Although it looks right now as if Donald Trump and the GOP cannot avoid a disastrous outcome at the ballot box in November, this is by no means a sign of a weak state of the Trump campaign, nor a sign of a coming wipe-out victory by the Democrats.
- Yes, more and more Republicans leave ship and publicly announce not to vote for Donald Trump in November;
- Yes, Donald Trump’s hapless attempt to counter the public disparagement by Mr. Khan at the DNC in July went south;
- Yes, 50 Republican foreign policy and national security experts strongly advised against voting for Donald Trump;
- Yes, after a slight bounce in the polls after the Republican National Convention (RNC) Donald Trump now trails Hillary Clinton by up to 13% nationwide;
- Yes, his economic and foreign policy proposals, in so far as they make sense at all, are pretty much unworkable, or come with a cost of adding trillion of dollars to the U.S. national deficit, will harm international relations, and will contribute to make the world a less secure place.
Granted all this, it is still far from clear how those are indeed signs of Donald Trump’s demise. One should be careful not to read those signs in favor of Hillary Clinton either. As signs, they are treacherous and chimerical.
Right now it looks that way, and this impression is primarily the result after several days in which Donald Trump reacted publicly against swipes by Mr. Khan at the Democratic National Convention (DNC). In fact, this was not a brilliant move by the Clinton campaign to beat Donald Trump on his own turf, with his own methods. Rather, this was the first time in about 16 month of the whole presidential campaign that Donald Trump found himself publicly in a dilemma he couldn’t win. And couldn’t have won. And precisely because of that, it will be the exception, not a new method of how to counter the nominee of the GOP. Thus, due to the very specific circumstances of this dispute, a repetition seems unlikely.
Likewise, the public declaration by some Republicans and those working for them (like national security experts) of not-voting for Donald Trump will not pose too much a problem for him – he can always declare that those who jump the ship now are exactly those who created the mess he is trying to fix in the first place.
Be it true or not, this line of spin fits in his general approach in targeting white workers and Tea Party adherents: The «establishment» is at worst the culprit, and at best a «don’t care».
In fact, the strength of the Trump campaign shows elsewhere. Until the fallout of the Khan dispute after the DNC, the Trump campaign had been more or less on a par with the Clinton campaign, despite not paying any money for campaign ads and despite the differences in how much both campaigns spend on staff, ads, data analytics, and field organization.
It is remarkable that despite all the efforts the Clinton campaign couldn’t break out and gain a significant lead over Trump; conversely, that the Trump campaign could more or less keep up with the Clinton campaign by only spending a fraction of what the Clinton campaign did. One begins to wonders why Trump has been able to keep up with Clinton at all, and why Clinton, in spite of all her efforts, couldn’t break out.
But perhaps these are the wrong questions. The question is perhaps not, why Clinton couldn’t break out and pace ahead. Nor why Trump managed to stay so close at Clinton’s feet. The question seems rather: Why is it that the Trump campaign is so strong that despite a desolate Republican convention and despite the latest developments after the Democratic convention it only now lost some percentage points in the public polls? And given that a public dispute like that between Mr. Trump and the Khan family is a rare exception, not something to become the rule, it looks very likely that the Donald Trump will regain his poll numbers in a matter of weeks, and that he is still out to win.
All depends on the events of the coming weeks and months, of course. But there is one major area in which events will play directly into Trump’s hands, delivering him a huge opportunity to win the White House.
Summarized roughly, these are:
- The supporters of Bernie Sanders will not vote for Hillary Clinton;
- Blue collar Democrats and white working class people will vote for Donald Trump;
- Despite the recent defections that came with much media attention, the majority of Republicans and Conservatives will still vote for Trump;
- Donald Trump created a space in which the acting out of a long shunned dismissive virility is now not only permissible but taken as a means of liberation and rebellion («Against political correctness»);
- Hillary Clinton’s feminism is the feminism of the mothers and grandmothers of today’s women in their twenties and thirties. Those younger women form a strong voting bloc but are not impressed by this feminism. Thus it is not a source of energy to counter Donald Trump’s archaic form of male superiority.
To this needs to be added a sixth reason why Trump, and with him the Republicans, are in a strong position to win the presidency, the House and the Senate.
