It’s Now Hillary’s Race to Lose
It’s become increasingly obvious over the past two weeks that there’s not really anything Trump can do to win this election. Virtually every poll that has come out, state polls and national polls, have shown Trump losing severely. A Monmouth University poll that was released on Tuesday had Clinton up 4% in Georgia. Another poll has her up 4% in Arizona. Georgia and Arizona are now swing-states, and Pennsylvania is now solidly blue. Her campaign announced an ad buy in Texas, where Trump is up 4%. Nationally, three polls were released this week that showed Clinton up 15%, 11%, and 9% nationally. In the betting markets Trump is at an all-time low. PredictWise has Republican’s chances of winning the Presidency down to 10% after the debate. Trump can’t really do anything to help himself overcome deficits of that magnitude, less than 3 weeks from the election.
That’s not to say Trump’s fate was sealed the Friday before last when the tape came out, but rather that Trump was no longer the master of his fate in this election. A pathway to victory for him for nearly two weeks has been predicated on a catastrophe for the Clinton campaign, rather than some great maneuver on his part. The most Trump could do to affect the outcome of the election at this point is not make things worse. Last night, he made things worse.
His debate performance last night, to his credit, was not quite as bad as the first debate, but it was clearly weaker than the second. There’s very little to actually analyze here. Trump is incapable of not taking the bait. Clinton pokes him, and he tries to swat her away every time, instead of hitting back. He’s shown an inability to let little attacks go repeatedly. If his ego or record is insulted in any way, he responds to it, no matter how much worse it makes him look.
Last night, Clinton poked him over and over, and he wasted time and looked petty – “I should have won the Emmy’s” – by responding to those attacks instead of counter-attacking on the countless failures and weaknesses Clinton has. Clinton had a lot of great re-playable moments at Trump’s expense, and Trump didn’t land much on Clinton. Probably the worst moment for him was when he said he wouldn’t necessarily accept the results of the election. And, of course, the entire time they were talking about his sexual assault accusers, he was losing. He missed an obvious, obvious opportunity to attack Clinton’s clear hypocrisy by attacking him on the sexual assault issue. I would say, however, he won the early portion of the debate dealing with abortion, because he forced Clinton into a position of defending late-term abortions, which the vast majority of voters oppose.
One of the points Clinton hit Trump on was his “Rigged System” argument. It pains me to say it, but she was right on this point. She said that Trump’s trying to avoid the embarrassment of losing an election by repeatedly hitting this “rigged system” point, which is basically accurate. On every front, he’s pre-emptively dismissing the outcome of the election, because he knows that Clinton has a nearly insurmountable deficit, but it’s not in his nature to lose with elegance. Look at the Republican primaries. When a contested convention started to look likely, Trump started talking in every rally about how the system was rigged against him, and made it clear he wouldn’t accept a Cruz/Rubio/Kasich nomination. Now that it looks clear that Trump will lose this election, his immediate gut instinct is to protect himself, no matter the consequences for the rest of the party.
A large part of Trump’s “Undermine the Election” strategy is to blame other Republicans for his failures. Yesterday morning, campaign manager Kellyane Conway said Trump was losing because of “NeverTrump” Republicans. Never mind the fact that the vast majority of Republicans – 85%, which is roughly the percentage Romney and McCain had in 2012 and 2008 – still say they’re voting for Trump. It seems these days that Trump is running against Paul Ryan more than he is against Clinton. Though, in his defense, Trump has yet to suggest that Paul Ryan is using drugs. Still, he’s attacking the Speaker in interviews and on Twitter almost constantly, suggesting most recently that Ryan isn’t defending him anymore because he wants to run in 2020. Trump seems not to care that there are people running for office other than him, and that as Speaker of the House, Ryan has an obligation to support Republicans running for Congress. Trump’s even thrown his own VP under the bus, saying in the second debate that he “hasn’t spoken to” and “disagrees with” Mike Pence about bombing Assad’s forces in Syria.
So Trump at this point is concerned exclusively with saving himself from the embarrassment of losing, and likely setting up his own media company. In pursuit of these goals, he has no qualms about tanking the Party in the House and Senate. And, to be honest, it’s not surprising at this point. This is exactly how Trump has run his campaign from the beginning, and its exactly what Trump opponents warned about in the primaries. Trump knows he’s going to lose, and rather than spend his time trying to improve the image of the party and help maintain Republican majorities in the House and Senate, he’s lashing out at everyone he feels isn’t being completely “loyal.”
So, in short, Trump probably lost last night’s debate at a time when he can’t afford any mistakes. The effect of this debate is to take what was a 13% chance of winning and turn it into a 10% chance of winning. At this point, there’s very little Trump can do to help himself. As was the case before the debate, Trump’s only hope now is a catastrophe on the part of Clinton.