Guest Post by Chris Henderson
Seemingly every day, someone tells me that they’re worried Donald Trump will win the election. Aside from the natural anxiety that comes with a potentially catastrophic (yet still remote) possibility, I really don’t believe Trump winning is even remotely realistic. Here’s why:
1. Trump has no ground game.
Every modern election is won on ground game. Candidates can’t rely on speeches and cable news appearances. They need an army of people and tools to reach out to millions of voters throughout the election, collect data and guide campaign decisions. This matters. It defines your strategy and it helps you convert voters on the margins – the ones that you need to help you win swing states.
Building this infrastructure is essentially the modern-day purpose of the US primary nomination system. Parties believe that the successful nominee will emerge with (and because of) a sophisticated and mature ground game infrastructure to head into the general election. Trump didn’t do this. He coasted on a unique mix of populism and the anger of 13 million voters to help him rise to the top of a diverse and crowded GOP nomination field. He went into the General with no ground game, he has failed to build one since. In fact, he’s been piggybacking on the (comparatively weak) Republican infrastructure to get him through. That was a bad strategy in the first place and now after the GTBTP (Grab Them By The *cat emoji*) debacle, that resource appears to be out of his reach.
2. This is not a professional campaign operation.
Professionalized politics starts at the very top – with the candidate. A candidate sets the tone, drives the policy and starts the strategy. They attract and retain talented staff to make it all real and turn it into votes. The campaign staff create diverse and smart opportunities for the candidate to go out and represent and augment that strategy and policy. While a candidate is in charge of the campaign, a professional staff will set limits. Professional campaigns do not allow candidates to rant on Twitter at 3am. They don’t allow a candidate to skip debate prep. They don’t film half-apologies at midnight. They don’t allow a candidate to spend a week fixated on a single non-campaign issue. They don’t allow the rest of the party to abandon its Presidential candidate. They don’t outright insult and alienate people like Mitt Romney and John McCain. Trump’s campaign is completely bereft of all of these qualities.
3. He’s checkmated himself with his own rhetoric and bluster.
Donald Trump has built a campaign on a style that attracts a large number of voters who, by and large, are disenfranchised with the direction of America and the type of people who have been traditionally tasked with leading it. That’s fair enough. And it was a smart strategy to win the GOP primary, especially with Obama in office. Applying that strategy to the General election has brought him within close to striking distance of a chance at winning.
Here’s his biggest problem. He needs more than this relatively reliable cohort to win. He needs to capture the votes of more moderate, independent voters who are mailable or undecided. With the stark nature of the offence in his GTBTP video, he needs to work harder to access those particular voters. But what he needs to do to access those voters threatens to alienate his original base of voters, which he also needs in order to win. They don’t want to vote for a guy that apologizes for “locker room talk.” That puts Trump in an impossible position that a talented, experienced candidate and team might be able to navigate out of – but, as discussed, Trump doesn’t have that.
4. He’s only been ahead for a fleeting moment in this election.
Take a quick look at polling aggregators. Only once – after the GOP Convention – has he ever been polling better than Hillary Clinton. And that peak was followed with his steepest decline of the last year. His polling has been over the place, but it hasn’t crossed Hillary Clinton’s horizon. And, at this point, it seems extremely unlikely that it will. Only the most charismatic, skilled politician could make up that structural polling deficit. He doesn’t have either.
These are all critical problems. Each of them would need to be rectified in order for him to be victorious in this election. No single debate performance, Clinton scandal, rally speech or publicity stunt can save him from these serious systemic problems.
Breathe easy – Hillary Clinton will be the next President of the United States.
Chris Henderson has been working on campaigns since he was 11 years old. He once successfully convinced Dave Cournoyer to shave his beard. Today, he is a Strategist at Calder Bateman Communications.