Hours after America learned what he likes to grab married women by, Donald Trump offered his best approximation of an apology. While unable to project genuine contrition, the mogul successfully said the words “I apologize,” before transitioning into an attack on Bill Clinton.
There are few things Trump enjoys less than admitting to his errors. But he did it anyway. Because the party Establishment told him to.
And then, over the ensuing 48 hours, a slew of elected Republicans rescinded their endorsements, reports circulated that Mike Pence was thinking of jumping ship, and the RNC indicated that it would be diverting resources down ballot.
The GOP nominee showed up to the second presidential debate with three women who had accused Bill Clinton of sexual misconduct. He proceeded to stalk Hillary Clinton around the town hall like a silverback gorilla (in the words of the Trump campaign’s own surrogate). Before the evening was over, Trump had accused the Democratic nominee of having laughed at a 12-year-old rape victim, called Clinton a “devil,” and promised to have her prosecuted once he is elected.
In the days since, Trump has lashed out at Republicans who had distanced themselves from his campaign, saying that he “wouldn’t want to be in a foxhole” with (famous war hero) John McCain, and that House Speaker Paul Ryan supports “open borders” and “very bad budgets.”
On first glance, one might attribute this behavior to factors more psychological than political. Trump has never displayed much talent for turning the other cheek. Whether or not it makes political sense to drag the Clintons through the mud — or rain hell upon turncoat Republicans — the mogul is constitutionally incapable of pursuing a different path.
Or one could interpret Trump’s de-shackling as a recognition that he has no realistic shot of winning on November 8. Thus, the mogul has entered the YOLO phase of his campaign, indulging in the parts of politics he likes best — humiliating his enemies and entertaining his admirers — while he still can.
But a new report from The Wall Street Journal suggests that Trump’s behavior is all part of a coherent Hail Mary strategy for winning the White House: energize the Trumpen proletariat while demoralizing everyone else:
Donald Trump, faced with opposition inside and outside his party, plans to renew the nationalist themes that built his base and amplify his no-holds-barred attacks against Hillary Clinton to try to depress Democratic voter turnout, his advisers said.
Following the release of a tape-recording of his lewd comments about women and several high-profile Republican defections over the weekend, Mr. Trump has effectively given up the conventional wisdom of trying to reach voters far outside his core of support, one high-level Republican supporter said.
The idea here is to keep tying Hillary Clinton to Wall Street and her husband’s sexual history, until a substantial portion of the Democratic base finds the election too depressing to participate in. Meanwhile, by casting the election as a holy crusade against Establishments both left and right, Trump hopes to keep his own base mobilized.
There’s some evidence that Trump is succeeding at the latter goal. An NBC News poll taken after the Billy Bush tape went public — but before Sunday night’s town hall — showed only 67 percent of Republican respondents saying GOP House and Senate candidates should back Trump. After the GOP nominee spent the second debate impersonating a walking, talking Breitbart comments section, that figure rose to 83 percent.
But the Trump campaign’s broader strategy is almost certainly hopeless. For one thing, it’s difficult to mobilize the Republican base without simultaneously mobilizing the Democratic one. Which is to say, threatening to jail Hillary Clinton is less likely to depress her base than to energize it. This is even truer for any attempt to renew his “nationalist themes,” which is to say, demagogic appeals to the innate criminality of nonwhite immigrants. Last week, one of the largest Latino civic groups in America announced that it had registered more than 100,000 new voters ahead of November’s election.
What’s more, the last thing Trump should want this election to come down to is a battle over which campaign has a better turnout operation. The Trump campaign’s get-out-the-vote operation is almost nonexistent, while the Clinton campaign’s is state-of-the-art. And the Democrats’ superior ground game is already paying dividends in early voting. Per the New York Times:
The first wave of data from states like Florida and North Carolina shows preliminary signs that Mrs. Clinton was building a slight edge even before the revelation that Donald J. Trump had bragged about sexual assault roiled the race.
Democrats are requesting more absentee ballots in Florida than they were at this point in 2012, with increases of 50 percent in the heavily Hispanic areas around Miami and Orlando. In North Carolina, where Mitt Romney built enough of a lead in early voting four years ago to eke out a victory over President Obama, Democrats are requesting mail-in ballots in larger numbers than in 2012, while Republicans’ participation is declining.
Finally, the notion that it is in Trump’s interest to attack the Republican leadership because many of his supporters feel estranged from the GOP Establishment is bizarre. Trump’s “a pox on both houses” shtick may have genuinely converted some white, non-college-educated workers to his cause. But such “missing white voters” vote less reliably than do upscale, moderate Republicans. And Trump simply cannot win without securing more support from the latter. Attacking Paul Ryan will do nothing to aid that cause.
Thus, it’s hard not to read this new “strategy” as a means of rationalizing Trump’s decision to campaign the way he feels like campaigning.
Or else as a means of maintaining the engagement of the Trump News Network’s future audience.