Trump Needs Message Discipline

GOP nominee needs can stop defections, regain voters' trust by finally adhering tightly to the issues

After an “Access Hollywood” recording from 2005 made its way to The Washington Post on Friday, the campaign of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump was embroiled in chaos.

But this time, the chaos was not caused by something Trump said this year or on Twitter this week.

One of the reasons so many Republicans defected over the weekend was likely a reaction to an earlier breakdown in Trump’s message discipline.

It was caused by an 11-year-old video. Trump’s response to the furor initially showed discipline.

Trump canceled events and issued an apology — the first ever from the campaign or the candidate. He then issued a new apology via video message late Friday night.

It was unusual for Trump, who believes an apology is a form of retreat and shows weakness. He may be following leftover advice from years past, when his former consultant Roger Stone told media outlets, “Above all, attack, attack, attack — never defend.”

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That is good advice for a primary campaign, perhaps. It’s bad advice for the October before a presidential election. The GOP has historically had a problem with female voters. Trump cannot win without cutting into Clinton’s lead among women, especially white women and college-educated women.

Trump went silent for a time as the campaign huddled on Saturday. It must have been hard for Trump to go so silent, as he once believed all publicity is good publicity. And he loves to take swipes at his enemies on Twitter. In fact, he did take a few shots on Twitter.

“Certainly has been an interesting 24 hours!” he tweeted Saturday morning. He then retweeted statements from Juanita Broaddrick, who has insisted for years that President Bill Clinton raped her in the 1970s, when he was Arkansas’ attorney general.

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It was a message to Hillary Clinton: I will be coming after your scandals this month, and at Sunday’s debate. It may not be the best strategy, but it is what is expected.

But Trump had a problem over the weekend: He kept bleeding GOP support after the publication of his 2005 remarks. He lost the endorsements of U.S. Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Mike Crapo of Idaho. Republican congressional members and state leaders in die-hard GOP states Utah and Alabama also fled Trump.

“Trump’s base isn’t walking away, but his comments are likely going to alienate independents, moderates, and women in battleground states he needs to win,” said Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist and former congressional leadership aide, in a statement to Bloomberg News.

Trump has not reacted well to the defections.

“So many self-righteous hypocrites. Watch their poll numbers — and elections — go down!” Trump tweeted Sunday morning.

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But the GOP nominee cannot go on this way.

One of the reasons so many Republicans defected over the weekend was likely a reaction to an earlier breakdown in Trump’s message discipline.

After the first presidential debate on Sept. 26 at Hofstra University, Trump began an unfortunate series of slips and slides. It culminated with a tweet at 5:16 a.m. on Sept. 30 about a former Miss Universe who charged Trump had called her fat.

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On Friday, before the “Access Hollywood” tape leaked, Trump brought up the issue of the “Central Park Five,” a group of men wrongfully accused of rape in the Manhattan park. Evidence finally exonerated the men in 2002 after a suspect confessed.

The five accused men were black. The issue was a thorny one. But at the time, in 1989, the young men appeared guilty and at least one admitted to the brutal rape. Trump was furious then, and took out a front-page ad calling for New York State to reinstate the death penalty for capital offenses.

Why Trump would wade into either issue now is a mystery. Attacking third parties in politics is folly. You attack your opponent on issues or you stay home. Trump risks alienating moderate voters he needs.

Republican frustration began again, a slowly bubbling cauldron. When Trump’s past 2005 remarks were unearthed, the hot cauldron spilled over.

Republican fury was quick and angry. Two U.S. senators in re-election battles, Rob Portman of Ohio and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, said they would not vote for Trump. Most Republicans blamed the 2005 remarks for their defections. Many others likely fear more leaked footage coming from NBC and other outlets.

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All of this might not have happened had Trump stayed focused on a tight clutch of issues: the mediocre recovery, jobs, wages, trade, and national security. And when he needed to attack, he could torment Hillary Clinton about her missing emails, her near-indictment by the FBI (and her lies about classified material), and the recent WikiLeaks material on her paid speeches to moneyed audiences.

Instead, Trump seems to be already eyeing revenge upon his critics, to be first executed on Twitter, which is his modus operandi. But he instead must tend to the issues.

Trump only has two real hurdles today. One is Democrat Hillary Clinton. That’s the major one.

The other one is message discipline, from today until Nov. 8. He must adhere to it. If he does, it’s likely many voters will forgive his past transgressions and be won over on the issues.

meet the author

Political reporter, LifeZette. Indiana University journalism grad. Boston U. business grad. Former Indiana, Alabama statehouse reporter, Daytona Beach editorial writer.

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