Just before Christmas in 2013, Donald Trump predicted how his presidential ambitions would go. "I'm going to get in and all the polls are going to go crazy. I'm going to suck all the oxygen out of the room. I know how to work the media in a way that they will never take the lights off of me," Politico reports him saying. And he was right. But it came at a cost.
In 2015, the summer of Trump, he made himself the most important issue of the Republican primary. Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio wanted to talk about upward mobility, instead they talked about how Trump can't "insult his way to the presidency" or called him irresponsible. Ted Cruz wanted to talk about the Constitution, but his most memorable campaign lines were about the Donald. First saying that he won't get in a "cage match" with him, then saying he was a pathological liar and narcissist. All Trump, all the time worked for Trump in a 17-candidate field with frequent debates. And all his opponents became defined by how they reacted to him: Jeb wilted; Rubio malfunctioned; Cruz embraced and then denied him.
But the Trump show, in its second summer, is not working for Trump. In fact, it is distracting from all the bad news that could be hurting Hillary Clinton. Think of what a normal Republican candidate, with normal big-party resources, and an acceptable level of party unity would have done with the following stories that relate to Clinton's judgment and competence:
1. FBI Director James Comey's lashing indictment of the careless way Clinton handled classified material, with the heavy implication that under normal circumstances a person would lose their security clearance for this behavior.
2. The renewed bombing campaigns over Libya, where Clinton's "smart power" foreign policy created chaos, cost thousands of human lives, and created a Mediterranean beachhead for ISIS.
3. The tax documents of the Clintons revealing that they give nearly all their charitable donations to the Clinton Foundation, whose resources pay for much of their family's travel, and for staff that spends most of their time serving them.
4. The Clinton Foundation's announcement that it would — soon, eventually — cease taking foreign and corporate donations, even though any fair reading of these gifts makes the foundation look like a form of legal bribery.
Clinton should be happy that all of these stories come out and Trump doesn't have the resources or the common sense to put her on the defensive about them in any serious or sustained way. A normal Republican would put pressure on her to answer questions from the media. A normal Republican would be flooding the airwaves in Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania detailing the foreign money that influences her decisions. A normal Republican would ask why our pilots are flying on the say-so of a barely legitimate Libyan government.
And putting Clinton on the defensive would likely cause her to make mistakes. She is horrible when she's on the spot. That's when she antagonizes the media against her, claiming she was "dead broke" in the days after buying a mansion in Chappaqua, or joking that you wipe a server "with a cloth." Alas, Trump's incompetent show goes on, and Clinton is able to focus her resources micro-targeting to every progressive group out there.
Occasionally, Trump tries in his awkward way to put in an effort, such as when he said that "Obama is the founder of ISIS." But the pattern over these news cycles is more telling. Trump is becoming known for clashing more with his party, and with his hired campaign staff more than with Clinton. For weeks, he has let his campaign be consumed by petty fighting with Paul Ryan, by his hiring decisions, even by his campaign's decision to source its internet strategy from random racist Twitter accounts.
Hillary Clinton should be thankful for the Trump show. "They will never take the lights off of me," he said. And so the light never shines on Hillary Clinton's pecuniary motives, her corrupted judgment, or her disastrous use of American air power in misbegotten wars. It never shines on the points of her campaign that demoralize the left wing or energize conservatives. It just stays on Trump, as his electoral hopes implode.
To put it very simply, the race for the presidency is a show in itself. And it is a fight. But Trump is fighting everyone but Clinton: the press, his former campaign managers, his children, and his own manifest lack of self-control.
If Trump wants to become president, he needs to cancel the Trump show, and replace it with something that actually features Hillary Clinton.