Trump in the final stretch: path to victory relies on Clinton missteps

Despite recent campaign resignations, dont expect a pivot to the center: there will be more fiery rhetoric and impulsive outbursts as election day nears

As the presidential election enters the home stretch, Donald Trumps campaign is in a vulnerable position. In recent weeks, the Republican nominee has changed key aides yet again, flip-flopped on his signature issue of immigration and stayed well behind Hillary Clinton in fundraising, organization and polling.

Trump is by no means out of the race, but his path to victory relies as much on Clinton missteps as on his own successes. That means he now has a clear goal. He is not going to try to be a normal candidate. There will be no attempt to pivot to the center. There will not be a softer side.

Trump will be the same fiery demagogue that tore up the Republican primary. The goal will not be to dam his torrent of political incorrectness. It will be to channel it, to produce maximum appeal to voters.

The biggest change in the Trump campaign in recent weeks was the replacement of top aide Paul Manafort with a two-headed team, pollster Kellyanne Conway as campaign manager and rightwing publisher Steve Bannon as campaign CEO. The two took over in mid-August, after a series of revelations about Manaforts ties to allies of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

A veteran of Republican campaigns since 1976, Manafort was brought on to help guide the campaign through the arcane process of delegate selection for the Republican convention in Cleveland. He was then able to push out Corey Lewandowski, Trumps previous campaign manager, who was known for his brash, hard-charging style.

Manafort is known for his charisma, but he was not able to bring it to bear on Trump. Before the billionaire clinched the nomination, Manafort promised top Republicans his candidate was putting on an act for primary voters. Trump was reportedly furious, and therefore did his utmost to demonstrate that he was just being himself.

Trump subsequently meandered from controversy to controversy, a situation not helped by the fact that unlike Lewandowski, Manafort did not travel with him. It is almost unheard for campaign managers to travel with their candidate, but no candidate in American history has been so impulsive as Trump.

The result? To name just two controversies, Trump claimed a federal judge was biased against him because of his Mexican heritage and insulted the family of an American soldier who died in Iraq. And so Manafort was pushed out, along with other veteran operatives such as Rick Gates and Mike McSherry.


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Current campaign manager Kellyanne Conway with former campaign chair Paul Manafort, in August. Manafort has since been pushed out. Photograph: Carlo Allegri/Reuters

The resulting shakeup also brought in David Bossie, a long-time anti-Clinton operative. As a result, the campaigns brains trust, which also includes Trumps son-in-law Jared Kushner, has no experience working for a presidential candidate in a general election. It is however well-attuned to Trumps idiosyncratic ways.

One of the biggest changes is that Trump now uses a teleprompter when speaking, even at his raucous campaign rallies. Although he has long disdained the device and boasted of his ability to improvise every night, thanks to the arrival of Conway he has finally been persuaded to stick to something resembling a script.

No one, of course, should mistake Trump for an automaton. He uses his prepared remarks in the same way John Coltrane used the sheet music to My Favorite Things: as the basis for a series of wild riffs. But the presence of the teleprompter means that Trump at least gets back to the basic notes, rather than off on a politically costly solo.

The most glaring sign Trumps new reliance on technology came at the end of August, at an Iowa fundraiser for Senator Joni Ernst that was held in a barn on the state fairgrounds, where livestock normally compete for blue ribbons. Politician after politician took the stage to cheers from crowd sitting on benches on the dirt floor, wolfing down barbecued pork sandwiches. As Trumps appearance drew near, technicians suddenly appeared and installed a teleprompter. At such an informal event, it was a jarring site.


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Donald Trump speaks from a teleprompter at the 2nd annual Joni Ernst Roast and Ride in Des Moines last month. Photograph: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

In terms of policy, the candidate has returned to the let Trump be Trump tactics that defined his campaign in the primary. This was most clear in his immigration speech in Phoenix on Wednesday, where Trump definitely took a hardline stance, doubling down on the inflammatory rhetoric that drove his surge to the nomination.

Proclaiming there will be no amnesty, parading family members of Americans killed by illegal immigrants, he framed the issue not as a humanitarian crisis, as he said earlier that day in Mexico, or even an economic one. Instead, it was about public safety and the wellbeing of the American people.

In the aftermath of a speech that showed little potential to improve poll numbers among Latino voters, a number of members of Trumps Hispanic advisory council resigned. A recent poll showed only 19% of Hispanics supporting Trump. In 2004, George W Bush won 44%. In one recent poll, Trumps approval rating among African Americans was zero. To win, he will have to run the table with white voters.

Trump does appeal to disconnected blue-collar white voters. While diverse states like Colorado and Virginia, swing states in past cycles, have moved off the map, Trump is showing staying power in places such as Iowa and Nevada, which have recently leaned Democratic. The problem is that those states have comparatively few votes in the electoral college. He is also being significantly out-organized and out-fundraised by the Clinton political juggernaut.

His one advantage is Clinton. Trump may be the most unpopular presidential candidate in modern American history, but Clinton is the second-most unpopular. No less than 68% of Americans think the Democratic nominee isnt honest and trustworthy and with <a href=”” data-link-name=”in” body link” class=”u-underline”>her email scandal showing no sign of abating, the Democrat will come under continued scrutiny until election day itself.

Trumps path to victory is still narrow. But if there is one thing Trump has shown in the past year, its that an underfunded, out-organized campaign can throw caution to the wind, and ride a never-ending twister of controversy to beat an establishment opponent. That worked in the Republican primary. Can it work in November?

One thing is clear: Trump is more confident pursuing an outlandish, unconventional approach than he is if he acts like a normal politician.

Key players

Kellyanne Conway, campaign manager; Steve Bannon, campaign CEO; Jared Kushner, son-in-law; Roger Ailes, former Fox News chief.

Signature policies

Building a wall and having Mexico pay for it; renegotiating free trade agreements; bombing the hell out of Isis and taking their oil.

Strongest point

Able to garner free media with a single tweet.

Weakest point

Has hit record lows with minority voters, reaching 0% in one recent poll of African Americans. Is also is being massively outspent and outorganized by Clinton.

Core supporters

Blue-collar white males.

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