The Art Of The Comeback
Ben Domenech
By

Yesterday was the worst day in the history of the Trump campaign. They fired their campaign manager in name only, Corey Lewandowski, after a coup pulled off by Trump’s children, who had reportedly been agitating for his ousting for months. They did so because the candidate was reportedly confronted with issue after issue about the lack of basic campaign organization and effort that had all been publicly reported, but that the candidate was apparently unaware of or didn’t think justified a change.  But worse, they reported an infinitesimal amount of money raised and cash on hand in preparation for a general election. The Trump campaign as it stands has less than 1.3 million dollars on hand as of the end of last month, and their fundraising totals would be unimpressive for a Congressional campaign. The RNC’s status is arguably even darker, given that they are not just about electing Trump, but electing nervous down-ticket candidates as well: they have 20 million in the bank and 7 million in debt, versus 60 million in the bank and 9.9 million in debt four years ago. But the RNC’s Sean Spicer, who managed the debate process until he was demoted, says this is fine.  So this is fine, just like the debates turned out to be fine.

The total deficit to Hillary Clinton, though, is still staggering.

Donald Trump raised 3.1 million in the month after he became the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee, giving him a staggering cash disadvantage heading into the general election against Hillary Clinton. After largely self-financing the primary election, Mr. Trump said last month that he would begin actively soliciting money for the general election. He appointed a national finance chairman and finalized a joint fundraising vehicle with the Republican National Committee. But his haul that month suggests his campaign was unable to turn his clinching of the party’s nomination into any fundraising boost… Mr. Trump’s May haul, which he supplemented with 2.2 million in loans, left him with 1.3 million in the bank. Mrs. Clinton’s campaign had 32 times as much in its war chest: 42 million.

In order for Trump to win, yesterday must be viewed as the most dysfunctional day in his campaign. The turnaround has to begin here. With Team Manafort having bested Team Corey definitively, the approach now must be a more conventional background for a decidedly unconventional candidate. The campaign must stop the bleeding from the portion of the conservative base still of the mind to cause havoc in Cleveland; assuage donor doubts about Trump’s interest and capacity when it comes to self-funding any effort in the fall; and they must refocus their campaign on Trump’s core economic message, the thing which elevated him to the nomination above all.

There are some early signs that Trump recognizes this shift that has to happen – last night he acknowledged “It’s time for a different type of campaign.” The problem about the talk of “pivoting”, which Trump pushed back against repeatedly in public, is that the candidate thought it was primarily about teleprompters. No – pivoting was about becoming a more serious general election candidate. The message side distracted from the real issue there, which wasn’t of tone so much as organization. Trump proved against all odds that he could mount a media-based guerilla effort to win the Republican nomination. But Corey Lewandowski was little more than a glorified state by state event planner during this stage. He could never make the transition from living in a small tent in his house Wes Anderson style with Donald Trump to the big tent challenge of running a truly national campaign. His inability to do that was a drag on the campaign for a month when it should’ve been locking things down for the fall, which I explained last night on “The Kelly File”.

Trump has taken some baby steps in the right direction on this front. The Lewandowski firing, which must feel for him like kicking a loyal puppy, is one. He also hired veteran advisers Keith Nahigian and Kevin Kellems, the latter to (at long last) oversee campaign surrogates. Expect more hires along these lines in the days to come. He is looking up at a very challenging road ahead: the latest Q poll out this morning shows that in the critical states of Ohio and Pennsylvania, Trump is keeping it very close – but he is down significantly in Florida.

“Florida – Clinton over Trump 47 – 39 percent, compared to 43 – 42 percent May 10… Ohio – Clinton and Trump tied 40 – 40 percent, compared to a small 43 – 39 percent Trump lead May 10… Pennsylvania – Clinton at 42 percent to Trump’s 41 percent, virtually unchanged from the 43 – 42 percent lean to Clinton May 10.”

He likely needs all three states to win the presidency. There are many months to go – but the Clinton ad machine is only just cranking up, and Trump’s campaign is at the starting line, flat-footed thanks to mismanagement and the wrong people. That will have to change from here on out.

Ben Domenech is the publisher of The Federalist. Sign up for a free trial of his daily newsletter, The Transom.

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