Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla
Donald Trump’s entire primary campaign was strategically focused on a simple yet profound premise; any press is good press. The Donald made a tireless effort, or I should say what would be a tireless effort for any ordinary person running for the job, to constantly keep in the news cycle through bluster. He begun his campaign with a provocative call for mass deportation of the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants, and then carried on to Muslim bans and making fun of John McCain’s heroic military service.
By the time the debates came around and Trump had captured the nation’s attention and was rising in the polls, he turned things personal and largely avoided anything but vague policy ideals. He suggested Megyn Kelly was on her period, compared Ben Carson to a child molester, gave all of his opponents nicknames, and defended the size of his penis.
While many of his supporters suggested Trump’s unusual approach was indicative of authenticity, it was, in reality, a calculated and concerted effort to stay in the headlines constantly to shift attention away from his opponents. This is a strategy he discussed way back in 1987 in The Art of the Deal.
“The point is that if you are a little different, or a little outrageous, or if you do things that are bold or controversial, the press is going to write about you,” Donald Trump writes in the book.
Trump has attempted to bring the same strategy of attracting constant media attention to the general election, but it’s no longer working for him. Trump and his advisors seemingly failed to make note of the differences between the primary and the general. Questions are tougher at this point, the press is already talking about the candidates nonstop, and the race is between you and just one other person.
When Gold Star father of a Muslim American soldier killed in combat Khizr Khan attacked Trump at the Democratic convention, Trump took the bait and engaged in a knock out, drag out fight with the Khan’s over broadcast and social media. Trump’s response was probably a combination of both his provocative media strategy as well as his inflated ego, as I’m sure it was difficult for him to stomach a Muslim attacking him in front of millions of viewers.
Trump hurled all kinds of accusations at the Khan family, the most egregious of which was his suggestion that Mrs. Khan didn’t address the crowd because she wasn’t allowed to speak. Sadly, it wasn’t the fact that Trump was attacking Islam that made this move so damaging, as he’s done that throughout his campaign, it was the fact that he was attacking American heroes.
A recent slew of polls in the last few days shouw Trump down between 9 and 15 points after he was shown leading following the Republican National Convention. This 13-20 point swing in the polls isn’t simply a post-convention bump for Clinton, it’s a response to the unforced errors The Donald has made in the past week. Rather than focusing on the recent shoddy economic growth numbers or the controversy over the Obama administration’s alleged ransom deal with Iran, he’s stuck with fighting military families, kicking babies out of rallies, and attacking his GOP peers for not supporting him hard enough.
Trump’s ‘mistakes’ make sense under his old strategy. Under that model, attacking Clinton and Obama on policy might help you out a little, but forcing the press to cover you telling a mother with a crying baby to leave your rally for 24 hours will help you even more. What Donald hasn’t realized is that’s not the way general elections work, and if he continues to go for bluster and provocation over substance and seriousness, he’s going to lose in a landslide.