Bob Corker may have taken himself out of the Veepstakes, but that doesn’t mean he’s taken himself off the short list of surrogates for Donald Trump. “He’s tapped the American psyche in a way that no candidate that I can remember in modern times has tapped,” the Senator from Tennessee told Joe Scarborough on Morning Joe today, and that “it’s his race to lose.” Corker also extolled the qualities of the Trump family and Trump himself, calling the presumptive Republican nominee “one of the most courteous, kind, respectful” people he knows.
That might be a wee bit difficult to square with the public persona of a candidate whose pastime is assigning derogatory nicknames to his opponents and critics, but YMMV:
SCARBOROUGH: Some would say tragedies of this campaign, that Donald Trump is not in front of the camera like he is behind the camera and that he is extraordinarily courteous behind the camera, at least in the ten, eleven years that Mika and I have known him, he — we’ve never seen the Donald Trump in person that he shows the rest of the world when he’s behind a microphone.
CORKER: Yeah. Joe, you remember the — they had a documentary on Mitt Romney six months after the race was over and people watched it and they say, where was that during the campaign? And you know, I think that, again, there has got to be a way during this campaign to humanize him. Whether they do that or not, just for what it’s worth.
Again, I think it’s — I really believe it’s his race to lose. I think the momentum is there. He’s tapped the American psyche in a way that no candidate that I can remember in modern times has tapped and, you know, he’s got a lot of — lot more momentum than I think people see and believe.
Corker notes that Trump hadn’t garnered a lot of resources yet, at least at the point in time in which the two men shared a full day together, but Corker declared himself impressed with the efficiency with which those limited resources were used:
And so, you know, I was with him for like eight hours so, you know — in the early portion of the meeting sharing that, then enables you to really talk more fully and candidly just about the campaign, where they are going, what they are doing.
And I got to tell you, I think Americans would be shocked at how much they are doing with so little. And I say that complimentary. Look, I think it’s his race to lose. I really do. I saw Mark. I know he was on your program earlier today in Raleigh. The reaction of people to him is something that needs to be — people need to behold.
All this may be true, but it speaks to maintenance of base appeal, not expansion of it. That was one of the problems with the Romney campaign, too — the assumption that Republicans could rely on base turnout without having the candidate appeal to a wider electorate. Romney was a candidate who had that potential appeal, but the strategy was to stick to Romney being a “severe conservative” to distinguish him from Obama, and to use national messaging and big events to drive voter turnout rather than work from the ground up to connect emotionally with swing voters.
That doesn’t preclude this strategy from being theoretically possible in 2016, of course. Trump isn’t Romney — he’s much more of a showman — and Republicans aren’t running against an incumbent. The measures of success for candidates in the middle of campaigns are polling and fundraising, though, and Trump trails so far in both measures.
Right now, it doesn’t look like it’s his race to lose, as Corker puts it, but that he has some work to do to catch Hillary. And if it is his race to lose, Chris Cillizza points out that at times it seems like he’s trying to do just that:
You can love Donald Trump. You can hate him. But what you cannot dispute is that the way he has run his campaign since winning the Republican nomination two months ago has been absolutely disastrous. …
But, there are basic blocking and tackling elements of any campaign thatare less complex — and absolutely necessary to do if you want to win. The most basic of all? If your opponent is having a bad day or a bad week, let them have it. Just get out of the way.
For example: When Hillary Clinton found herself at the wrong end of a scathing report about her email practices delivered by FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday, Trump would have done well to, literally, talk about nothing other than that for the rest of the week — and maybe even the rest of the month! …
Malpractice is a harsh word. But there’s no other word for taking a good day and turning it not only into a bad day but potentially a bad week or a bad month. Winning campaigns play up their strengths and downplay their flaws. Trump seems committed to doing just the opposite.
His meeting with Senate Republicans, clearly a move to try to get them to support his candidacy, appears to be another data point for Cillizza’s take. At the very least, it shows that the campaign and the candidate have not yet transitioned from the strategy to win a plurality in a crowded primary field to a winning strategy to secure a majority across the general electorate in November.