The Donald Trump campaign has once again become embroiled in negative media coverage over Trump’s response to a vicious attack against him at the Democratic National Convention by Harvard-educated lawyer, Khizr Khan. Election Day is still three months away, and no debates between Donald Trump and his opponent Hillary Clinton are scheduled until after Labor Day. After the holiday, the general public will start to make the choice who they prefer become President. So Trump still has, as he’s always had when controversy surrounded his campaign in the past, ample time to get back on track and make the crucial gains needed to win in the Electoral College. Victories in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Florida would deliver him the White House. If Mr. Trump is to reach that celebratory conclusion, his campaign should begin with a post-Republican National Convention autopsy. Determine what went right, what went wrong, and what needs to be done moving forward.
There were notable concerns on display at the convention, but not what the reporters focused on. Ted Cruz telling the crowd to vote their conscience was not a story outside of one media cycle. The Senators lack of an endorsement will mean very little in the states Cruz carried in the Primary, which will decidedly vote Republican in November. The story about Melania Trump left no lasting impact on this campaign. Both stories were successfully brushed off. Non-stories can only reach past their importance if the campaign adds fuel to the fire. If they should take that route in the future, they need to be prepared to win with public opinion against the media.
The bigger problems for the campaign are organizational. During the convention, the lack of a campaign apparatus was notable. The inability of the campaign to thus far build a professional campaign structure led to a reliance on the Republican National Committee. The RNC followed the trends in voter reactions to speeches and soundbites in real-time, and rapidly responded on social media and in the traditional media to promote their talking points, the brand, and the most favored stories of the night. How was the public at home reacting to the speeches and spectacle? Besides the gut reactions of Trump and his brain trust (which, granted, can be pretty good), I’m not sure the campaign could tell you how voters in specific states and targeted congressional districts felt about the convention speeches, without help from the RNC election geeks metastasizing the results.
You don’t need much data to tell you the Trump children (Tiffany, Eric, Donald Jr, and Ivanka) did a tremendous service for their father. Tiffany and Eric’s ability to humanize the candidate, and Donald Jr. and Ivanka’s ability to intelligently interpret their father’s brand of Republicanism, brought party unity center stage. They are a critical asset that should be deployed strategically on the campaign trail and on the networks.
Apart from the children, there was a worrying lack of speakers in the lineup enthusiastic about the Trump brand. The campaign gave too much leeway to the RNC, and should have controlled the lineups message more carefully. There is nothing wrong with having Senators, Governors, and Congressman on stage, but the ones who were, like Paul Ryan, focused more energy on the Public Policy they support than on articulating what the new party leader Donald Trump supports.
Why didn’t the, always and without fail entertaining Editor of Breitbart News and Dangerous Faggot Milo Yiannopoulos speak? How about Ann Coulter? Matt Drudge of The Drudge Report? Were they even offered slots? Peter Thiel did an excellent job at outreach, but Trump could have used more speakers from outside Government and Politics on stage to fire up the crowd and make a passionate case for a Nationalist agenda that protects the borders, renegotiates bad trade deals, and protects Gays and minorities from Islamic extremism.
It was never really about other speakers, one could argue. In the end, what everybody most wanted to see was the man himself–Donald Trump. His 75 minute speech was received favorably by the voters watching and by the delegates at the convention, despite the media portraying it as dark and scary. When the ratings were in, Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton’s speech at the Democratic National Convention. The media narrative was momentarily drowned out by a slew of new polls showing a post-convention bump for the candidate. A USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll showed Trump with a 7 point lead over his Democratic competitor.
Naturally the Democratic National Convention would bring Clinton a bump as well, despite the controversy surrounding the Democratic National Committee’s alliance with the media and their joint-assault on the Sander’s candidacy leaked by WikiLeaks the day before the convention began. What has happened in the aftermath of the Democratic convention is not a bump, but an artificial swell created by a media worried about losing the news cycle. As Donald Trump was showing fresh leads from every polling outlet, Reuters/IPSOS suddenly decided to change their polling methodology in what they call a “tweak”. The result of the change was a massive new lead for Hillary Clinton. The polls swung so wildly it is difficult to take any of them seriously. As I noted at the beginning of this article, the polls matter little before Labor Day, and the media has become very shrewd in making very slight changes in polls look like massive developments and subsequently assigning a host of “meanings” behind the change. Would anyone pay attention to their boorish headlines if they were not not covered in faux controversy?
