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Victory is still within reach — yet Trump can’t help but run his own campaign into the ground

John T. Bennett
·4-min read
Though some may not want to admit it, the president has been politically adept over the past four years. But now, just in time for Election Day, he seems to have lost control  (REUTERS)
Though some may not want to admit it, the president has been politically adept over the past four years. But now, just in time for Election Day, he seems to have lost control (REUTERS)

Trump can’t help but run his own campaign into the ground

Captain Chaos just cannot help himself.

The list of gripes and grievances is just too long. There are simply too many scores to settle. Getting the last word in his myriad feuds seems paramount in any and every situation.

Even with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden off the campaign trail this week for debate prep, Donald Trump barnstormed through four key swing states (Nevada, Arizona, Pennsylvania and North Carolina), hitting his critics and foes with insults, one-liners and unsubstantiated allegations.

The president appears to be making a risky gamble: that his conservative base will feel they are just as under assault as him from the “radical left” and “fake news media” and the “corrupt” Bidens and the “Never Trumpers” on the Commission on Presidential Debates and, well, the list goes on for seemingly miles.

Trump had a rather straightforward message four years ago: Trade deals that benefit the American worker and consumer; hardline immigration that helped the American worker and consumer; and an end to business-as-usual in Washington that helped rich people and cash-hungry corporations.

But after four years of insults and chaos, the disrupter-in-chief is the one most disrupting his own re-election effort. His sales pitch for four more years is a disjointed mess: loosely related grievances, conspiracy theories, questionable boasts about the past, and vague promises about the future. On repeat, night after night in front of large and impressive Covid-era crowds in battleground state after battleground state.

The chaos, however, after four years of Trump getting agitated and angry, comes with contradictions. His mental and emotional scar tissue lately becomes inflamed onstage or when answering questions from even the most friendly of Fox News interviewers.

His rallies and Fox News call-ins almost immediately become therapy sessions, only further mucking up what could have been another straightforward campaign trail message: The economy was strong and we’ll rebuild it, starting with a coronavirus vaccine while I negotiate that long-promised infrastructure deal my predecessors couldn’t manage, all while brokering new pro-America trade deals with the EU, United Kingdom, most of Asia, and finishing one with China. Sprinkle in more talk about immigration executive orders while questioning the business dealings and Joe and Hunter Biden. That’s a rally spiel of about 45 minutes that keeps the crowd engaged, especially as he goes off script just enough to conjure the “Lock him/her up!” and “We love you!” chants this president clearly craves. Instead, Trump is all over the place – and his big audiences are noticeably losing interest.

Take Wednesday night in Gastonia, North Carolina. Your correspondent grew up near there, and has for five years told family and friends that the deeply conservative community known in some Carolina social circles as “The Gas House” would be the perfect Trump rally host city.

But for about 10 minutes on Wednesday night, at the top of the 8 o’clock hour, the president who had just boasted about not being a traditional Washington politician was going on and on about the Atlanta Federal Reserve and gross domestic product projections.

Trust me, that’s not the kind of talk folks in the rural Carolina Piedmont expect from their hero.

In a very unique way, even as reporters hang on his every word in their quest for web clicks and his Democratic foes do so to write new attack ads, Donald Trump has gotten rather boring.

His hijinks and antics are all he’s got left, just when he needs to be giving the remaining undecided voters and swayable Republicans who have drifted from his orbit a reason he will make their lives better over the next four years.

Ranting and raving every night, abruptly ending network television interviews, and having one’s campaign aides refuse to answer questions on a press conference call before branding one journalist “homophobic” for no good reason does not a second term make.

Trump has proven himself politically adept many times since riding that golden escalator in his Manhattan tower in 2015, even if most readers of this column might not like to admit it. And the race is still close in enough battleground states that he could eke out a narrow Electoral College win. He has time to settle on a message focused on making people’s lives better – though his erratic-but-repetitive public performances since he returned to the campaign trail make that doubtful.

A plan with the attention to detail and precision used to put together a flight plan for Air Force One (which he uses nightly as a campaign rally backdrop) likely would have been enough.

Instead, his campaign resembles a runaway dump truck, bulldozing its way on a path that seems likely to put its driver on a collision course with federal and state investigators in New York.