Back in August and early September it looked like Donald Trump and his team were actually getting their act together and behaving like a normal campaign for the presidency. They had a disciplined spokesperson in Kellyanne Conway who could genially counter-punch the claims of the opposition, they were putting out policies that resembled those of a candidate who actually had plans written down, and the events were scripted and well-controlled. And they were actually gaining in the polls.
A well-run campaign also plans for what to do when bad things happen, as they inevitably will. A gaffe, a leak of unfortunate history, or a chink in the armor caused by the oppo research of the other candidates; there are contingency plans in place to handle them adroitly with the press and the public and get back on message.
But if the Trump team had those plans, they left out one small detail. They forgot — or were unable — to manage the candidate himself, and when bed news cropped up or leaked out or a debate went poorly, they couldn’t keep him on message.
In this case, that would have been impossible, and you have to feel a nanosecond of sympathy for the people in Trump Tower who are trying and failing to run a campaign that had the potential of winning an election but is rapidly turning into the roll-out of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smartphone; the one that spontaneously bursts into flames.
The only thing the campaign can do now is face the inevitable that they’re going to lose and soldier on gamely with a smile and wait for the end. But it won’t be the graceful controlled crash like that of the US Air plane in the Hudson as seen in the movies. It will be ugly.
Ryan Lizza in The New Yorker:
“It is so nice that the shackles have been taken off me and I can now fight for America the way I want to,” Trump tweeted on Tuesday morning, declaring an official end to the Conway experiment—and to any discernible plan to win the election. Trump is now attacking Republican leaders who allegedly betrayed him as much as he’s attacking Clinton. Perhaps the temper tantrum will pass and Trump will refocus his campaign in the final days on issues that have some strategic value to him. But it’s more likely that Trump knows he can’t win and that he has decided that the last stretch of his campaign should be used to set the stage for the aftermath of his loss. In this scenario, what’s crucial for Trump is to be able to convince his hardcore supporters that he—and they—didn’t lose, but that the dreaded Republican establishment sabotaged the Trump campaign in the final weeks. This strategy is in keeping with the way Trump has always spun his greatest defeats, from his failures in Atlantic City to his loss in the Iowa caucuses. He either denies that he failed or he argues that he was cheated.
There will be no graceful concession speech from Trump Tower with the tear-stained wife and children standing behind him on the stage as he thanks his team of hard workers and volunteers; there will be no gentle “Now, none of that” when someone in the audience boos at the mention of Hillary Clinton. There will not be the line “I just got off the phone to congratulate the president-elect.” It will be an orgy of self-indulgent self-pity, blaming others, claims of rigged elections and crooked political operatives. If it sounds familiar, it’s because that’s what dictators say when they lose.
Trump is either victorious or victimized, but never a loser. This week marked the end of Trump trying to actually win, and the beginning of him plotting to explain why the election was stolen.
If you thought the aftermath of the election of 2000 was a threat to our democracy and way of life, that was a summer shower compared to a hurricane. In the end of that tumult, the loser conceded graciously and the supporters did not threaten armed revolution. (It did result in the formation of a grassroots effort to elect candidates and advocate for their causes, but no one at MoveOn.org talks of “Second Amendment solutions.”) But not with Trump.
It is a very, very dangerous step when a presidential nominee openly threatens to jail his opponent if he wins. It’s no less dangerous when a candidate pushes the idea that an election will be stolen and lays the groundwork for resisting the result. That’s happening. It is difficult to overstate the societal benefit of being able to take it almost as an absolute given and assumption that no matter how intense and close-fought an election gets, virtually everyone will accept the result the day after. Undermining that assumption is of a piece with introducing into the political arena the idea that people who lose election might lose more than the election: loss of money, freedom, or worse etc.
Fasten your seat belts.