Now that the two major parties have their candidates locked down and the conventions are about to start, poll-watching season has begun in earnest. All across America, and indeed the globe, people are starting to draw conclusions from the aggregate polls at Huffington Post and Real Clear Politics. FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver, tarnished though his reputation may be after his initial dismissal of Trump’s chances in the GOP primaries, has regained his customary status as a Delphic Oracle of electoral politics.
Many polls show a tightening race, although some also show Clinton taking a commanding lead in the battleground states. None of this matters. Time spent poring over polls at this point is time wasted. Polls this early are rarely predictive in general elections. They’ll be much more valuable about a week after the Democratic convention, when a much larger chunk of the electorate has heard both sides and is paying attention.
Instead, focus on a crucial fact: The Trump campaign is in disarray, displaying a chaos rarely seen in national politics (since at least 1972, when George McGovern’s presidential run became a legendary shambles after his running mate dropping out because of reports about his mental history).
Consider these facts: Fundraising for both Trump and the RNC is terrible, with the latter reportedly sending out a last-minute plea to billionaire Sheldon Adelson to send them $6 million they need to just host the convention in Cleveland in a few days. The Trump campaign also leaked news that football player Tim Tebow was going to speak at the convention, but had to walk it back when the athlete denied the reports. The lineup for the convention was announced just a few days ago, long after it was promised, and 20 percent of those who will be addressing a national audience are members of the Trump family, including four of his five kids. While the Trumps will be out in full force at the convention, hundreds of Republican legislators are staying away.
But the best evidence of chaos in the Trump camp is the botched vice presidential announcement, which revealed a level of anarchy rarely seen outside of schoolyards at recess. Trump had been conducting a high-profile search, making Governor Chris Christie, retired Lt. General Mike Flynn, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and Governor Mike Pence perform before him like contestants at a beauty pageant. Trump’s manager and some members of the Trump family reportedly were leaning toward Pence, but Trump felt an emotional affinity for Christie and an intellectual respect for Gingrich.
A press conference announcing the selection was announced for Friday at 11 a.m. By all indications, Trump was going to choose Pence.
Then Trump got cold feet. Late on Thursday, he told Fox News, “I haven’t made a final, final decision.” He was reportedly angry that Pence’s staff had been leaking that the Indiana governor was the pick. Trump hadn’t definitively told Christie or Gingrich they were rejected. Apparently saying “you’re fired” comes easier to Trump on a reality show than in real life.
When news of the terrorist attack in Nice broke, Trump used it as an excuse to buy more time. He announced that the press conference was cancelled. According to campaign chairman Paul Manafort, this cancellation was because Trump “emotionally reacted” to the Nice attack. This allowed Gingrich and Flynn, in a last-minute bid, to go on Fox and fulminate against terrorism. Gingrich promised to “test” all Muslims for their beliefs and deport anyone who adheres to Sharia law, and Flynn started raving about how the long-dead Ayatollah Khomeini should apologize for the attack.
Finally, trying to regain mastery of a narrative spinning out of control, Trump tweeted this morning that he was going with Pence after all, with a news conference to follow on Saturday. The whole sorry spectacle shows that Trump’s campaign is riven by internal rivalries and that the cronies he’s surrounded himself with (and put on his vice-presidential shortlist) are ranting fools.
The state of the polls really don’t matter compared to the four-lane pile-up that is the Trump campaign. With his organization in such a mess, Trump has little chance of convincing those who aren’t already on board to support him. Indeed, he’s likely to lose voters over time. And he certainly won’t be able to field an effective get-out-the-vote push in competitive swing states. The chaos of the Trump campaign is the biggest story of the election, and the key indicator of where the race is headed.