This has been an awful week for the Trump campaign. Trump engaged in an ongoing self-defeating fight with a Gold Star family, refused to endorseRepublican leadership (who now barely endorse him), displayed ignorance of events in Ukraine, possibly made disturbing comments about the use of nukes, saw the public defections of prominent Republican politicians, and heard the doubts of friends and close supporters over his conduct. Plus, he practically ignored his opponent, mostly giving Hillary Clinton a pass on recent events that should hurt her (e.g., baldly lying to Chris Wallace on national television, bad economic reports, money for hostages.) All this no doubt cheered Clinton and the Never Trump crowd, but has dispirited many ordinary Republicans who swallowed hard and went along with his candidacy. Trump must quickly right the ship or face certain disaster in November.
Some of this whiff of catastrophe may well be -- to mix metaphors -- media and Democrat "froth" as they see a chance to deliver knockout blows. This was also all very predictable, once Trump faced off against the Hillary machine, her media helpmates, and a sitting (not terribly unpopular) president. However, other than complaining about how unfair things are, Trump has refused to take the practical steps necessary to protect himself from attack, which means remaining disciplined on the campaign trail, following the advice of his own staff and family, and trying to appear "presidential."
Beating 17 Republican opponents who couldn't get out of each other's way with a bare plurality is nothing like a national campaign against a Clinton. And while he's being battered Hillary's allowed to skate, just by keeping her head down. As Napoleon said, never interfere with an enemy when he is destroying himself.
Republicans who are not Trump devotees (which are most of them) have needed and still need three basic things from Trump, which so far he is not providing. If it becomes clear that he will not or cannot provide these things, they will not go to the polls for him, or may even vote for Hillary, particularly if he manages to alienate or scare them enough. And it goes without saying that Trump will not win independents and vulnerable Democrats in such circumstances.
What are the three basic things Trump needs to do?
First, demonstrate that he has a reasonable chance of defeating Hillary. Right now he is failing, behind in the polls, a longshot with the odds makers, and seeing important members of his own party disavowing him. If Trump has no chance of winning, Republicans who do not like his personality, style, temperament, background, or ethics, but who still think he's better than Hillary, have no reason to "suck it up" and support him. And he is not going to defeat Hillary running a disorganized, undisciplined campaign that is mostly about Trump and his personal pet peeves.
Second, Republicans have to be reasonably confident that if Trump wins, he will at least support a modest conservative agenda, starting with selection of Supreme Court nominees. Trump's wisest move in the campaign so far was announcing a list of acceptable selections if he wins, though he made no promises. But Trump's recent contretemps with the Republican leadership, including his personal and vengeful "I'm not there yet" snub of Paul Ryan, offers no reassurance. In fact, Trump seems so wrapped up in his own personal vendettas and so free of principle that it is easy to see him selecting the most liberal justices he can find if elected, just to spite the GOP leadership. This seems particularly probable since in the increasingly unlikely event Trump prevails, he will see it as the result of his own efforts, and will find the Republican party's work on his behalf to have been half-hearted.
Third, Trump has to at least act somewhat "presidential" and not present himself as a sometimes incoherent, spiteful, arrogant, vulgar, ignorant and angry man. It is not only that openly expressing such traits turns off a lot of people, but that uncontrolled in a president, they are downright dangerous and frightening. For a short time it seemed that Trump was coming around, but in the past two weeks he's demonstrated little or no self-control, which is a basic requirement for the highest office.
In June I asked whether Trump was competitive, not in the sense of whether he could win the election, but whether he could discipline himself and alter his approaches in basic ways that would allow him to win. There is no question that Trump is combative, but being combative is different than being competitive. Trump is like a boxer with a lot of fight in him, who got used to beating up on weak opponents but is unwilling to do the hard things necessary to change his game against a better opponent, and now is taking hard shots as a result, heading for a KO.
Trump is a seventy-year-old man born into privilege who seems determined to do things his way, and ignore the advice of others, no matter how well meant. It's still not entirely clear that he really wants to be president as opposed to just having a good time, shooting his mouth off, and discombobulating people, supporters and opponents both. He certainly is not doing the things that suggest he really wants to win this election. This appeared to be the case right after he clinched the nomination, and apparently little has changed.
Trump's diehard supporters make excuses for his self-defeating actions, but there is no doubt that there is, and has always been, a certain nihilism in this support. Such an attitude is hard to square with anything but a fatalistic "burn the whole thing down" view toward the Republican Party and the electoral process. This ensures Trump support from a minority of voters who share these sentiments, but it that will not win him election or even something close.
As of now, Trump has failed on all three counts, and there is little prospect that he will do a remarkable turnabout at this point. We've been down this road before. Trump may do the right things for a while, but always reverts to the mean.