With twelve days to go, the Trump campaign knows that it is losing and losing badly. According to a new Bloomberg Businessweek story, Trump’s internal polling is “similar” to Nate Silver’s aggregate models, which currently give Trump only a 16.2 percent chance of winning and show him trailing in Ohio, North Carolina, Florida, Nevada, and Iowa. The campaign has “identified 13.5 million voters in 16 battleground states whom it considers persuadable,” but it knows that Trump has only one path to victory: shrinking the electorate.
In keeping with Trump’s often shocking forthrightness and commitment to turning Republican subtext into text, the Trump campaign was surprisingly open about this.
“We have three major voter suppression operations under way,” says a senior official. They’re aimed at three groups Clinton needs to win overwhelmingly: idealistic white liberals, young women, and African Americans. Trump’s invocation at the debate of Clinton’s WikiLeaks e-mails and support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership was designed to turn off Sanders supporters. The parade of women who say they were sexually assaulted by Bill Clinton and harassed or threatened by Hillary is meant to undermine her appeal to young women. And her 1996 suggestion that some African American males are “super predators” is the basis of a below-the-radar effort to discourage infrequent black voters from showing up at the polls—particularly in Florida.
There are two big takeaways here. The first is that this has been the Trump campaign’s most important tactic since the late summer, at least. Trump has consistently shown a high floor and a low ceiling—he has only polled about 44 percent in aggregate once, immediately after the RNC—which means that the only way to win is to take votes away from Clinton, who polling has shown has been more affected by third-party candidates than Trump. This is clearly a last-ditch strategy, the only card left in Trump’s deck, but it’s been the only card there for a while.
The second takeaway is that, as chilling as this plan sounds, the Trump campaign just isn’t very good at executing it. Bloomberg uses black voter suppression as a case study:
On Oct. 24, Trump’s team began placing spots on select African American radio stations. In San Antonio, a young staffer showed off a South Park-style animation he’d created of Clinton delivering the “super predator” line (using audio from her original 1996 sound bite), as cartoon text popped up around her: “Hillary Thinks African Americans are Super Predators.” The animation will be delivered to certain African American voters through Facebook “dark posts”—nonpublic posts whose viewership the campaign controls so that, as Parscale puts it, “only the people we want to see it, see it.” The aim is to depress Clinton’s vote total. “We know because we’ve modeled this,” says the official. “It will dramatically affect her ability to turn these people out.”
Maybe you have more faith in “South Park-style” animations than I do, but if that’s your best hope to stop people from voting, you’re probably screwed.