Donald Trump’s surge in the polls isn’t just the result of the usual bump presidential candidates historically enjoy after they sew up the nomination. Nor is it the result of voters’ concerns with Hillary Clinton. Trump is surging, even overtaking the Democrat, for three reasons.
1. Trump has given Mrs. Clinton a new moniker that is sticking: “Crooked Hillary.” He never mentions her on social media without the “Crooked” prefix. The same tactic worked for “Lyin’ Ted” Cruz, “Low Energy Jeb” Bush, and “Little Marco” Rubio. It is critical that a candidate frame his or her opponent with quick, snappy descriptors. I’m not sure where Trump learned to do this, but he has it down to a fine art.
2. The GOP presumptive nominee is hitting the right issues. Trump is focusing on persuadable voters. For example, he is hitting her on gun rights, calling her a “gun grabber.” He snipes daily on the debacle that is Syria. He reminds of Clinton’s ties to Wall Street. As a result, though he has erased a 15-point deficit in the polls, that is because he has driven her numbers down. (His numbers are barely up.)
3. Mr. Trump keeps playing the Islam card. He blamed the EgyptAir crash on terrorism with zero evidence. He never misses a chance to talk about “the wall.” His message is simple. “We live in a dangerous world, the bad guys are coming after us, and we need to get them before they get us.” Defining “them” is not important to Trump. Tying the former Secretary of State to “them” is important. And he does it well. Is this fear-mongering? Of course it is. And it works well in 2016.
For her part, Mrs. Clinton is making all the wrong moves. She is blasting him in the same mold as Bush, Cruz, et al. It didn’t work for them and it won’t work for her. She is running scared of Bernie Sanders, having just backed out of a final debate. She is scripted, careful, and meticulously precise. And none of that works today.
There are usually about five percent of the voters who are persuadable. This year that number is closer to 15 percent. That is good news for Trump, because it puts states like Pennsylvania and Michigan in play.
Mrs. Clinton is using the old play book. She calls the plays in the huddle, and is totally predictable. Trump, on the other hand, is running a spread offense. He makes up plays at the line of scrimmage. He’s unpredictable. Mrs. Clinton is the 1960 Chicago Bears. You can see them on ESPN Classic. Mr. Trump is the 2016 New England Patriots. You can see them in the annual Super Bowl. And that’s why Trump has a chance. Tom Brady and the Patriots keep it interesting, even for those of us who don’t like them. But the 1960 Bears? Most of us have moved on.