With the GOP convention finally at hand, team Trump faces the truly daunting task of keeping his brand afloat and maintaining a course to victory in the fall. It appears that the GOP is anything but all hands on deck, with splinter factions threatening to abandon the candidate and some delegates actually planning a convention floor revolt.
And yet, despite the apparent disunity and chaos, Trump’s polling numbers versus his challenger, presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, have barely taken a hit. Coming out of a widely publicized email scandal in which she was spared criminal indictment, Clinton’s reputation as someone who used bad judgment has wounded her deeply. In a newly released New York Times/CBS poll 67 percent of voters indicated that Clinton ‘is not honest and trustworthy.’ And the poll also showed the candidates are essentially neck and neck in the race.
The implication is that Trump need not run a perfect race to beat Clinton, just merely a race free of major blunders. But if past is precedent, a mistake-free performance may be a bit much to ask from Trump. Several times over the past weeks, Trump’s antics have snatched headlines away from a major Clinton scandal and turned attention on himself. The email scandal is a case in point. Rather than focusing on the hearings in which FBI director Comey virtually excoriated Clinton, media attention was draw away to Trump’s tweet featuring a picture of Clinton superimposed over a six-pointed star and a pile of money. For many, the image conjured anti-Semitic memes. Trump later removed the star and re-tweeted a similar image with a circle instead, but then went on to double down on his tweet, defending the image in a speech and arguing that he should not have caved to external pressure and removed it.
Coming into the Cleveland convention, the media has virtually turned on Trump. A review of the op-ed section of the Washington Post over the past three months reveals a steady stream of negative articles focusing on Trump, versus a tepid criticism of Clinton for her various scandals. Most of the media, from the New York Times to CNN, have followed suit. Thus far, Trump has not demonstrated the organizational capacity to get his own message out. He’s been slow in producing ads, especially in key battleground states such as Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. He will need some of these states to break his way in order to have a viable path to victory in the fall.
Then there is Trump’s fundraising apparatus. Trump raised a dismal $3.2 million in May to Clinton’s haul of $27 million. Keep in mind that Trump was the presumptive nominee for most of the month of May, while Clinton was still in a heated battle against Democratic rival Bernie Sanders. Trump fared far better in June, with reported numbers of $52 million, to Clinton’s $67 million. And while all indications are that Trump has been actively fundraising throughout the beginning of July, one wonders whether the deficit will continue to plague him going forward. Clinton’s fundraising apparatus is a well-oiled machine, whereas Trump appears to have to work very hard for his money. To wit, Trump was flying all over the country just days before the convention, attending various fundraising junkets; one wonders whether anyone can muster the stamina to pull off what Trump needs to do in the coming months to unify the party and fuel his campaign.
It seems Trump has thus far relied primarily on media theatrics and free publicity to drum up attention. This served him well in the primaries, but one wonders whether the lack of a ground game may come back to haunt him in the hotly contested battleground states late in the race.
With a party in disunity, a hostile press, and a campaign operation that is far from robust, Trump faces a tough road ahead. He will need to unite the party behind him at the convention, and that means more than threatening the alternative of a Clinton White House. Voters need a reason to vote for Trump, not merely against Clinton. Trump has not laid out a concrete policy agenda, although the GOP platform has been amended to accentuate some of the broad themes – on trade and immigration – that Trump has touted in his speeches.
With the convention now under way, Donald Trump faces significant challenges in both unifying his own party and reaching out to additional voters that he’ll need to bring home the Presidency. Neither of those tasks are easy ones, and it would be far better if, at this stage of the race, he only had to fight on one front, instead of at least two.