Fumbles, gaffes, divisiveness, infighting and arrogance. These are the unfortunate but true words that characterize and plague Donald Trump's general election campaign for President of the United States.
May 26th was the day it all started. Mere weeks after vanquishing his final opponents in the primary and while campaigning North Dakota, news broke out that Trump clinched the all-important GOP delegate threshold of 1,237 to formally become the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party.
That moment was widely perceived as a chance for a new beginning, an etch-a-sketch opportunity, where Trump could reverse course away from his rogue and brash school yard-style primary and pivot towards a professionalized general election campaign. That very instant and the days and months that followed were presumed to be a time defined by Trump's gracefulness as the GOP's primary winner who would lead the effort to heal and rebuild a fractured Republican Party. Ever since that day late in May, however, Trump has done precisely the opposite.
Rather than serving as a unifier aimed at fixing the splintered Republican Party, Trump's circus of a campaign has added fuel to the fire that is raging around it. His daily incendiary comments that incite violence, division, and xenophobia have rattled world leaders. It's the same demagoguery that is also helping to pitt traditionally GOP aligned organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Party leaders alike, against him.
With the Republican Party convention just days away, Trump's unorthodox campaign and his my-way-or-the-highway mentality is coming back to bite him at exactly the worst time possible.
Historically, Party conventions have been used to solidify a candidate's base vote, electrify the activist, elected official and donor classes, and generate momentum that typically results in a post-convention boost in public opinion polls. But given Trump's refusal to systematically repair the broken and divided GOP, scores of leaders are refusing to attend or speak at the convention, and major businesses who funded conventions of years past won't help this time around.
At a time when Trump desperately needs a convention bounce in the polls, his multitude of missteps, many of which are chronicled below, shine a light on how his self-inflicted wounds may not get a chance to heal before, during or after the GOP convention:
Refusal to break bread with former foes:
In most cases after a bruising primary brawl, victors and their former adversaries amalgamate and join forces to rally behind the banner of their Party for the broader goal of winning the final battle that is the general election. Trump has refused to embrace this strategy. Instead, he's continued to alienate and insert a wedge between himself and Republican leaders ranging from Jeb Bush and the entire Bush family, including the last two Republican Presidents, as well as GOP luminaries like Mitt Romney, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, Mike Lee, and countless others. Trump's recently even gone to great lengths to further antagonize these leaders, saying that any Republicans who haven't endorsed him won't be allowed to speak at the Party's convention.
Abhorrent pronouncements, un-American values
When the Republican Party's highest ranking elected official rips into you by noting that what you said is, "the textbook definition of racist comments," such as House Speaker Paul Ryan did, you know there's a problem. This issue, which stems from Trump's bigoted remarks about U.S. district judge Gonzalo Curiel who is overseeing the Trump University lawsuit, is emblematic of the candidate's deeply rooted prejudices.
Such remarks were a constant in Trump's primary campaign, but now that he's in the general election and is attempting to appeal to a much broader audience, the same approach is proving to be catastrophic to his chances at success in November. From Trump's retweeting of white supremacists and anti-semitic images to his proposed Muslim ban, his misogynistic comments towards women, his coldhearted and self-congratulating tweets on the heels of the Orlando terror attack to a now uncountable number of other examples of inflammatory statements, it's become abundantly clear that the chaos candidate's recklessness has no bounds. While Trump maintains that such remarks illustrate his war against political correctness, the reality is that that is just an excuse to cover up his overt racism which has given rise to the growing number of Republicans against Trump. It's also one of the main reasons why so many Republicans, including leaders like John McCain, are passing on this cycle's GOP convention.
Arrogance in campaign strategy:
Trump's oversized ego and know-it-all mindset has led to his rejection of GOP leaders' recommendations on strategy, and thus has put his campaign at a significant disadvantage. He's put frugality over smart campaign tactics, refusing to spend the money necessary to build an adequate nationwide infrastructure of fundraising, communications, political, rapid response, coalition-building, online and field staff. Instead of competing with Hillary Clinton's operation of nearly 800 operatives, Trump's brought on a skeleton national team that equates to roughly the size of just Clinton's Ohio state operation. Moreover, unlike Clinton's well oiled machine, team Trump is reflective of his relationship with the Party elders, full of infighting and dysfunction. In recent weeks the campaign's manager, Corey Lewandowski, was canned, political director Rick Wiley was axed, and Kevin Kellems, Trump's director of surrogates, submitted his resignation.
Beyond staffing, Trump has trivialized traditional campaign tools such as compiling troves of voter data for targeted communications and online fundraising, calling them "overrated." He's also relying heavily on getting his message out through earned "free" media rather than competing with Clinton's campaign in the television air war. This, arguably may be looked back upon as Trump's most fatal political miscalculation yet. Clinton is spending roughly $500,000 a day in battleground swing states-- all of which are going unanswered by Trump. The strategy gives Clinton a meaningful upper hand in defining both herself and Trump, and the longer he waits, the more his brand will suffer in the polls. As a consequence, any more dipping in polls will likely result in even more Republicans distancing themselves from Trump.
In what was supposed to begin on May 26th as a period when the anyone-but-Trump Republicans would bring an open mind to the idea of the newly minted presumptive nominee as their standard bearer, never truly came to fruition. In fact, since then, Trump has only further inflamed the GOP's internal civil war, and having never employed the post primary firehose technique needed to water down the intense flames, Trump's Party has continued to unravel at its seams.
All of this has triggered a nose dive in the polls for Trump, which now positions him in dire need of a blockbuster convention that injects much-needed momentum into his ailing campaign. Short of a GOP miracle where the chaos candidate suddenly shifts gears by abandoning every strategy he's embraced in the general election to date, such political life support it's highly unlikely. And without such a game-changing convention, Trump's chances of moving into the White House in January are becoming less likely by the day.