When was the last time you saw a healthy stretch of media coverage about actual issues pertaining to the presidency? When was the last week that featured detailed national conversations about the issues Donald Trump rode to the Republican nomination?
When he became the presumptive nominee in May, I was among the voices claiming that if the election focuses on the issues, he wins. He wins on borders, wins on the Supreme Court, wins on taxes, wins on blasting through the political correctness that threatens our liberty and safety.
That race did not happen.
It felt like it in fits and starts. When Trump strung together some days and weeks of message discipline, he gained in the polls, drawing even and even taking leads in key states. The candidate and large swaths of voters were in harmony, and not just in the eagerness to strengthen borders, defeat ISIS and find the next Antonin Scalia for the Supreme Court. There was a stylistic bond forged as well. Despite admitted sidetrips down harmful behavioral rabbit holes, people flocked to the concept of a leader who would actually listen to them after years of arrogant, unresponsive government.
In his Republican convention acceptance speech, he drew a masterful difference between the Hillary Clinton campaign theme—“I’m With Her”—and his own message: “I’m with you, the American people. I am your voice. So to every parent who dreams for their child, and every child who dreams for their future, I say these words to you tonight: I’m with you, and I will fight for you, and I will win for you.”
Today that seems like years ago.
As Trump and Clinton take to their third and final debate stage in Las Vegas, he needs a miracle to have a shot at prevailing in what looked like a dead heat on Labor Day. The intervening six weeks have been a festival of distractions that have diverted many eyes from the only thing that truly matters: what kind of presidency will begin on January 20, 2017?
The distractions have come from many sources, including the Hillary Clinton campaign stenographers in the dominant media culture. But for a man who complains that the media are tilting the playing field, Donald Trump has played right into their hands at times, diving with gusto into scrums that will not win him one vote, most notably the Bill Clinton gallery of sexual misbehaviors.
I know it reveals a master class in hypocrisy. Countless voices in the Clinton camp told us in the 1990s that his behavior, far worse than Trump’s, was not an indicator of leadership acumen. His wife forgave him, we were lectured at the time, and that should settle it. Today, those same people do not accept that argument when applied to Trump.
Great. I hope everyone is happy that this has been firmly established. And I hope everyone is enjoying the latest WikiLeaks dump, the latest damning Podesta emails, the latest videos from James O’Keefe. All of these are valuable windows into the bottom-feeding depths of Hillary Clinton and her party, but not one bit of it helps Trump win.
My talk radio compadres and our TV counterparts delight in the release of the latest shovelful to dump on the growing mountain of evidence that Hillary Clinton is the most corrupt person ever to run for President. I get it. I’ve aired this stuff as well. I too am taking note of the historic levels of malfeasance that she is dragging around on the campaign trail. But here is the question: Has any Hillary voter consumed these conservative media echo chamber moments, slapped hand to forehead and wailed, “Oh, how wrong I’ve been! How could I ever follow such a disastrously dishonest candidate?”
That would be no.
It’s as if we think we can pivot Hillary voters into backing Trump. That’s not happening in the final three weeks. Are there Democrats who actually did sign onto Trump months ago, intrigued by his job-creating populism while either underwhelmed or outright repelled by Hillary? Sure, a few.
But Trump’s job—my job, your job, if you have a shred of conservatism in you—is not to try to pry people away from her to vote for him; it’s to pry people off the couch.
Millions of American voters—maybe 2 million, maybe 20 million or more—have a generally favorable view of the Trump agenda—strong borders, constitutionalist Supreme Court justices, a Reaganesque tax plan, an eye toward obliterating political correctness—but they are unnerved by him.
Maybe it’s his entire demeanor, maybe the campaign moments featuring wholly foolish insults of John McCain or Heidi Cruz-- maybe it’s those stupid tapes on that stupid bus eleven years ago. None of those things make a molecule of difference to the central fact of conservative life: Hillary Clinton’s presidency must be prevented.
As such, the best use of his time in the third debate, on the campaign trail, in every TV interview, is not to moan about rigged elections or Clinton foundation iniquities. It is to describe, in detail, how his presidency will be far better than hers. Imagine a return to things that might actually motivate people to vote for him.
This doesn’t mean he should not mention media bias, or Hillary’s misdeeds or the unfathomable snubs from party leaders. Go for it. But the overarching themes should sound like this:
--If Hillary Clinton wins, your basic rights are under attack from Day One. If I win, I will fight for your rights, from religious expression to gun ownership and the rest of the Constitution, which I will honor by nominating Supreme Court justices like Antonin Scalia;
--If Hillary Clinton wins, we will see more years of total failure to notice who is coming into our country. This will result in job losses, burdens to our social services and worst of all, the danger of countless unvetted Middle eastern men welcomed into our midst. If I win, I will do my best to prevent waves of illegal immigrants across our Southern border and incursions of jihadists entering as refugees.
--If Hillary Clinton wins, job creation will continue to stagnate under the overtaxation and suffocating regulations of the left. If I win, I will reduce those burdens on businesses and craft tax reform in the mold of Ronald Reagan;
--If Hillary Clinton wins, the disaster of Obamacare will continue to boost costs and strangle choice in our health care system. If I win, I will seek private-sector alternatives that will return healthcare decision-making to doctors and patients.
I could go on. But the point is that Hillary voters and Trump voters are already fused to their intentions. What Trump needs to do is open the eyes of millions of skeptics who have fallen just short of enthusiasm for him. He has energized millions, but also managed to repel millions. If he can flip just a few percentage points of voters who are generally approving of his agenda, he can win.
That’s why he needs to be as vocal about the specifics of “Make America Great Again” as he was during his primary surge. That’s how he got here. He has a superb running mate, and would probably do well to name an equally impressive Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense and Attorney General. The daily drumbeat of the latest scandals has a numbing effect. On the debate stage and at every campaign stop for the next twenty days, he needs to invite us to imagine how much better the nation will fare when he and his administration start digging us out of the mess of the last eight years.