This morning, on the radio, I heard a political analyst make the point that "it's difficult to say that [Donald Trump] he is trying to win." Or, at the very least, his campaign had hit upon a strategy that wasn't likely to work.
Whenever I hear that someone is doing something nonsensical, a reflex kicks in that prompts me to ask under what circumstances it would make sense. And so I started thinking about it. I recalled seeing a headline, somewhere along the way, in which Donald Trump said that about two-thirds of people who backed him were die-hards who would support him no matter what he did or said. Let's say that he honestly believes this to be true. (Now, as a politician and a showman, it's hard to be sure of what Mr. Trump actually believes, and what's part of the act, but let's say, for the sake of argument, that he really does believe this part.)
For all that people may think that Hillary Clinton is the far better candidate of the two, it's unlikely that her level of die-hard support is that high. I pulled a 50% number out of thin air, and when I spoke to a couple of people I knew, they floated the same number, so let's go with that. Using those numbers we can cobble together a chart that looks something like this:
|All numbers completely fabricated.|
The dark red bar represents our hypothetical die-hard pro-Trump voter. The lighter red bar can be thought of as anti-Clinton voters - people who are voting for Donald Trump as the lesser evil, as it were. And, of course, we can view the blue bars in the same way: Dark blue being strongly pro-Clinton and light blue being less invested anti-Trump voters. To use standard polling-speak, you can contrast the committed voter with the voter who merely leans towards a candidate.
It's often said that Donald Trump is more focused on his die-hard base of support than he is is trying to appeal to voters outside of it. And if you think that the actually electorate looks something like this chart, you can come up with a workable theory as to why. If Mr. Trump can sow enough Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt to get the light blue portion of the voting public to "stay home" on Election Day, he wins, even if that costs him all of the light red portion. (Conversely, Hillary Clinton can carry the day by mobilizing the light blue portion to turn out, even if that means that the light red portion shows up to cast a vote against her.) Everyone in the blue section of the chart (as well as those voters who don't support either one of them strongly enough to show up) are effectively write-offs; the Trump campaign has no interest in inducing them to defect. Hence the negative tone of the campaign; negativity doesn't convert voters, it simply makes them apathetic. And if you're attempting to stage the election between only the die-hards in each camp, apathy is your friend.
Because of the way the Electoral college works, there are really only a few states in which this can, or needs to, work. Blue states are going to vote for Mrs. Clinton, regardless of what strategy Mr. Trump uses, and the Red states are in the bag. So there are only the swing states that Trump needs to influence in this way.
Is this the actual plan? Don't ask me, I came up with it while brushing my teeth this morning. But it strikes me as a framework that one can place Donald Trump's actions into that lends them rationality, rather than randomness. And it's unlikely that someone who can get this close to becoming President of the United States, win or loose, is random.