Donald Trump Doesn't Hate Babies

07 Aug 2016

Trump doesn’t hate babies.1 Yet this week was dominated by stories about his open disdain for infants. This is a perfect example of the way that stories stick despite only being vaguely factual with the added difficulty for Trump being that his past unpredictability makes it easier to believe outrageous things about him.2

The Trump campaign doesn’t seem to understand why he keeps getting tagged by nonsense. Perhaps it is time that they brought in and had conversations with some actual political operatives.

Granted, it sure is a lot of fun to shout “I’m against the system!”, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to have an easy time operating against it. Sanders’ campaign is the obvious recent example, but any anti-establishment candidate will inevitably run into difficulties that hamper success.

To run for president in the United States you need to be aware of the significance of the structures involved in the process. You don’t have to like it, but that’s the reality of contemporary politics. In Trump’s case, he needs the media to present him as a serious candidate with serious ideas.3 This is not an option. This isn’t the media’s “fault” though. There are no grand conspiracies here. Politics in a democracy is (and always has been) a popularity contest.

In a popularity contest, you need a method of engaging with those who are voting and few candidates have a microphone of their own sufficient to reach 315 million Americans. Trump certainly doesn’t. This mean that the media are the gatekeepers to voters. You don’t need them “on your side”, but you do need to know how to use them. For all Trump’s prior successes, he doesn’t appear to know how to use the media writ large. At least, not in a political environment. Even if his rhetoric is against the biased Media Party Elites, he still needs to work within that system. His team is failing him in that regard.

This, I would guess, is why Clinton isn’t doing press conferences. In a normal campaign, she’d be creating a dangerous vacuum, but Trump gives the media more than enough to keep them occupied – and voters (or readers, anyway) would much rather those stories. So speaking up, for Clinton, is all risk with little upside: stories about Trump’s missteps are easier wins than anything she could do.

In some ways, Clinton is running contrary to conventional wisdom: her campaign isn’t in control of the day to day messaging. That might be a problem in a normal election cycle, but when the message is this favorable to you, why would you try to change it? Clinton could very well win by Trump losing.

My guess: the first full week where Trump stays on message and avoids scandal and embarrassment is when Clinton does a full press conference. And I say this knowing full well that she took questions a couple days ago. That was a perfect example of an unforced error on the part of the Clinton campaign. Whether her answers (and the “kind of” press conference itself) is more interesting than whatever Trump says over the next few days, who knows. But it gave Trump an opportunity to let the message of the day be a negative one about Clinton. He should take it. He likely won’t.

And “he should, but won’t” is Trump’s campaign in a nutshell. There are times in the primaries where that attitude served him well, but a one on one campaign against Clinton is radically different than the free for all of the Republican primary process.

  1. At least not publicly. 

  2. If only someone had been able to identify and articulate that problem earlier on… 

  3. Or, I suppose, merely as he wants to be presented on the off chance that he has some strategy other than “seem like he would make for a good president”.