Perhaps the most successful faux controversy is the battle between Donald Trump and Khizr Khan. I would agree with Bill O’Reilly, that punching below your weight class will never score you points. Trump’s defense is quite valid as well. Mr. Khan did make a vicious attack against him at the DNC. Trump didn’t comment on Mr. Khan however, until he was asked for a response about Mr. Khan’s speech. Has Hillary been making the media rounds commenting on lock her up chants? What about the hacking of her private server, the Democratic Campaign Congressional Committee (DCCC), or her own campaign server? Mrs. Clinton lives in a carefully contained bubble, so these controversies don’t become multi-day news stories. Trump speaks frequently to the media, a media which despises him. So of course, he got the question about Mr. Khan, at the most opportune time: right as the Democratic convention news was winding down. From the DNC to the methodology changes in polling and now Mr. Khan, the Democrats and their allies in the press have been working overtime to retake the news cycle and discredit Donald Trump.
Mr. Khan is a Harvard-educated lawyer with deep ties to the Democratic Party. His former Law Firm did the taxes of the Clinton’s while he was working there. The loss of his son is tragic, but this is not a little old man speaking off-the-cuff and from the heart. He is deeply partisan and politically engaged. Trump’s response to a question about Mr. Khan was followed by a slew of interviews across MSNBC and CNN by the lawyer. His wife wrote a (spontaneous?) OP-ED in the Washington Post.
Donald Trump is eager to get past this unpleasant news cycle that has dragged on since the conventions ended. What he should be doing instead is exposing this for the carefully choreographed Public Relations stunt it is. The type of PR stunt the American people are so tired of being spoon-fed. Its all supposed to look so spontaneous from in front of the TV. Behind the scenes, partisan media strategists have been working hard to ensure the Democrats control the news cycle in the aftermath of the conventions.
A good politician will stop commenting on a story if it doesn’t make them look very good. A great politician will counterattack. The story in this case is a fabrication created in an alliance between the establishment media and Democratic Party hacks. Trump’s brand is anti-establishment, leaving room for a counterattack that aims to expose the dishonest media and it’s carefully choreographed for public consumption song-and-dance. He can tie the media, the Democrats, and Hillary Clinton together–using uncovered WikiLeaks evidence as proof of collusion, first against Bernie and now against him. Trump is no doubt making this case, but he needs to make it more fully and forcefully. Trump can say the media is dishonest until he is blue in the face, but he needs to tell a compelling narrative about a secluded elite, detached from average Americans and using their levers of power to coronate their chosen candidate and denigrate any ideas that they dislike. Corruption is at the root of America’s political crisis, and each of these institutions–parties, media, and public figure–are complicit.
Broadcasting the rot at the core of American Democracy is only half the policy battle. Trump also needs to articulate more forcefully his own ideas. Outsourcing the policy shop to the Republican National Committee is as dangerous as outsourcing the campaign organization. The RNC cannot do all the campaigning. The Trump campaign needs a swell of grassroots volunteers directed by professionals receiving data-driven results. They need to recognize every voter in every swing district up for grabs in every swing-state, and micro target these locations through the latest electoral technology. Rallies and Twitter are important parts of the Trump brand, but in the 21st century data is essential. So is using that data to connect voters with your policy vision. Its how the Obama administration won twice. They knew where every vote is.
Donald Trump is not alone in the fight against unaccountable global power centers. Geert Wilders, Founder of the Dutch Party for Freedom, and Nigel Farage, who lead the charge in the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) for Brexit, were both at the Republican Convention. Did Trump have a sit-down with them to discuss alternatives to the EU-Globalist agenda? The media does not recognize any policies outside their carefully constructed centrist group think until movements and leaders claim national attention and force their out-of-bounds frustrations center stage. Donald Trump has been doing that with free trade, open borders, and unilateral Middle East military intervention. Would it surprise him to know that there are other leaders who are speaking with a similar voice? It would be wise for Trump to spend 100 minutes on a conference call, 25 minutes a piece. The first for himself, then Geert Wilders, followed by Marine Le Pen of France’s National Front, and ending in the victor of Brexit Nigel Farage. If Trump feels lost, trying to recapture his message under the bright lights of these unintelligible news cycles aimed only at making him look bad, 100 minutes with these national European leaders would rejuvenate him, leaving him more knowledgeable about the frustrations he’s speaking to and ready to articulate those frustrations on behalf of hundreds of millions of Americans and Europeans and what they are feeling about the current state of affairs in the West.
Donald Trump needs to ignore the media’s self-centered news cycle, modernize his campaign operation, expose establishment corruption, and speak policy, policy, and more policy. This man could be the next president. There is a hunger for a change agent this season, and Hillary Clinton is the polar opposite, the very definition of insider and crooked. She supports regime change, continuing the New Cold War with Russia, open borders, and free trade agreements that have ripped manufacturing from the country without any alternative besides minimum wage and credit card debt. That is her Party platform and personal story. Donald Trump can expose it, win the election, and from the ashes of America’s decayed and secluded elite build a new Republican Party. It’s time to refocus and get the campaign back on track.