Growing Up Is Hard to Do
One of the things candidates for president sometimes find is that, as they gather strength, their campaign nature changes. Gone are the friendly faces a candidate is long accustomed to. Those who know the candidate’s routines get shuffled out. The general election pivot brings on more professional types and more mercenaries who are in it to win, not in it for the candidate.
We are reaching that point with Donald Trump. I suspect it will not be pretty. Like the scorpion stinging the frog, sending both to their death, we know Donald Trump’s nature already. He is not going to be manhandled by professional campaign operatives. The warning signs are already there.
To begin with, Trump has surrounded himself with yes men. He relies on his own advice and that of his family. He brought in a campaign manager who is a yes man who gives Trump free rein and little discipline.
Now Trump is bringing in Paul Manafort, a man with troubling ties to the Kremlin and not very savory politicians in Ukraine. Manafort is in a power struggle with the campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, who Trump likes because Lewandowski does not, apparently, challenge Trump. Manafort’s task is to bring grown ups onto Trump’s Island of Misfit Toys and get a more competent operation going. Despite Trump’s delegate advantage, there are serious problems that his loss in Wisconsin revealed.
Since January, Trump’s standing in national polling has only gone up about five percentage points. His win averages hover around 35 percent. When there were 17 people in the race, a 35 percent share of the vote gave Trump a win. Now it anchors him to losses. Likewise, Trump has only been picking up about 48 percent of the delegates. Going forward, he will need to increase that to close to sixty percent, something that looks impossible for him to do.
With those problems, Trump has ground game problems. He does not have sound operations in states moving forward. He has released staff in states already won only to see Cruz come in and win delegates at state conventions. Compounding those problems are Trump’s high negatives. Cruz won women in Wisconsin pretty handily. Women — even Republican women — loath Donald Trump.
In Wisconsin, a majority of Republican voters said they would be concerned or scared if Trump were elected president. That is a terrible sign. To overcome all these things, Trump has to grow up and look presidential. He has to lose the bombast.
His campaign now has him on track to give a series of policy speeches. They say he will focus on immigration and foreign policy. But he has thus far come off as ill prepared for interviews on policy. Just before Wisconsin he had a terrible foray into abortion policy.
William Bennett, one of Ronald Reagan’s education secretaries, has been advising Trump. He told the Washington Post, “I and others have offered to help, but [it] doesn’t seem to make any difference.” It does not. It is hard to tell a man no who has intentionally surrounded himself with those who only tell him yes.
Therein lies one other problem for Trump. Should he be forced into the bubble of professional campaigns, he risks coming across as less authentic. The man known for saying whatever is on his mind risks looking like the very politicians he is running against. Trump does have a ceiling — whether his campaign wants to admit it or not. If he wants to break through that ceiling he will need a more professional campaign, which risks frustrating Trump and frustrating his believers.
Donald Trump’s campaign has essentially been a wildfire no one could control. The press propped him up, gave him passes, and excused his multiple contradictions. They are not doing that any more. They are just letting him burn. His staff now has the unenviable task of trying to control that burn while watching Ted Cruz rapidly consolidate the 65 percent of Republicans who continue consistently to oppose Donald Trump.
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