For a short while, prior to the Democratic National Convention, the wave of people being killed by police officers and the reactions by predominantly black activists – from #BlackLifesMatter to revenge sniper attacks on police officers to even some kind of resurgence of the Black Panthers – contributed to a mood of racial tension that escalated towards explosion, comparable perhaps only to the events in 1968 and 1992. It was during those months of tensions that Donald Trumps continually bashed immigrants from the south of the U.S., refugees from overseas, and «Islamic extremism» supposedly threatening the homeland. What Trump in the past nine to twelve month thus actually achieved was the blending of several distinct topics – racial tensions, discrimination of parts of the population by the police, refugees, (illegal) immigration, Jihadic violence, and domestic terrorism – into one diffuse conflict situation. (To be clear, I don’t say that #BlackLifesMatter is a form of domestic terrorism, nor that every sniper attack or Black Panther resurgence falls into that category. But it’s the atmosphere of danger and threat that is important here, into which those occurrences have been mixed by Donald Trump and others.) With a counter-movement like #BlueLifesMatters – in which police officers have been declared victims of disproportionate violence – and cities on the verge of racially motivated street violence, there only needs to be one major terrorist attack or major assault on police officers, to make the cries for «Law and Order» unmistakable. Trump, intentionally or not, has thus managed to place the concerns and demands of #BlackLifesMatter in the same corner as sniper attacks on police officers and Islamic motivated terrorism at home; every occurrence of violence against police officers will from now on count as similar to or identical with a major terrorist attack. Counter-attacks by white residents or supremacist militias will then be likely. As they will be condoned by Donald Trump, who will not only praise those reactions as attempt to «reinstate» «law and order», but will also take the whole confrontation as a sign of the need to «reinstate» «law and order» on a grand scale, Erdoğan-style. That it was him who has fanned the flames in the first place and who is now suggesting himself as the solution, will go as unnoticed as the problematic stance that the Khan family has taken in how they treated the death of their son.
The upshot is simple: The Trump campaign has proven resilient against a far better organized, far better staffed, far better financed Clinton campaign. It has proven resilient throughout all the media coverage, even in the worst of times. It will take only a small incident to turn the people’s and the media’s attention to something entirely «new» – the re-occurrence of domestic terrorism, for example. It will be enough to make the Trump campaign catch up with the Clinton campaign again. And that is all that is needed in the next three months. At the ballot in November, voter turnout will be something entirely different – and thus: independent of all the turmoil of the preceding months. Trump’s campaign is thus not only in good shape, it is ready to jump into full gear should such an event occur. The Clinton campaign will then be flabbergasted to recognize that no «policy discussion» is of any relevance in this election year. «Law and order» will be the topic, and an uproar of Trump supporters eager to «take our country back». To the shock and dismay of everybody else.
 ∧ The problem for Donald Trump with Mr. Khan’s remarks has been this: The Khan family, in grief about the death of their son in 2004, went on the stage of a major political party and gave a speech of which they must have known its main goal was to criticize the candidate of the other major party, to attack him, and to explain why it would be not a good choice to elect Donald Trump. At the same time, as a grieving Gold Star family, they were above any public critique, e.g., that they used the death of their son in order to achieve a political goal. So when Donald Trump replied to the Khan family’s accusations, he was seen as not showing respect for a grieving Gold Star family, and thus be of despicable character. If, on the other hand, he would have let it go, then Mr. Khan’s and the Democrat’s slander that Mr Trump is of despicable character would have gone unanswered, which would have shown that he is weak. The only way Donald Trump might have escaped this dilemma would have been to not engage in the accusations and only describe how the Khan family, by using the death of their son for political reasons, in fact might have dishonored him.
 ∧ That’s how Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, put it. Cf. David Smith, «Is it over? Abandonment of Donald Trump spreads across Republican party», theguardian.com, August 09, 2016, 19.59 BST. On August 08, 2016, the Trump campaign published a press release stating: «The names on this letter are the ones the American people should look to for answers on why the world is a mess, and we thank them for coming forward so everyone in the country knows who deserves the blame for making the world such a dangerous place. They are nothing more than the failed Washington elite looking to hold onto their power, and it’s time they are held accountable for their actions. These insiders – along with Hillary Clinton – are the owners of the disastrous decisions to invade Iraq, allow Americans to die in Benghazi, and they are the ones who allowed the rise of ISIS. Yet despite these failures, they think they are entitled to use their favor trading to land taxpayer-funded government contracts and speaking fees. It’s time we put our foot down and declare that their gravy train is over: no longer will Crooked Hillary Clinton and the other disasters in Washington get rich at our expense.» Cf. also Mark Hensch, «Trump slams GOP officials’ national security letter», thehill.com, August 08, 2016, 06:42 pm.
 ∧ Since the primary season ended, the Trump Campaign has spent no money on campaign ads, the Clinton campain approximately $52 million (Mark Murray, «Clinton Campaign Now Outspending Trump on Ads — $52 Million to 0», nbcnews.com, August 09, 2016, 9:42 am ET). In July 2016, the Trump campaign managed to take in approximately $80 million in campaign donations compared to $90 million the Clinton campaign achieved (NN, «Donald Trump raises $80 million in July, has $37 million war chest», fiance.yahoo.com, August 3, 2016). Also, the Clinton campaign didn’t acquire the sum that Obama’s campaign had reached at the same stage of the campaign at the end of July 2012 (Gabriel Debenedetti, «Trump fundraising sets off Clinton camp alarms», politico.com, August 08, 2016, 05:47 AM EDT). A detailed breakdown of intake and spending of both campaigns throughout June 2016 can be found here: Bill Allison, Mira Rojanasakul and Brittany Harris, «Tracking the 2016 Presidential Money Race», bloomberg.com, July 21, 2016.
 ∧ Interestingly, Michael Moore recently made five similar points, with somewhat different emphasis and angle: Michael Moore, «5 Reasons Why Trump Will Win».
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