With the GOP convention finally at hand, Team Trump faces the truly daunting task of keeping his brand afloat and maintaining a course to victory in the fall. It appears that the GOP is anything but all-hands-on-deck, with splinter factions threatening to abandon the candidate and some delegates actually planning a convention floor revolt.
But despite the apparent disunity and chaos, Mr. Trump’s polling numbers versus presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton have barely taken a hit. Coming out of a widely publicized email scandal in which she was spared criminal indictment, Mrs. Clinton’s reputation for bad judgment has wounded her deeply. A newly released New York Times/CBS poll 67 percent of voters indicated that Mrs. Clinton “is not honest and trustworthy.” The poll also showed the candidates are essentially neck and neck, implying that Mr. Trump need not run a perfect race to beat Mrs. Clinton, just a race free of major blunders.
If past is precedent, a mistake-free performance may be a bit much to ask from Mr. Trump. Several times over the past weeks, Mr. Trump’s antics have snatched headlines away from a major Clinton scandal and turned attention on himself. The email scandal is a case in point.
Rather than focusing on FBI Director James B. Comey’s excoriation of Mrs. Clinton and his testimony before Congress, media attention was drawn to Mr. Trump’s tweet featuring a picture of Mrs. Clinton superimposed over a six-pointed star and a pile of money, an anti-Semitic meme for many. Mr. Trump later removed the star and retweeted a similar image with a circle instead, but he then went on to double down on his tweet, to defend the image in a speech and suggest that he should not have caved to external pressure by removing it.
Coming into the Cleveland convention, the media has turned on Mr. Trump. A review of the op-ed section of The Washington Post over the past three months reveals a steady stream of negative articles versus a tepid criticism of Mrs. Clinton for her various scandals. Most of the media, from The New York Times to CNN, have followed suit. Thus far, Mr. Trump has not demonstrated the organizational capacity to get his own message out. He’s been slow in producing ads, especially in key battleground states such as Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. He will need some of these states to break his way in order to have a viable path to victory in the fall.
Then there is Mr. Trump’s fundraising apparatus, which raised a dismal $3.2 million in May to Mrs. Clinton’s haul of $27 million. Keep in mind that Mr. Trump was the presumptive nominee for most of that month, while Mrs. Clinton was still in a heated battle against Democratic rival Bernie Sanders. Mr. Trump fared far better in June, with reported numbers of $52 million, to Mrs. Clinton’s $67 million. Mrs. Clinton’s fundraising apparatus is a well-oiled machine, whereas Mr. Trump appears to have to work very hard for his money, flying all over the country just days before the convention, attending various fundraising junkets. One wonders whether anyone can muster the stamina to pull off what Mr. Trump needs to do in the coming months to unify the party and fuel his campaign.
It seems Mr. Trump has thus far relied primarily on media theatrics and free publicity to drum up attention. This served him well in the primaries, but one wonders whether the lack of a ground game may come back to haunt him in the hotly contested battleground states late in the race.
With a party in disunity, a hostile press and a campaign operation that is far from robust, Mr. Trump faces a tough road ahead. He will need to unite the party behind him at the convention, and that means more than threatening the alternative of a Clinton White House. Voters need a reason to vote for Mr. Trump, not merely against Mrs. Clinton. Mr. Trump has not laid out a concrete policy agenda, although the GOP platform has been amended to accentuate some of the broad themes on trade and immigration he has touted in his speeches.
With the convention ready to gavel, Mr. Trump faces significant challenges in both unifying his own party and reaching out to additional voters that he’ll need to bring home the presidency. Neither of those tasks are easy ones, and it would be far better if, at this stage of the race, he only had to fight on one front, instead of at least two.
• Armstrong Williams is a nationally syndicated columnist and sole owner/manager of Howard Stirk Holdings LLC TV.