They’ll hold their noses and pick Clinton, defect to Gary Johnson, or just stay home. If some of the recent polling is accurate, and Mitt Romney’s numbers with non-white voters in 2012 were more of a floor than a ceiling, older white Sanders voters may decide the winner.
Seeing Trump flanked by veterans while he unloads on the media is a winning image/sound clip. It also sets up a bit of a trap for his opponent. There is a strong line of attack against Trump this week. The judge on the Trump University case, someone the candidate accused of bias because of his ethnicity, has ruled in favor of releasing various documents.
Of all the ways to combat Trump, his erstwhile university is perhaps the best. It’s a large class-action fraud case. Thousands of regular Americans paid thousands of dollars for something that wound up being of limited value. Either Trump was fairly involved in what was going on, in which case he’s a con artist, or he licensed his name out without much regard for what was done with it.
If he disavows involvement, it shines a spotlight on how the Trump empire actually operates. A bunch of licensing deals, but limited (if any) actual construction. He’s basically Oprah or Martha Stewart at this point, and that comparison shortchanges Oprah a bit. While some would commend him from getting out of risky development deals and in to getting paid for his name, it undercuts his image as a builder.
Given those two unsavory choices, Trump lashed out at the judge, and more importantly now diverts attention to his role raising money for veterans. Replaying clips of his comments about John McCain last summer won’t get Hillary elected. He’s sending her and the media back down the rabbit hole. It’s one more week Clinton won’t make any progress in creating an agenda to run on, or a reason for her existence beyond her self-assessment she’d do well in the job.
As her team starts attacking how Trump is disbursing funds raised for veterans, she opens the Clinton Foundation Pandora’s Box. When she directly hit Trump on how he speaks about and treats women, the response was commentary on the actions of Bill Clinton and how Hillary enabled him. Given the foundation’s historical difficulty in quickly getting funds to recipients and the percentage of revenues that have gone to support the Clintons, does she really want to have this conversation?
So far, the Clinton Foundation has remained a non-topic, even though one of the primary reasons for the email server was to keep correspondence between the Secretary and her foundation private. While Bernie has regularly attacked her still off-the-record speeches to Goldman Sachs, he’s remained quiet on the foundation.
When the guy who’s calling you Crooked Hillary is vulnerable to a narrative about his own con job, and he manages to bury that in an avalanche of anti-media rhetoric, while baiting you into an exchange that will wind up on the door of the Clinton Foundation, you’re handing him one gun while shooting yourself in the foot with another.
It’s hard to determine how much of Trump’s approach is inspired genius and how much is just following his constant need to hit back anyone who dares criticize him for anything. I can’t tell you if this approach is appropriate for an actual president, or if he has the emotional balance for the job, but it’s a hell of a good way to win the job.
For all the talk of the Clinton campaign being more prepared than Trump’s GOP victims, it looks like she and her team are currently following in their footsteps. Remember, when Hillary’s attacks sound a bit like Ted Cruz’s, that’s not a positive sign for her.