October 12, 2016

Trump Must Fight Hillary, Media, GOP and Himself to Win

A year ago, the future looked very bright for the Republican Party.

A year ago, the future looked very bright for the Republican Party. The GOP knew it would be facing the deeply flawed Hillary Clinton, following the façade of a contested primary against a handful of humorously weak candidates, including septuagenarian socialist Bernie Sanders (the difficulty she had in dispatching him is a testament to how weak she is). Possibly the weakest Democrat nominee since James Cox in 1920, Hillary is a radical leftist with a shrill and grating voice, none of her husband’s political savvy or likability, and enough baggage to fill the cargo holds of a fleet of airliners.

Republicans, on the other hand, boasted a stable of fantastic candidates with proven success in governance and deep conservative credentials. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker had slain the labor union dragon and turned around the state’s financial woes. Governor Rick Perry of Texas boasted of having presided over the state which created all net new jobs in the country during Barack Obama’s disastrous economic reign. Governor Bobby Jindal had quietly turned Louisiana’s fortunes around. Senator Ted Cruz carried the banner of constitutional conservatism and limited government, having taken on not only Democrats but his own party’s leadership to limit government power. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida was the handsome, charismatic newcomer, the GOP’s rising star who could talk about America and Liberty like no one since Reagan.

And then there was Donald Trump.

Real estate tycoon and reality-show star, life-long liberal Democrat recently turned Republican, riding to popularity on a wave of anti-illegal immigration, anti-establishment, pro-America rhetoric. A strange combination for a strange campaign season.

Trump immediately upended the political order — which certainly deserved it — though he became very polarizing in the process. His supporters offered him an almost messianic devotion, treating any criticism or any revelation of past indiscretions, failures, or faux pas as all the more reason to support him. “He’s not a polished politician!” they argued, so he can’t be held to the same standard. He famously bragged, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters” — and it seems he was right. His detractors were equally energetic, arguing that his lack of a firm set of principles, his unfamiliarity with policy issues, his authoritarian impulses, and his insulting, in-your-face temperament would be a liability in the general election, and that his appeal would be limited. It seems they (we) were also right.

For the longest time it seemed Trump was unsinkable. Gaffes, crudities and missteps that would have instantly buried any other candidate seemed to roll off him like rain off a rock. He had pulled about even with Clinton in the polls by last month, and looked like he might pull ahead.

Until last weekend. Last Friday, an 11-year-old tape was released in which Trump was recorded bragging about how he can grope and kiss women and get away with it because he is rich and famous.

This one did some damage. It immediately went viral, and it was so damaging that Trump did something that Trump never, ever does — he apologized. But will it be enough?

Within 24 hours, more than two dozen elected Republicans had publicly rebuked him. Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) called on Trump to step down for the good of the party and the good of the country. Even some of those who endorsed him were condemning his comments and distancing themselves from him. After a terrible first debate, Trump came out Sunday at the second debate noticeably more prepared, but the first portion of the debate swirled around the controversy of his statements. On Monday, House Speaker Paul Ryan said he will not be campaigning with Trump, but will be focusing on maintaining GOP congressional majorities. Ryan later backtracked somewhat, saying that he is not rescinding his endorsement of Trump, but it was also clear that Ryan would not be defending Trump.

As for Trump, he declared, “The shackles have been taken off,” because he can now “fight for America the way I want to.”

All of which puts Republicans in a very precarious position with less than a month to go before Election Day (and with early ballots already being cast).

Congressional Republicans are defending against the possibility of losing control of the Senate, and potentially even the House. They can ill afford to alienate Trump supporters. At the same time, there are Republicans from swing states or districts, especially suburban districts where Trump is unpopular, who risk losing support among both Republicans and independents if they are seen as embracing Trump.

Trump now has a political Mount Everest to climb in the next four weeks, and no presidential candidate in the modern era has done it. He has to mitigate and reverse the damage done by the release of the taped comments, as well as others that may still be released. He must keep his core supporters enthusiastic and engaged while finding a way to draw in the Republicans, conservatives and independents that are frustrated and angry at the reality-TV style of his campaign. He has to eliminate any more unforced errors. RNC Chairman Reince Priebus has expressed his unwavering support, which is a good start.

But even more than that, Trump has to overcome a national media which is forcefully aligned against him and openly supporting Hillary Clinton. Rather than an unbiased media, you have CNN openly admitting that they “couldn’t help [Hillary] any more than we have,” NBC colluding with the Clinton campaign, the media giving Hillary a complete pass on the content of her secret speeches, the contents of which show both her duplicity and the danger she represents to our national security. And if that’s not enough, she has the now-corrupted FBI, and its director, James Comey, actively covering up her criminal actions.

Few gave Trump a chance of winning the primary when he first announced. In the general election race, his poll numbers had already dropped in the last two weeks, and plummeted further after his lewd comments were released. He’s overcome seemingly insurmountable odds to win before. The question now is, can he do it again?

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