Whatever you think of the current election, the Trump strategy is worth taking a look at, because it has been both Trump's key to success but also the source of his currently declining poll numbers. Trump has rewritten the rules, but also authored the guidebook on how to potentially defeat him. This is a breakdown of what has happened, and what is happening in the war rooms of both campaigns. This is not an article about political views, it is one about political strategy.
First, let's all take a breath, and admit that the strategy of the Trump Campaign was very innovative.
In four simple steps, Donald Trump obliterated his opposition, became his party's leader and is now one of two likely people to become the most powerful single human on earth. This would alone be remarkable, but he did this for 1/10th of the cost of his rivals. Yuuge.
If I were to write the book on the Trump Strategy, it would be covered in gold-leaf and go something like this:
Step 1: . Divide and conquer. Trump Isolated his opponents one-by-one, forming alliances and attacking his biggest rivals systematically. Trump did this by initially forming alliances against Bush, then against Perry, then Rubio, and finally Cruz.
There is no beating around the Bush here; with a howitzer-like performance, Trump blitzed his opponents like no other politician has ever done before, and he did it with support from viewers like you (and me).
Step 2. Before Trump, prevailing campaign doctrine was built on the equation given to us by The Supreme Court in Citizens United. Money = Speech. Campaigns receive unlimited money from corporate entities, spending the money they raise on TV ads to topple their opponents.
Thus, the past few political cycles were predictable. The more you raised, the more you spent, and the more you spent, the more you won.
Trump realized that the converse of that equation was actually much more powerful and interesting. Speech = money. That is, he skipped the middle man. Trump realized that billions of free media coverage were available to him from the media if he could in turn help the media generate revenue. CNN and Fox were his earliest accomplices. The media could magnify his statements 30x or 40x if those same statements increased ratings and sold Cialis®.
Step 3. Knowing this, Trump behaved like an artillery spotter. Using his words like a laser pointer, Trump would tag his enemies with irresistibly obscene attacks.
Once his target was tagged, they would be peppered in an echo chamber of billions of dollars worth of negative media coverage. Trump would say, "Weak, low energy, crooked, ugly wife" and the media would repeat it over and over again until one by one, each opponent fell under the weight of media pressure.
Now, let's be clear, this model of media pressure is one that every politician uses, but they don't use it as extremely, and as a result they have to pay more money in order for it to find white space.
Step 4. Identify undervalued assets, who you can cheaply recruit. Remember, only about 9% of the population picks the primary winners before the general election. Trump identified correctly a core group of Republican primary voters. Blue collared, white, Christian Males who have for years been promised that tax-cuts for the wealthy would lead to better lives for them and their families. They are not wrong that they have been ignored, lied to, and manipulated. The core of their support for Trump is not about his views on Syria or immigration reform. It is to overturn a political apple cart that they believe has sold them nothing but lemons for decades.
Nobody else on either side of the aisle has, in recent memory, courted this group with such precision as the Trump campaign.
Trump is slipping in the polls. If his strategy was so innovative, why is his campaign faltering?
Trump's process is starting to work against him. That's because the Democrats have spotted Trump's strategy and they are using it against him.
Trump's attempts to isolate Clinton by backing Bernie Sanders and his supporters did not work, because the DNC were way ahead of Trump on unifying themselves. Trump's political rivals fell to his media blitz because they could not organize themselves and collaborate quickly or effectively before it was too late.
It is no accident that Clinton's campaign slogan is, "Stronger Together". So long as Trump cannot isolate his opponents, he is in big trouble. Today, Trump cannot stem the directions from which he gets attacked by his rivals, and this a uniquely dangerous problem for Trump, because it means he will attack many targets at once. This is a curve in the road that is deadly for a man like Trump who can only drive his car at one speed.
The Democrats know this. The DNC and the Clinton campaign are meticulously laying bait for Donald Trump's "target & attack" machine, and he is biting every single time. Each time Trump takes the bait, the Democrats inch more and more towards the center, peeling Trump away from yet another interest group and seizing the middle ground.
Astutely, the Clinton Campaign has observed that the way to beat Trump isn't by attacking him on Twitter. Rather, it is by baiting him into attacking American Values. Trump is the Blitzkrieg, and the Clinton Campaign is the Russian Winter.
From a cold and analytical perspective, we can see this working from 10,000 feet. Take the case with Gold Star father Khizr Khan, speaking on behalf of KIA Veteran Captain Humayun Khan.
Was it an accident that an irrefutably sympathetic and honorable person was attacking Trump on the Democrats biggest stage? Of course it wasn't.
While Mr. Khan was cast to speak at the DNC in a strategic effort to promote the DNC's platform of national unity, it is no accident that Mr. Khan attacked Trump directly. This attack was irresistible to the Trump campaign. Trump's greatest strength also masks his greatest weakness. He cannot keep his mouth shut, and, as Hillary Clinton said in her own speech, Trump, "Takes the bait every single time". He doesn't know how to change gears, and this makes him unelectable.
It is Trump's inability to pivot to the general election that makes him strategically vulnerable, and it is the reason his campaign is likely doomed. Trump's campaign is built on attacking opponents and using the media as an echo chamber.
With the Democrats (as well as many Republicans) uniting against Trump, he is being systematically pushed further and further to the right. Soon, he will be against the wall and so isolated that his campaign will fall under its own weight.
Like all candidates, Clinton is vulnerable to a particular subset of issues and attacks, but Trump has lost control of the narrative as he chases the daily trickle of bait from his political enemies.
His poll numbers will continue to slide, and the election is firmly Hillary Clinton's to lose. She is setting the tone, and she is playing Trump like a fiddle.