Luntz Group: Trump Scored High On Trade, Clinton Floundered On Foundation Defense

Posted: Oct 20, 2016 4:55 AM

Frank Luntz’s focus group was pretty much split on between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton winning the debate in their third and final showdown. Trump scored low when he mentioned selecting Supreme Court justices to overturn Roe v. Wade, Clinton got high marks when she mentioned that abortion isn’t the government’s business.

Trump did well on border security, but his main source of strength was trade. Luntz noted that if Trump sticks with trade, he could win in November. Even Hillary-leaning members trusted Trump’s economic language more than that spewed by Mrs. Clinton. At the same time, Trump’s answers on the economy were jumbled, with this focus group thirsty for more details from the Republican nominee. They're just not buying it yet. 

Yet, it was not at all a smooth road for Mr. Trump. No one believed him when he denied the allegations of sexual misconduct lobbed against him. This is critical since it pretty much shows that Trump should probably just give up outreach of college-educated suburbanite women. That operation is dead with these numbers. At the same time, Clinton floundered in her response to questions about the Clinton Foundation, While Trump's attack on Clinton’s foreign policy record also scored high marks. We also found out that Clinton's accusation that the Russians are trying to influence the election isn't an effective counterattack. In fact, many tuned out during this attack for which the Clinton campaign has yet to show solid evidence that the Wikileaks dumps are being directed from the Kremlin. The anti-Russia rhetoric could be failing since many Americans agree with Trump's opinion of Russian President Vladimir Putin: he's a strong leader. Hillary's full-throated defense of the Obama stimulus also fared poorly with voters, which could raise some ref flags about portions of her own economic agenda.

So, where do we go from here? Trump didn’t do bad, but he certainly needed to do better than any of his previous debate performances since were less than 20 days out from Election Day. He’s also trailing in the polls, with some states, like Florida and Nevada, leaning Democratic, while Arizona and Utah go from lean GOP to toss-up. Trumps points on the economy weren’t bad, like reducing taxes, especially corporate tax rates, but the delivery was botched. He needed to do excellent last night. That didn’t happen. Don't get me wrong; he had a decent showing. but we don't need decent. We can't afforded the best he could do debate performances any more, the Trump campaign needed to attack and find some areas to regain ground lost to Clinton over the past few days. That didn't happen. 

Trump threw some tough jabs at Clinton, but while the emails and the Clinton Foundation might be effective in undercutting Clinton—it appears as if it's becoming less effective in tightening the polls in the race. It's now centered on the licentious accusations of sexual misconduct, which will always drown out a new email development or another shady foundation transaction. The focus group cited trade as a way for Trump to close the gap, possibly regaining the edge. Yes, offer a reminder that Clinton isn’t to be trusted and has bad judgment regarding her email fiasco—but it looks like trade might be an area where he could get a second wind. Maybe if he talks about what he's going to of in greater detail, coupled with the email and foundation jabs, Trump could shift the sand a bit. He might have to do something that he's largely avoided this cycle: offer specifics about his economic plan. The question is whether 19 days is long enough to convey that point. Have we gone past the point in no return, in which case the campaign is left with nothing but making sure they push as hard as they can before November 8, get the volunteers and the poll watching certificates signed by the proper authority come Election Day to track turnout, and pray that no more women come forward to accuse him of sexual harassment.