Friday, September 30, 2016

Losing Battles

My guess is that, if Hillary Clinton had her way, she would spend all the campaign comfortably ensconced in Chappaqua or Whitehaven (her mansion in DC), and have the whole campaign be a solo show by Donald Trump.  The Clinton campaign would clearly like to make this election a referendum on Donald Trump, and it's not clear why he should play along.  The more the Trump campaign allows the Clinton team to make Trump the central question of the election, the more it plays into her hands; the more it makes this election a referendum on the status quo, the better the odds of Trump winning the White House.

During the primary battle, Trump might have benefited from generating media controversy and engaging in blood-feuds with all who challenged him; in the primary, media oxygen was a valuable commodity, and remaining in the headlines helped make Trump the central player in the primary.  But Trump is now the GOP nominee.  Ex officio, he plays a leading role in the general election.  At this stage of the campaign, the kind of media attention is more important than the amount of it.  (That will be even more true, by the way, if Trump does become president.  The president never has to fight for headlines, but the content of those headlines can be a major source of concern or comfort.)

There is almost no way for Trump to "win" the Alicia Machado controversy.  Every day he spends litigating the 1990s is a day that keeps him from advancing his case for president in 2016.  Keeping this controversy alive also keeps the Trump campaign from fighting on favorable territory.

The media consensus seems to be that Trump was strongest in the first debate when he battled Clinton on trade and her desire to re-write history about her support for TPP.  Secretary Clinton is vulnerable on a host of policy issues; that's one of the reasons why she prefers to make this a campaign about Trump's previous statements and not her record of decisions or the exact details of her policy vision.  Delivering a sustained critique of Clinton's policy agenda and offering an alternative vision might not generate wall-to-wall media coverage, but the actual coverage might be more helpful to the Trump campaign.

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