- The Washington Times - Monday, October 24, 2016

The mainstream media has declared the 2016 presidential contest over — with two more weeks to go in the race between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump.

“Clinton Hopes for a Mandate and Coattails,” a New York Times headline read on Monday.

Politico started drafting Mrs. Clinton’s cabinet picks, speculating Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg as the head of treasury. Vox moved onto Mrs. Clinton’s transition into the White House, stating one of the big questions left unanswered are what happens to the thousands of Obama appointees in a Clinton administration.

If we’ve learned anything from the 2016 election, it’s to not count your chickens before they hatch — that anything is possible. Yes, FiveThirtyEight pollsters say there’s an 86.2 percent change Mrs. Clinton will win the White House — but that also means there’s a path for Mr. Trump, no matter how narrow.

“Hillary Clinton is not running against me, she’s running against change,” Mr. Trump said in a speech in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, over the weekend. “And she’s running against all of the American people and all of the American voters.”

And there it was — the key message of Mr. Trump’s candidacy — the reason why he won the GOP primary, and why independents once leaned his way. He needs to reinforce this “change” message over and over — without discussing his sexual-assault accusers and a rigged electoral system — which haven’t done him any good in recent weeks.

A mere 29 percent of likely U.S. voters think the country is heading in the right direction, according to the most recent Rasmussen Reports national poll, and yet Mr. Trump is losing to Mrs. Clinton as the “change” agent in many different survey’s crosstabs.

Why? Because he muddles his own message.

About three weeks ago, Mr. Trump was on a winning trajectory — taking advantage of Mrs. Clinton’s email scandals, insider status, and advocating himself as a change agent. He climbed to 45 percent support in the Real Clear Politics average of polls on Oct. 2, a 5.1 percent rise from 39.9 in the RCP average on August 9.

But then he had a poor first debate, followed by a weeklong controversy regarding Miss Universe’s weight, and then the famous leaked audio with NBC’s Billy Bush denigrating women. Eleven women have since come forward with sexual assault allegations and Mr. Trump is defending himself against them all — and not advocating for the American public.

In perhaps an effort to change the media narrative, Mr. Trump spoke at great length of a “rigged election,” and then played into the media’s hands by refusing to say he’d accept the results of the election at the third debate, erasing whatever policy gains he made previously in the evening.

In the next day’s headlines, there was no talk of reforming Washington. No outsider message of ethics reform or immigration policy. Nothing on how he’s going to Make America Great Again. He’s now trailing Mrs. Clinton by double-digits in most polls — losing both the support of independents and college-educated whites.

Mr. Trump’s Gettysburg address, if you will, was his first effort at reclaiming the message of change.

His “drain the swamp” series of new ethics laws won the praise of #NeverTrump Sen. Ben Sasse, who said Mr. Trump’s proposal was “making a serious ethics reform proposal here.”

It’s a good step toward trying to rally the GOP base — if Mr. Trump can stay on message.

Mr. Trump proposed term limits in the House and Senate and wants to place a hiring freeze on federal employees to chip away at bureaucratic bloat through attrition. He said for every regulation he would approve, two previous regulations needs to be stripped away.

In terms of immigration reform, Mr. Trump gave new details saying he’d seek a mandatory minimum prison sentences for anyone returning to the U.S. after they were deported, and would stop issuing visas to countries who refuse to take back their own citizens after they’ve been deported from the U.S.

These are reforms the GOP can get behind and support — and he needs their support.

According to the most recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, there was a seven-point drop in the number of registered Republicans who are likely to vote on Election Day. The previous ABC/Post poll found a sharp 12-point decline in enthusiasm for Trump among his supporters, almost exclusively among those who’d preferred a different GOP nominee. Mr. Trump needs to concentrate on improving these numbers in order to have a shot at the White House.

“Trump’s Gettysburg speech will be the most decisive break with the corrupt establishment in modern times. He is detailed and decisive,” Newt Gingrich wrote on twitter after the speech.

Now, Mr. Trump needs to stay focused on the tenants of it — and nothing else — if he wants to win the White House.

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