Losing politicians rarely miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Donald Trump is undefeated in political races, but he missed a major opportunity on Thursday night.
During a friendly interview at a town hall event in Wisconsin — a state he needs to win and collect its 10 Electoral College votes – Fox News commentator and host Sean Hannity lobbed what in basketball terms should have been alley-oop for the president.
All Mr Trump had to do was elevate, catch the ball, slam it through the proverbial hoop, and pose for the MAGA gear-wearing crowd gathered inside the Green Bay airport hangar.
But the president never got off the court, the metaphorical political ball sailed over his and way out of play.
And suddenly, Mr Trump and his top campaign advisers have a bigger problem than his declining poll numbers, a coronavirus-hobbled economy, and his own struggles handling health and race relationships crises that have further divided an already-tribal country.
The president appears to have no concise vision of why he is seeking a second term, and no agenda if voters hand him, as his supporters chant often, “four more years.”
Mr Hannity played the role of point guard as he and Mr Trump thundered down the court after spending a good chunk of the hour-long town hall talking about Mr Trump’s favourite conspiracy theories and the “deep state.” Happy to appease both the president and his nightly conservative viewers, Mr Hannity hung a perfect pass for Mr Trump that hung near the rim.
“What’s at stake in this election as you compare and contrast, and what are your top priority items for a second term?” he asked.
What followed cannot be overstated as a disastrous moment for both Mr Trump and his campaign team.
“Well, one of the things that will be really great, you know, the word experience is still good. I always say talent is more important than experience. I’ve always said that. But the word experience is a very important word. It’s a very important meaning,” Mr Trump said without ever explaining which is more important.
He has during his term bragged about being a gut player with impeccable instincts. Even his top aides, as Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany did last Friday while trying to dismiss allegations former national security adviser John Bolton‘s claims of an ill-equipped president, now say Mr Trump listens to conflicting viewpoints then follows his “gut.”
“I often see rigorous debate, and the president uses his gut and makes the best decision as to how to move forward,” she told reporters.
The president appeared to begin talking up his racking up four years of experience handling US domestic and foreign affairs, before shifting back to his self-described God-given talents. Perhaps that is because Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, has devoted most of his adult life in the Senate then as vice president to the very issues on which Mr Trump has been focused for just four.
Mr Biden could challenge any argument about experience even if he has not been the one to make the final call. Still, however, experience is not a reason for seeking any office. And it doesn’t always resonate with voters — see former Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s loss to Mr Trump in 2016.
‘I was from Manhattan’
The president could have stopped there, probably after repeating his now-standard line about having built a rocking economy once and saying he wanted to rebuild it during a second term. Instead, he only compounded his newest problem.
“I never did this before. I never slept over in Washington. I was in Washington, I think, 17 times, all of the sudden, I’m the president of the United States. You know the story, I’m riding down Pennsylvania Avenue with our first lady and I say, ‘This is great.’ But I didn’t know very many people in Washington, it wasn’t my thing,” he said.
“I was from Manhattan, from New York. Now I know everybody. And I have great people in the administration,” the president said. “You make some mistakes, like you know an idiot like Bolton, all he wanted to do is drop bombs on everybody. You don’t have to drop bombs on everybody. You don’t have to kill people.”
Even some Trump supporters will have to question what the questionable-from-the-start hiring of a neoconservative hawk by a populist-isolationst commander in chief has to do with his second-term agenda.
Mr Trump’s whiff on Thursday night only appeared to confirm what some Democrats have been saying for a few weeks: Mr Trump only wants to win, and has no plans for what he would do after potentially being inaugurated a second time.
“The speech has now lasted for about 90 minutes. Can anyone name a single policy initiative that Trump will pursue if he’s elected to a second term?” former Barack Obama aide Jon Favreau tweeted Saturday night during Mr Trump’s return to the campaign trail at a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
It’s not just Democrats, however, who sense trouble for the GOP incumbent.
“He’s the president of the United States,” Steve Bannon, Mr Trump’s 2016 campaign chief and former White House chief strategist. “He’s not a candidate. You act like [the] president of the United States. You take action like the president of the United States. You govern like you are president of the United States, you are going to be re-elected.”
“We don’t need rallies,” Mr Bannon said during a radio interview. “We need the president, five days a week, out there doing those types of things, showing people he, as president, is the driver of action.”
But Mr Trump’s latest self-inflicted wound came hours before the Center for Responsive Politics, an independent group that tracks campaign donations and spending, suggested what was the president’s massive campaign war chest is dwindling.
“President Donald Trump still has a cash advantage over Democratic challenger Joe Biden, but his lead is far smaller than it was just a few months ago,” the center said in a statement. “Biden raised $36 million in May compared to Trump’s $25 million. That’s the first time Biden out-raised Trump in a single month this year. And Biden’s low-key, mostly virtual campaign spent just over $11 million while Trump blew through almost all of his monthly fundraising haul.”
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