By Kenya Confidential Political Analyst, New York
The latest changes in Trump’s campaign and publicity managers will go full blast to re-package a make-believe “new” Trump capable of apologizing for his frequent insolent remarks
Watching the Democrats’ smoothly staged, potently scripted convention, voters could easily think that Hillary Clinton has this election in the bag. A dark storm has however started gathering momentum with the repackaged Donald Trump talking like he can make sense after a series of blistering blunders.
The critiques of Trump made devastatingly clear that he’s a preposterous, dangerous candidate for the Presidency, which he has made great efforts to confirm. During the convention the case for Clinton was compelling, and almost every Democratic Party leader who mattered showed up to make it.
That included President Barack Obama, who answered Trump’s shockingly gloomy vision of America with a stirring assurance that we have every reason to feel good. Clinton forcefully amplified that assessment. She peddled uplift, not anxiety.
But in 2016, is that the smarter sell? Are prettier words the better pitch?
They made for a more emotional, inspiring convention, so much so that many conservatives loudly grieved the way in which Democrats had appropriated the rousing patriotism and can-do American spirit that Republicans once owned. But Trump has surrendered optimism to Clinton at precisely the moment when it’s a degraded commodity, out of sync with the national mood. That’s surely why he let go of it so readily.
Clinton has many advantages in this race. I wouldn’t bet against her. I expect a significant bounce for her in post-convention polls; an Ipsos/Reuters survey that was released soon after, reflecting interviews spread out over the Democrats’ four days in Philadelphia, showed her five points ahead of Trump nationally among likely voters. The wildfire support is burning through hitherto staunch Republican states uncontrollably.
But she nonetheless faces possible troubles, and the potential mismatch of her message and the moment is a biggie. She has to exploit the opportunity of Trump’s excessive bleakness without coming across as the least bit complacent. That’s no easy feat but it’s a necessary one. The numbers don’t lie.
In an early Gallup poll just 17 percent of respondents said that the country was on the right track, while 82 percent said it was on the wrong track. In an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shortly before that, the corresponding figures were 18 percent and 73 percent.
And while that degree of negativity is unusually pronounced, a general pessimism about America has persisted for well over a decade, paving the way for Trump. As my colleague Ross Douthat recently noted, “The last time more than 40 percent of Americans said the country was on the right track was a month after the president’s re-election, and the wrong track number was stuck above 60 percent well before Trump’s primary-season ascent.”
If it has now crept considerably higher than that, it’s no wonder, and it’s not because Trump is talking so much trash. It’s because the world is presenting so many nightmares, each fast on the heels of another.
In early July, five police officers were assassinated in Dallas, followed by three more in Baton Rouge and the carnage continues.
In the last three months, there was the massacre in Orlando, followed by the massacre in Nice, not to mention the frequent massacres in Afghanistan and Syria and Iraq or the French priest whose throat was slit some weeks ago. Many Americans sense that they’re living amid pervasive, random terror. And yet terrorism went entirely unmentioned on the first day of the Democratic convention. That’s Trump’s trump card.
The Republicans of course took a different, darker tack — Trump in particular. Much was made of how he cherry-picked his crime statistics for the most rancid fruit, warping reality to fill the streets of America with as much blood and foreboding as he did. Trump has in turn fumbled through blunder after another.
But if he got the particulars largely wrong, he got the apprehension mostly right, and Democrats’ rebuttals since then have failed to grasp how strongly his panicked portrait of America resonates with many Americans. He still attracts large crowds of worried Americans.
His incessant vows to “make America great again” have prompted Democrats’ increasingly frequent insistences that it’s plenty great already, an outlook that may well seem dismissive to some Americans and just plain out of touch to others. Trump’s stormy word cloud complements their emotional weather.
The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that I mentioned also found that 56 percent of respondents preferred a candidate who would bring sweeping changes to the way the government functioned, no matter how unpredictable those changes might be, while only 41 percent tilted toward someone with a steady and possibly incremental approach. That spread favors Trump over Clinton.
It also explains why Bill Clinton, in his Tuesday-night testimonial for his wife, kept praising her as a “change maker” and used the words “change” or “changes” more than a dozen times.
But his very presence undercut that vocabulary, reminding Americans that Hillary spent eight years (albeit as the first lady) in the White House before. And Obama seemed to be assuring Americans that electing her would guarantee that things don’t change too much.
After a quarter-century of near-constant public exposure and scrutiny, she inevitably connotes sameness — which is a chief reason that she and her supporters are stressing the milestone of a first woman president. That emphasis is part of a tricky balancing act in which she’s trying to say and do several contradictory things at once.
She’s promising fresh solutions to the nation’s problems, but she’s arguing that they’re best fashioned by two people — Tim Kaine and her — who are more or less career politicians.
She’s campaigning for a third Obama term and yet not. She’s blaming sustained, savage attacks by the G.O.P. for her unfavorable ratings while telling Americans that she’s positioned and equipped to woo and work with Republicans more successfully than Obama did.
The mixed signals are straight out of HBO’s political satire “Veep,” in which the fantastically insincere politician Selina Meyer used the slogan “Continuity With Change.” There’s an oxymoronic echo of that in Clinton’s bid.
Trump seized on her convention-speech optimism and used it against her in a series of tweets, complaining that she forgot “to mention the many problems of our country” and refused “to mention Radical Islam.” He also tweeted this bulletin: “Two policemen just shot in San Diego, one dead. It is only getting worse. People want LAW AND ORDER!”
I’m doubtful that a majority of them want it in all capital letters, followed by an exclamation mark, from an egomaniac with as little intellectual as typographical subtlety. But to guarantee his defeat, Clinton needs to calibrate her voice more deftly than she typically does.
She’s right that we’re “stronger together.” But she can’t forget how weak many Americans feel right now.
Yes, “love trumps hate.” But the hateful currents running through America are powerful ones, and they’re born of a disillusionment that she minimizes at her peril. The latest changes in Trumps campaign managers will go full blast to re-package a make-believe “new” Trump capable of apologizing for his frequent insolent remarks.
Ahead henceforth will be a bare knuckles fight for the Oval office and Hilary must punch heavy blows on the not so new Trump to diminish him out of White House terrain come November. Hard blows will land Hilary in the Oval Office and make history as the first woman to be President of the United States of America since Declaration of Independence in 1776.
That will come 8 years after another American political milestone of voting in the first African-American president Obama whose father hailed from Kenya.
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