When a major-party presidential campaign undergoes the process of scrutinizing potential running mates, it’s incredibly difficult. Pulling together a list of candidates, combing through their backgrounds, evaluating the political costs and benefits to each, it’s all quite challenging, even for experienced teams of professionals. Put an erratic, easily confused amateur at the top of the operation, and it becomes that much more difficult.
But once a running mate is chosen, everything is supposed to get much easier. Schedule an announcement, register a website, design a logo, and prepare for the convention. Piece of cake. Candidates for national office deal with a variety of demanding tests; this isn’t one of them.
So how in the world is Donald Trump managing to screw this up so badly?
On MSNBC today, Kelly O’Donnell reported on details that further undermine confidence in the presumptive Republican nominee:
“Even last night, when Donald Trump was in California, he was making some phone calls to try to assess if he was locked in to the [Mike] Pence choice or if he could make a change…. Sources said he was reaching out, looking for a way to make a change.”
Now, it’s worth noting that campaign officials have pushed back against these reports. Then again, it’s clear that sources close to the candidate are telling several major news organizations about Trump’s uncertainty – and desire as recently as last night to undo what was done.
Is there anything about this process that’s reassuring? Trump made a decision, then wondered if he could get out of it. Trump scheduled an announcement, then delayed it, then made the announcement anyway. The logo is the subject of ridicule. The campaign neglected to register the necessary url domain names. Even the convention’s finances and speakers’ list is a mess.
Has any of this gone right? This is the kind of administration voters can expect for four years?
Of course, it’s not just today. Trump’s staff is a mess. His field operation is an embarrassment. His campaign finances aren’t much better.
It’s usually at about this point when conservative readers ask, “Oh, yeah? Well if Trump’s entire campaign operation is such a joke, why is he only trailing Hillary Clinton by a few points? Shouldn’t this be a blowout if he and his team are so incompetent?”
These are perfectly legitimate questions, and the truth is, the vast majority of Americans don’t know or care that Trump is a bad candidate who’s completely incapable of overseeing a functioning political operation. Much of the mainstream has some sense of Trump’s message and they’re either prepared to support it or not.
The fact that Trump can’t even introduce his running mate without slipping on a banana peel may be a very bad sign, but for much of the country, it’s also political minutiae.
The broader question, however, is whether there’s a breaking point at which Team Trump’s dysfunction catches up with them. In crunch time, when the candidate and the party need to execute an effective plan to win the White House, and the GOP ticket is up against real political pros, will the fact that neither Trump nor his staff have any idea what they’re doing pose a problem, or will tens of millions of Americans just not care enough to be bothered?
It’s a political-science case study playing out before our very eyes.