Yes, believe it or not, he can still win. By any reasonable, normal standards, last week’s first presidential debate and its aftermath should have banished any lingering notion that Donald Trump could be taking the inaugural oath next January 20.
If the debate had been a boxing match the referee would have stopped the contest, and the vanquished contender would have hastened to move on. But Trump, congenitally unable to let an attack pass unanswered, didn’t move on. Instead he turned the weight problems of a former beauty queen into the campaign’s main issue. Has no-one told him how he’s trailing by 25 per cent or more among women?
And similar potential for disaster lies a few days off. His next match up with Hillary Clinton comes in St Louis next Sunday, this time a town hall format that is likely to be even more unfavourable to Trump, where members of the live audience ask the questions, and where his scowling braggadocio will be even less appealing. At the minimum, a modicum of preparation would seem in order. A wiser course, as his consigliere Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York has suggested, might be to skip the last two debates entirely.
Meanwhile Clinton continues to feast on the banquet of Trump blunders. It’s smart to pay no taxes if you can, he said during the debate, giving credence to rumours of what the unreleased tax returns of our self-described multi-billionaire might contain. Well if so, she was quick to retort, what does that say about the suckers who actually pay them? So much for Donald Trump, champion of the little guy.
Meanwhile controversy grows over the Trump Foundation, the “charity” that if not a personal piggy bank, is little more than a cog in the Trump empire’s financial machinations, and which was not even certified as a charity in the great man’s home state of New York. By comparison, the much vilified Clinton Foundation, a genuinely philanthropic body, comes across as saintly.
It is further suggested that Trump might in the past have breached US sanctions laws against Cuba – not recommended either from a legal standpoint, or if you’re trying to win the votes of anti-Castro Cuban exiles in the vital swing state of Florida. And let us not forget Trump University, described as a scam by many disappointed former enrolees and subject of two class action lawsuits.
But none of this matches Donald Trump’s slights against the fairer sex. If he is to win on November 8, he must attract more women voters, who accounted for 53 per cent of turnout in 2012. Instead he seemingly goes out of his way to alienate them.
He’s already more than enough coarsened political discourse here. Now, to the consternation of his wiser advisers, he talks about resuscitating Bill Clinton’s exhaustively documented infidelities. History has proved that whenever the matter arises, public sympathy for the Hillary, the wronged woman, tends to grow. Imagine Trump, no mean philanderer himself, holding forth about Monica Lewinsky in St Louis next Sunday? Alas, it’s all too easy to imagine.
Last but not least is a string of telling newspaper endorsements. The Cincinnati Enquirer, The Dallas Morning News and The Arizona Republic have backed every Republican candidate since Babe Ruth was in his prime. All three have now come out for Clinton (and have lost subscribers as a result.) Endorsements don’t matter, it is said. But ones like these, going against the ingrained instincts of 90 years or more, can only give waverers cause for thought. USA Today meanwhile, which had never taken sides in an election in its 34-year existence, on Friday ran a front page editorial declaring that Trump was “unfit for the presidency.”