Donald Trump has had a bad two weeks, culminating in a blowout loss in Wisconsin. I’ll take a look at what’s happened, and explain what I believe is the reason why.
In the last two weeks, Trump shattered all three legs of the Republican stool – social, economic, and national security. First, he took approximately five positions in three days on one of the most fundamental and important GOP social issues ever, abortion. No credible corner of the pro-life movement calls for punishing a woman who has had an abortion. As bad as that statement was, it was Trump’s confusing string of follow ups – an Olympic gymnastics level round off double backflip with a full twist that earned him a 9.995 from the Russian judge (whom for which I am sure he has “great respect”) – that were so stunning. Sure, abortion is a difficult issue for some to discuss, but it should not be for a Republican candidate for president.
Then, Trump told the Washington Post he could erase a $19 trillion deficit in 8 years. First, we have a $4 trillion annual budget, which limits how much you can actually cut. And of course, the debt goes up every year its not paid off. Then consider that his tax plan is estimated to add another $10 trillion to the deficit over the next ten years. Presumably a successful businessman has at least some ability to do simple math, but a fourth grader with a crayon could have done better in this case.
After demonstrating how difficult it is to take him seriously on social and economic issues, Trump hit the gaffe trifecta by suggesting we should give the Japanese, Saudis and South Koreans nuclear weapons. Giving out nukes like Halloween candy, especially placing them in marching distance of Kim Jong-Un, is foolish.
It was one thing when Donald Trump was thin on policy. It’s quite another when he’s mind numbingly wrong or ignorant. And, in the last two weeks, Donald Trump has made a case he’s the most uninformed candidate for president of the United States since Pat Paulsen.
How could this happen? Trump has made misstatements before, but he’s typically brushed them off and pivoted to offense, resetting the agenda and earning praise from many quarters, including this blog. Where is that Donald Trump?
I think he’s buried underneath his mess of a campaign.
Most consultants have been in a campaign that is rife with internal conflict. Leadership gets challenged, long knives come out and staffers are not growing the campaign – they’re watching their backs or packing their bags.
Eli Stoklos, Ben Schreckinger and Ken Vogel of Politico give us good insight here and here into the depths of the mess. Rivalries, firings and open dissent in the press suck the enthusiasm and efficacy out of a campaign.
No wonder Trump is ill-prepared or unprepared, booked on the wrong shows, and unable to pivot out of bad spots. Everyone in the campaign is eyeballing each other, not voters and the critical delegates needed to win the nomination.
Ironically, Trump needs to look no further than his rival Ted Cruz to understand how this is properly done. After the South Carolina primary, Cruz was off message, struggling under the weight of a controversy around the truthfulness of his campaign that had the Rubio camp mocking his “culture of dishonesty” and earning him the dreaded “Lyin’ Ted Cruz” moniker from Trump.
Cruz acted decisively, firing the advisor deemed to be at the center of the biggest controversy 48 hours after the South Carolina primary. Cruz righted the ship, saved his “TrustTed” brand, going on to win eight primaries and become the main challenger to Trump.
Conversely, since the March 8 incident that culminated in Trump’s campaign manager having battery charges filed against him, the Trump campaign has been a picture of distraction, inwardly focused, unable to match Cruz in the critical task of courting delegates needed to win a likely open convention.
Trump’s calling card is strength and the key political attribute of strength is certainty. The longer Trump appears to be uninformed, indecisive and uncertain, the more he will struggle. For Trump to have a chance to save his shaky campaign, he needs to make some decisions, make them publically and make them soon.