With 30 days to go, Donald Trump's campaign is in disarray. We see it everywhere: He's struggling to solidify his base rather than fighting for the support of undecided voters as Republicans desert him in droves. Rather than address clear questions about his candidacy -- temperament and fitness for office -- Trump throws red meat to his base and ignores the questions. This is not a winning strategy and Trump knows it. Here's how Navy SEALs look at situations like this.
First, you assess the situation. Nate Silver's statistical model shows Trump trailing by 6.5% and struggling to get 200 electoral votes, let alone the 270 required to win - and this is before the effects of the hot mic tape have been fully measured. To have a chance, Trump must literally run the table in Iowa, Ohio, North Carolina, Florida, Nevada, and Colorado, while defending traditional strongholds like Arizona and Georgia. It's a tall order to win any one of them when Trump is losing (and bleeding support) in each. Silver's model correctly predicted the results of the presidential elections in 2008 and 2012, getting 99/100 states right (the lone error was Indiana in 2008). Trump's path to victory is now non-existent unless you ignore facts.
Second, you assess the mission. Here's the thing: if you strip out the rhetoric and half-baked solutions, many gripes of Trump supporters are legitimate. Many Americans have been left behind in the economy, hurt by the decline of US manufacturing and stagnation of the education system. We appear weak abroad, letting Russia cross red lines, allowing ISIS to rampage across Iraq, and looking the other way as Iran does as it pleases. The political parties have failed to resolve our immigration problem for over a decade. Career politicians represent us in Congress, concerned more about getting reelected than getting things done. The list goes on and people are angry about the lack of action and lack of improvement in their lives.
Third, you assess the problem. Many believe that an outsider with a business acumen and record of getting things done is the right way to affect change. An outsider will be less beholden to the system and better positioned to reshape it. I agree. There's risk in this strategy too, in that outsiders haven't been vetted for office before. Trump is proving this: despite his fame, money, and recognition of key problems we face, Trump seems incapable of serving as Commander in Chief.
Three specific points illustrate why Americans see Trump as the problem:
1) Trump has trouble working with people beyond his base. In Saddam Hussein's Iraq that might work when opponents can be thrown in jail or exterminated. In the United States that won't fly: presidents must build bridges within and beyond their core support to resolve challenges. Without alliances, a president can't get approval to get things done. Trump fails this test daily, fighting allies in his party, turning off blocks of citizens with his rhetoric, and ignoring opportunities to partner with others.
2) Trump's personality makes him appear immature and undisciplined. He sends 3am tweets like a 14-year-old, picks fights with private citizens, and stretches the truth on issues when a truthful answer sits right in front of him. He appears to lack the steadiness, thoughtfulness, and judgment required of a Commander in Chief who controls the American nuclear arsenal.
3) Trump's character seems a long-term liability. Even before the hot mic tape, he had problems. His record of stiffing small business contractors, suing those who oppose him, and practice of "supporting" a charity only to never contribute a dime, raise serious doubts about character. Who trusts someone of questionable character to lead a nation built on character?
So what do we do when the situation looks dire, the mission is worthwhile, and the problem lies with the messenger? To Navy SEALs, the answer is clear: you pull the plug to save the mission.
As a former Navy SEAL, I take great pride in taking on difficult missions and getting them done. The world has heard about a lot of SEAL successes on the battlefield over the last 15 years. Less talked about is that my brothers are also experts at knowing when to pull the plug and move to extract. With small groups of highly-trained men on the ground, a SEAL platoon can fend off and attack much larger forces, but no good operator keeps his men in a battle they cannot win. If SEALs encounter a fight where things spin out of control, they get out of there before they get overrun. This is about street smarts: you can always come back and fight on your terms to accomplish the mission, but only if your team is alive. To do this, SEALs must become masters at subordinating their ego so they can protect their men and live to fight another day. It's one of the main reasons we haven't lost thousands of SEALs in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan despite carrying out tens of thousands of missions.
This election is the same. Even though the media won't say it, Trump cannot win. He's going to lose and lose big. Sticking with him risks the mission, everything people are supporting him to fight. It's becoming clear that Americans who support Trump to the bitter end will be tarnished by his persona and actions, damaging the Republican brand for some time, much as happened in the wake of Watergate. This hurts our ability to solve the very issues that we need to resolve together. The sting of defeat will be strong, especially after a hard-fought primary and general election campaign full of passion and nastiness. It's even more galling to concede defeat when the opponent is so disliked and should be so easy to beat.
Yet Republicans need to recognize that victory is not in the cards here. We have to be street smart. The mission matters most and pulling the plug on Trump today will help us accomplish it later. We need to figure out how to address citizens' concerns, package the message into a better messenger who can get elected and then bring people together to make the changes we seek. The best way to start on this path is to repudiate the candidate before the election and avoid going down with the USS Trump. We can and will live to fight another day, perhaps as soon as 2020, but we can't start covered in Trump's stench. It will crush our credibility.
Every sinking ship sucks down people as it makes its way to the bottom. Don't let that happen to you. Trump doesn't care if you go down with his ship, but you should care. There's too much at stake.