Dazed and Confused

Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks in Youngstown, Ohio, Monday, Aug. 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
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It now seems that the next several days of the campaign cycle will be about whether anyone can figure out what Donald Trump’s immigration policy is. Mass expulsions, compulsory taco salads, expelling the bad people, letting the models stay, Obama’s awesome after all. Trump’s new mantra is that “we will follow the law,” which – let’s not be ungenerous – is a good place to start but of course tells us nothing. This isn’t a pivot. It’s an effort to sow confusion. Because there’s no tenable place for Trump to be on this issue.

His policy of mass expulsion is toxic for a general election audience. Abandoning the centerpiece policy of his campaign is equally unworkable. It doesn’t pass a laugh test and it would trigger revolt among his closest supporters. In the end, though, it’s Trump and his campaign that sound most confused, brainstorming on the public airwaves some way to square a circle that seems impossible to square. Tonight’s speech indicates the plan is to double down on the wall, simply ignore mass expulsion, say Hillary wants the country to be overrun by brown hordes.

It’s seldom good when a campaign’s supporters can’t figure out where the campaign stands on a given issue. It’s never good when the campaign itself can’t figure out where the campaign stands on a given issue. It’s seems ridiculous and adrift.

There’s always a temptation with the Trump campaign to uncover some strategy behind what seems on the surface to be scattered, erratic or foolish. But Trump’s Razor counsels against this. The truth is the Trump team has no idea what they’re doing. Pundits may need a few days to unravel this. But this is at best simply an effort to play for time.

News from the Trump African-American Outreach Train is equally nonsensical.

Tuesday evening the Post released story aptly titled: “Inside Donald Trump’s New Strategy to Counter the View of Many That He Is ‘Racist’” and outlining “a full-fledged strategy to court black and Latino voters.” The article is a testament to a fact we all likely know from our own life experience: desperate people cooped up in a room together for long enough can convince themselves of almost anything. The article speaks of “mobilizing scores of minority figures to advocate publicly for [Trump’s] candidacy” but the only two mentioned prominently are Ben Carson and perennial Apprentice contestant Omarosa Manigault, who until a few months ago considered herself a Democrat.

One choice nugget is an internal poll which has convinced the campaign it can exploit Clinton’s vulnerability over the 1994 crime bill. In the abstract the crime bill is a vulnerability for the Clintons. Though it enjoyed widespread support among African-Americans and African American political leaders at the time of its passage, the story looks quite different in retrospect as crime has dropped to historic lows and incarceration rates have risen to historically unprecedented levels. Yet the politics of the ’94 bill proved very difficult for Bernie Sanders, a clear supporter of civil rights and racial inclusion, to use against Clinton in the Democratic primaries. That a white racist like Trump might have better luck at it seems dubious in the extreme.

But that’s not even the biggest problem. In their feverish brainstorms the Trump team seems to have forgotten that most of their campaign now revolves around a historic law and order crackdown, putting the “tough” cops back in charge, and “giving them back [their] spirit and by allowing them to go and counterattack.” In other words, Trump’s advisors or Trump or whoever else is making this stuff up imagines that Trump will run simultaneously as Dirty Harry and a critic of mass incarceration. This lacks the requisite thought to rise to the level of disingenuous; it’s just stupid, throwing everything against the wall and hoping something might stick.

Roger Stone explained the strategy to the Post

Roger Stone, a longtime Trump confidant, has urged Trump to exploit Bill Clinton’s crime record, arguing that “an entire generation of young black men are incarcerated” because of the law, which imposed tougher prison sentences for a range of drug-related crimes.

“Black voters have no affinity for Hillary Clinton,” Stone said. “She’s done nothing for them. . . . Bill Clinton has an affinity to black voters, and it’s stylistic: He slips on the shades, plays the saxophone, how cool. But most black voters don’t know about the 1994 crime bill, and they need to be educated.”

I assume this requires no commentary.

Also intriguing to the Trump brain trust is pre-2011 consumer research that showed … well, that black people really liked Donald Trump.

Let’s set aside for the moment that liking a celebrity isn’t the same as supporting a political candidate and the possibility that “private research” might simply be what Trump decided was true. But, I digress. Back to the Post

When Trump began his campaign, he was confident he would do better with black voters than Romney — mostly because African Americans form part of his commercial base for “The Apprentice” and his casinos. People who have helped manage the Trump Organization’s brand said the company’s private research over the past decades showed that many black people admired Trump’s ostentatious lifestyle.

But that image changed once Trump became a political figure in 2011 by making himself the face of the “birther” movement, which sought to delegitimize President Obama by questioning his birth in Hawaii.

Let’s translate this. Black people loved Donald Trump until he emerged as a high profile racist. Then they stopped loving him.

This is not propitious ground to build on. But when they were sitting around a table thinking, “How on earth do we fix this?” someone thought of this.

Through all of this you find the same mix of grasping for straws, nonsensical desperation and a cavalcade of cartoonish stereotypes about black people. You can look for a plan. But what you find is people having a hard time keeping track in their own mind whether they’re trying to court minority voters or make fun of them.

The clearest passage in the Post article is this one …

For Trump, the objective is twofold, according to his aides and allies. He wants to make inroads with minority voters, who polls show overwhelmingly support Clinton. He also believes that a more measured approach on race can convince white voters now shunning him — especially women — that he is not the racist that his inflammatory rhetoric might indicate.

There’s the key: a plan to convince white women that Trump’s not racist. Give him credit: a year-plus into the campaign Trump has discovered that running as an open racist in a national campaign in 2016 can be a severe problem. But even the charge of cynicism gives the Trumpers too much credit. That is a major part of what this is about. But a cynical plan assumes there’s a plan. There is no plan. Remember Trump’s Razor. The stupidest scenario that can be reconciled with the available facts. This is a campaign on its third leadership team, with the latest a two headed monster made up of a white nationalist crank and a GOP pollster who was until recently a proponent of getting the GOP behind immigration reform. They’re far behind with eleven weeks to go before the election trying to figure out some way to stop losing. There’s a well-known word for campaigns that try to completely upend their entire message and policy menu with 80 days to go before an election. They’re called “losing campaigns.”

Step back for a moment from the Trumpite word salad and you’ll realize all of this is true.

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