Monday

October 23rd, 2017

Insight

How Donald Trump can turn around his flailing campaign, in 3 steps

Chris Cillizza

By Chris Cillizza The Washington Post

Published August 8, 2016

The Closing of the American Mouth

It's indisputable that Donald Trump's presidential campaign has reached its lowest ebb of the 2016 election. Trump is trailing Hillary Clinton badly in both swing state and national polls and continues to do battle with Republican leaders.

What's less clear is whether -- and how -- Trump can bounce back from his current deficit.

I spent an hour on Thursday answering question on Quora -- love that site! -- and one that stood out to me touched on this very issue. It read: "How could Donald Trump change his strategy to secure a win in November?"

I've got four quick and painless steps that I think would at least get Trump back to single-digit competitiveness in most polls with Clinton. Here they are:

1. Stop talking so much

Trump seems to have an unending willingness to talk to the media -- despite his insistence that we are "the most dishonest people." Trump is calling into shows, appearing on set or sitting down with a reporter constantly.

What that means for Trump is that he is always either stepping on his preferred message of the day or making some sort of other news entirely. Trump is his own worst enemy in this regard. He has repeatedly taken a good news day or news cycle and turned it into a bad one simply by talking -- and talking.

The more a political candidate talks, the worse they tend to do. While this isn't universally true -- John McCain talked forever during the 2008 primary campaign and it helped him -- it's definitely true for Trump. He struggles to stay on message pretty much all the time -- more on that below -- and so the more he talks, the more variant messages he puts out there.


2. Find a message. And stick to it.

Trump's approach during the Republican primary was to try a series of attacks (and nicknames) against his rivals until one stuck. And, one always wound up sticking -- "Little" Marco, "low energy" Jeb and so on. A general election is a different animal; you can't just throw 100 messages out every day and hope one lands. You need to decide the two or three things you really want to emphasize on a given day, week or month and then talk about them every day, all day.

For Trump, that should be: a) the need for real change in Washington and politics b) the need to elect him to ensure a conservative-minded Supreme Court and c) Clinton can't be trusted. That trio of issues/messages would resonate with a broad swath of the country. And, in most of his speeches and interviews, Trump mentions one, two or even all three of them. The problem is that he also mentions 200 or so other things, making it very hard for a would-be voter to cut through the clutter.

Trump's message is being shot out of a machine gun right now -- it scatters everywhere. He needs to strip down the process massively; take it down to its roots and find the few things that sit at the heart of both his appeal and the unease with Clinton in the electorate. Then say that and only that for months.

3. Stop picking dumb fights

There is no strategy in which Trump's almost-week-long back-and-forth with the Khan family was a good idea. A family who has lost a son in combat is someone with whom you empathize, not attempt to demonize. This fight was a political cul-de-sac from which Trump had no reasonable exit strategy. And that was patently obvious from the get-go.

Trump's natural inclination is to attack when threatened. Always. He doesn't believe in taking the high road. Ever. But, any candidate (or adult) knows that there are fights you want or need to have and those that you should avoid because they aren't ones you can win. Trump seems convinced that the fight is enough -- even if he loses, because, in his mind, he never loses.

The Khan episode should be instructive to Trump. Rather than his current tack of blaming the media for covering it unfairly, he should instead use it as a teachable moment. Pick fights you can win. Walk away from all the other ones. No matter how hard that is for you.

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