If you are the status quo candidate in a change election in which the national mood is sour and two-thirds of the electorate think the country is off track, what do you do? Attack. Relentlessly. Paint your opponent as extremist, volatile, clueless, unfit, dangerous. Indeed, Hillary Clinton’s latest national ad, featuring major Republican politicians echoing that indictment of Donald Trump, ends thus: “Unfit. Dangerous. Even for Republicans.”
That was the theme of Clinton’s famous “alt-right” speech and much of her $100 million of ads.
Problem is, it’s not working.
Over the last month, Trump’s new team, led by Kellyanne Conway, has worked single-mindedly to rebrand him as candidate with stature and empathy.
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Stature was acquired in Mexico whose president inexplicably gave Trump the opportunity to stand on the world stage with a national leader and more than hold his own. It’s the same stature booster Sen. Barack Obama got when he stood with the French president at a Paris news conference in 2008.
Trump the statesman was part one. Part two: the kinder, gentler Trump.
Can you repackage the bombastic, insulting Trump into a mellow, caring version? With two months left? In an age in which every past outrage is preserved on video?
Turns out, yes. How? Deflect, deny and pretend it never happened.
Orwell was wrong. You don’t need repression. You need only the sensory overload of an age of ephemeral social media. In this surreal election season, there is no past.
Clinton ads showTrump sound bites meant to shock. Yet her numbers are dropping, his rising.
How? Trump never goes on the defensive. He merely creates new Trumps. Hence:
(1) The African-American blitz. It’s a new pose and the novelty shows. He occasionally slips, for example, into referring to “the blacks.” And his argument that African-Americans inhabit a living hell and therefore have nothing to lose by voting for him hovers somewhere between condescension and insult.
But, as every commentator noted, this was not aimed at winning black votes but at countering Trump’s image as the bigoted candidate of white people.
Result? A curious dynamic in which Clinton keeps upping her accusations as Trump softens his tone – until she finds herself landing in a basket of deplorables, a phrase that will haunt her until Election Day.
(2) The immigration wobble. A week of word salad about illegal immigration left everyone confused about what Trump believes. The only message to emerge is that he is done talking about deportation and/or legalization.
Again, that’s not going to win him the Hispanic vote. But that wasn’t the point. The point was to soften his image in the Philadelphia suburbs, pundit shorthand for white college-educated women the GOP has to win (and where Trump trails Romney 2012 by 10 points). Which brings us to:
(3) The blockbuster childcare proposal. Unveiled Tuesday, it is liberalism at its best, Big Government at its biggest. The biggest entitlement since, well, Obamacare.
Didn’t Trump’s acolytes assure us he spoke for those betrayed by the GOP establishment that for years wouldn’t stand up to Obama’s Big Government profligacy?
No matter. That was yesterday. There is no past. Nor a future – at least for Ivanka-care. It would not get through the GOP House.
Nor is it meant to. It is meant to signal what George H. W. Bush once read off a cue card. “Message: I care.”
And where do you think Trump gave this entitlement speech? Why, the Philadelphia suburbs!
Can’t get more transparent than that. Or shameless. Or brilliant.
And it’s working.