Trump needs a debate win. Bigly.
Time is running out for a course correction
DONALD TRUMP SORELY needs to turn in a strong debate performance this weekend. The last two weeks have brought a near-constant stream of bad news for the Republican candidate:
- After the first debate, every scientific poll showed Trump lost to Hillary Clinton by a wide margin.
- Trump made matters worse after the debate by spending the next few days attacking a former Miss Universe Clinton mentioned in the closing minutes of the debate.
- Meanwhile, news reports have dug into his business dealings in Cuba and elsewhere.
- The activities of his charitable foundation have again been called into question.
- The revelation that he lost over $900 million in a single year has raised questions about his business acumen and how much he pays in taxes.
The one recent bright spot for Trump was his running mate Mike Pence winning the vice presidential debate by a narrow margin. But Pence’s win was blunted by post-debate coverage focusing on his inability (or unwillingness) to defend the statements and positions of the top of the ticket. Either way, vice presidential debates typically have little or no impact on the race for the White House.
Polls have reacted to Trump’s struggles, giving Clinton a post-debate bounce both nationally and in most swing states. Depending on the forecast, Clinton is nearing or even over the 270 electoral votes needed to secure the White House. To win, Trump would need to win nearly all the remaining battlegrounds, or even flip a state or two from blue to red.
Trump is already at a disadvantage in early voting because he lacks the kind of turnout operation the Clinton campaign has up and running in battleground states. Throughout the campaign cycle, Trump has had fewer offices, staffers, and resources dedicated to bringing his voters to the polls. The Clinton campaign’s ground operation, on the other hand, will press their advantage, banking votes ahead of the Election Day push.
All this makes Sunday night that much more important for Trump. Expectations will be low after the first debate, which could work in his favor. The campaign is sending mixed signals about his preparations for the event, which will be a town hall format. Last night Trump did something like that in New Hampshire, but reports from the event indicate it was shorter than Sunday’s debate, and with a largely friendly audience, questions, and moderator (Boston’s own Howie Carr). Trump himself denied it was meant to prepare him for the main event. “They were saying this is practice for Sunday. This isn’t practice,” Trump told the crowd.Practice or not, the stakes are “yuge” for Trump Sunday night. If he stumbles again, he may have lost his best chance to get back in the race. The third and final debate is 10 days later. That’s 10 days closer to an Election Day that may already be too close for a Trump comeback.
Rich Parr is research director at The MassINC Polling Group.