After Donald Trump’s disastrous performance in the debate on Monday night, his campaign team doesn’t have many good options to fix the problems it created. The next debate between Clinton and Trump will be on Sunday, October 9th and it is important to note that it will be a town hall format moderated by Martha Raddatz and Anderson Cooper.
Perhaps the candidate is simply trash-talking, but he’s been hinting at an approach that would simply double-down on the mistakes he made Monday night. For example:
Trump on Tuesday morning floated the idea that he “may hit her harder” next time around, and explained, “I really eased up because I didn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings.”
That appears to be an allusion to the fact that both Trump and his surrogates thought he deserved praise for not bringing up Bill Clinton’s sex scandals. He seemed to indicate he will do so next time. In complaining about Lester Holt, Trump added:
“Well, he didn’t ask her about the emails at all. He didn’t ask her about her scandals. He didn’t ask her about the Benghazi deal that she destroyed,” he said about Holt. “He didn’t ask her about a lot of things she should have been asked about. I mean, you know, there’s no question about it. He didn’t ask about her foundation.”
If that indicates what Trump plans to do in the next debate, do you notice what’s missing? Any talk about what Trump wants to do as president. Doubling down on the sexism of going after Hillary for her husband’s infidelity could bring on a moment that is reminiscent of President Obama’s, “Please proceed, Governor” in the 2012 town hall debate. It is also unlikely that the undecided voters who will participate in that format will actually ask questions about scandals from the past. Even if they do, Clinton has already demonstrated that a Republican House Committee was unable to get under her skin about what happened in Benghazi, so I doubt Trump will be successful in an attempt to do so.
On the other hand, the only time the Trump campaign has been able to get their candidate modestly under control is when they write the script for his speeches and he reads them off the teleprompter. That isn’t an option in a debate and, as we saw this week, their candidate doesn’t seem to have any self control.
One way for the campaign to get out a scripted message is to do so via television ads. That presents two problems for them: (1) even with a surge in small donations, the campaign doesn’t have the kind of money that requires, and (2) if Trump self-funds the ads, it is unclear whether they have any actual impact.
Finally, after the debates, this election all comes down to convincing persuadables and getting out the vote. That requires a ground game – which the Trump campaign never bothered to develop.
Before the first debate Trump was losing this election – even as the polls had tightened. In order to win, he needs something to change. His performance on Monday night made the situation even worse for him, and his stunt about birtherism has changed the dynamic of his press coverage. It is hard to conceive of anything under the campaign’s control that would change things as we head in to the final stretch of this election.