Donald Trump’s presidential campaign is burning to the ground all around him. His poll numbers are plunging, Republicans are deserting him in droves, and he has no television advertising scheduled for the final three months of the campaign. As the flames start licking at his bespoke suit jacket, his assessment of the situation is, to borrow from a popular cartoon, “This is fine.”
Trump appeared in an early segment on Fox News this morning and told host Maria Bartiromo that he doesn’t see the need to change much of anything. “I certainly don’t think it is appropriate to start changing all of a sudden when you have been winning,” Trump said. “I mean, I’ve beat many people and now we are down to one. We’ll see how it works out but I think it’s going to work out well.”
Later, he confirmed that his plan is to stay the course.
“Well, I think it’s just, you know, steadiness and it’s just doing what I am doing,” he said. “I am getting massive crowds. The crowds I’m getting are tremendous. So, I don’t know what that indicates, but it’s got to indicate something good. Every arena sold out, we are having 15 and 18 and 20 thousand people and that’s not even big. So, you know something’s going on out there and we’ll find out on November 8.”
There’s an awful lot to unpack here.
First, while it is undeniably true that Trump beat a lot of people, that was in the primaries -- the fact that he doesn’t think there is a reason to adjust his strategy between a primary election and a general election is remarkable, to say the least.
Then there’s the possibility that Trump actually believes he is winning. The divergence in public polling in the nearly two weeks since the close of the Democratic presidential nominating convention has been dramatic. Except for a few outliers, Trump is trailing Clinton in almost every major national poll, sometimes by double digits.
He is losing in the polls in states that he has named as critical to his campaign -- Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan. Erstwhile battleground state Virginia now looks so safely in Clinton’s column that she has pulled assets out of the state to focus on other contests. Georgia (Georgia!) now appears to be within her grasp in November.
Trump’s insistence that things are going his way is reminiscent of the Romney campaign’s apparently genuine belief, right up to the end, that the GOP candidate was going to win the election in 2012. Romney was looking at internal polling that showed a very different race than the one where Barack Obama won by 4 percentage points, 51.1% to 47.2% and dominated the electoral results 332 to 206.
It looks as though Trump might be falling into the same trap. He told Bartiromo, “We have some good state information...we actually have some very good polling information.” Or, he could just be making it up. At this point, it’s really impossible to tell.
(Interestingly, the poll “unskewing” phenomenon of 2012, which saw Romney supporters deconstructing carefully designed polls to remove what they saw as bias appears to be making a comeback. A new website is offering similar adjustments to reputable national polls eliminating “‘expert’ adjustments to the data.’” Unsurprisingly, their analysis shows Trump in the lead. This did not work well in 2012.”
Then there’s Trump’s bizarre insistence that the size of his crowds somehow overrides the polling data that shows him getting destroyed by Clinton. He doesn’t have to cast far back in his memory (and he has the “world’s greatest memory,” after all) to find a candidate who drew huge crowds but ultimately lost. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont drew large and passionate crowds in his primary against Clinton all through the cycle, but he still got fewer votes than she did.
Even if the poll numbers aren’t enough to sway Trump’s opinion of how things are going, one might expect that the repeated warnings from his fellow Republicans that he doesn’t have the temperament to be president might give him pause. But no. Even the release of a letter signed by 50 high-profile Republican national security experts denouncing him wasn’t enough to penetrate Trump’s certainty.
“Well, I think you know that my temperament has gotten me here,” he told Bartiromo. “I’ve always had a good temperament and it’s gotten me here.”