Donald Trump’s election as president of the United States would pose an unprecedented threat to the health of American democracy and possibly world stability. There is, however, an upside: Trump’s campaign is an absolute garbage fire. By all accounts it is the most organizationally and strategically inept campaign for a successful major-party nominee in recorded history. Ashley Parker and Maggie Haberman round up many of the details, but the basic story that emerges from their reports and others is that Trump has absolutely no idea what he’s doing.
“Trump is reliant on information he garners himself, and can be swayed by the last person he talked to,” Parker and Haberman somewhat delicately put it. His campaign staff is far too small, and yet constantly at war with itself, already having gone through multiple shakeups and coups. In keeping with his general disdain for data, Trump has eschewed any use of analytics to target voters or competitive areas. Indeed, he has fixated bizarrely on plans to compete in New York and California, two states where any Republican faces hopeless odds against an entrenched Democratic electorate. He is currently in North Dakota for reasons nobody fully understands. He attacks fellow Republicans for no apparent reason. The super-pac donors who are supposed to be raising money on his behalf are disorganized and confused about basic questions like which super-pac they’re supposed to donate to.
As we know, as a candidate Hillary Clinton is no Barack Obama. But she has a real, professional campaign operation. It’s improved since 2008 — if only because she passed the Mark Penn test — and even the 2008 version barely lost to a once-in-a-generation political talent running a nearly flawless campaign. Against a really good Republican nominee, I’d worry that her dubious political instincts would be a serious issue. But in addition to Trump’s other flaws the fact that he’s not actually a professional politician is going to be an issue. In the primaries, running against a large number of tomato cans that allowed for plurality wins, and in which the professional politician with the best ex ante chance of beating him decided to run a Newt Gingrich-style “the INTERNETS make actually campaigning obsolete” joke campaign, this wasn’t fatal. In the general? Let’s say it doesn’t help.
Admittedly, campaigns in general matter less than people think. But in every respect Trump is likely to be a net drag on a party that can’t really afford marginal negative factors in presidential elections. And while the Clinton campaign shouldn’t be complacent, I don’t believe in creating artificial panic either. I’ve seen Clinton in panic/desperation mode in 2008, and…it was not good. Obama is the model here: cool, risk averse, “I’ve got this.” She doesn’t need a great campaign to beat Trump; she needs to avoid major blunders.