Sunday 18 February 2018

Headline-hogging strategy begins to backfire on Trump

US Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton smiles as she is introduced at a campaign event at the Futuramic Tool and Engineering firm in Warren, Michigan, this week. Picture Credit: Reuters/Chris Kean
US Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton smiles as she is introduced at a campaign event at the Futuramic Tool and Engineering firm in Warren, Michigan, this week. Picture Credit: Reuters/Chris Kean

Carole Coleman

Each new day, Republican nominee Donald Trump utters something more bizarre or incendiary than the day before.

It's as if the candidate keeps in his pocket a sliding scale list of people and groups he can insult or threaten - ranging from the questionably defensible to the utterly outrageous.

Consider Trump's early jibes at big money and the American media. Most observers merely nodded in agreement, even admiration.

Then came sexist and racist remarks against Mexicans and Muslims. When those propelled him forward, Trump decided to get personal - calling one Republican competitor "Little Rubio" and the other "Lying Ted". The verbal combat worked a dream, and on Trump went.

Sometimes you just have to laugh. Calling for a crying baby to be removed from his rally was just plain funny. Of course, a Trump event isn't a suitable formative experience for a young child. Out with the kid!

Across the political divide, the billionaire also won plaudits for suggesting Russia's hackers search for emails missing from Hillary Clinton's home-brew basement server.

Even his "Crooked Hillary" mantra is clever and catchy.

Since formally accepting the Republican nomination, Trump has been operating from the same playbook and hoping for the same result. By keeping up a steady flow of show-stopping statements, his name remains at the forefront of each news cycle. But where is Trump's opponent?

Some days there's little sign of Hillary Clinton. The woman touting 40 years of public service and an unrivalled electoral machine is neither seen nor heard. By simply opening his mouth, Trump blasts Clinton into media Siberia. Hillary could be calling for her two-year-old granddaughter to oversee the Defence Department. Yet she might not be heard over all the noise Trump generates.

But is his habit of hogging the spotlight working for Trump - or against him - in these crucial last months of the campaign?

During the primaries, Trump's pronouncements gained him as many followers among angry white men as he lost among other Republicans. While suffocating his competitors, Trump was able to mop up the support of countless citizens jaded by decades of political correctness. The more Trump ranted, the better things seemed to get.

Contrast this, however, with his more recent remarks criticising the Khan family, whose Muslim son died fighting for America. Trump's words crashed through the outer boundaries of decency and empathy. Yet still he clung to the game plan - speak first, think later.

Moreover, as key Republicans continued to pull away, Trump has doubled down on how gun rights advocates could stop Clinton from putting more liberals on the Supreme Court. Trump was hardly ambiguous. An assassination would indeed be a horrible day.

As during the primaries, Donald Trump's mouth keeps him atop the news. But his explosive statements now seem to linger - emitting a smell so noxious it makes the French president want to retch. All the lights, camera and action of this US presidential campaign won't clear the air.

So where's Hillary? Off in rural Pennsylvania and Ohio chatting up the locals. It's all love, peace and togetherness - or whatever she's preaching these days. With social and mass media chasing relentlessly after Trump, it apparently doesn't matter if Clinton inserts her foot into her mouth. As lead stories go, it's just not flashy enough.

A s presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin has noted, likeability is helpful in an election, but it's not the key attribute necessary to become president. Clinton has never liked campaigning, and the limelight is notoriously unkind to her. But Hillary has only to stay quiet while Trump self-destructs. She knows it's not wise to interrupt an opponent on a suicide mission, and her improving poll numbers prove it.

Trump's closest advisers - including his own family - may realise that his shoot-from-the hip style needs to be rapidly replaced with something kinder and gentler in the coming weeks.

But with each new day, it seems there is no other Donald Trump. I can't wait for the debates. Under pressure, people generally stay in their box, rather than step out.

Last-minute events - not personalities - will likely determine this election.

Carole Coleman is an RTÉ journalist and former Washington correspondent

Irish Independent

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