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Donald Trump Has Gone Under the Boat

11.02.16 09:43 AM – Andy McDonald
There’s a scene in Steven Spielberg’s classic film “Jaws” that illustrates just where we are in the current presidential race.

At one point in the 1975 thriller, the crusty shark hunter, Quint, believes he’s finally hooked the Great White shark that has been terrorizing a New England island. As he struggles in vain to reel in the monster, a puzzled Quint remarks, “Either he’s very, very smart, or he’s very, very dumb. But he’s gone under the boat.”

That’s Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump during this final week of the campaign. He’s gone under the boat. He’s made his choice. Now we’re waiting to see if that choice is genius or an ultimately fatal blunder.

With less than seven days left on the campaign clock, Trump is venturing into blue states in an attempt to get to 270 electoral votes. When asked why Trump was not spending more time cultivating his seemingly narrow leads in Florida and Ohio – places he absolutely must win to become president - Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, conceded to a New York Times reporter that it was Donald Trump who was making the decisions, and that he opted to make bids to win Michigan and Wisconsin.

That perhaps captures the most significant difference between the Republican and Democratic presidential campaigns. Trump is his own field general. He’ll listen to political advisors up to a point, then he makes strategic decisions on a very visceral level. He probably figures his approach has gotten him this close to the presidency of the United States, so why change now?

Clinton, meanwhile, is doing things by the book. She’s out-fundraised Trump, and she’s taken a page from the Obama playbook and set up the same kind of get-out-the-vote ground game that handily defeated her and John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012.

If this was a normal presidential election, Clinton would be out-running Trump without breaking a sweat. But just one of Clinton’s problems is this may not be a presidential election where the standard rules apply. Clinton’s plan for victory is based on the assumption that polling data can correctly identify the specific battlegrounds where she should deploy her resources to stop Trump. Trump, by contrast, is again trying to defy the rules of political gravity by gambling that Clinton’s strategic assessments are wrong. If the polls are misleading, in Trumps view, so is the data that leads to underlying assumptions that he has no chance of winning in certain battleground states like Wisconsin and Michigan. Clinton is going by the data. Trump is going by his gut.

In another puzzling strategy, the Trump campaign has eschewed setting up the kind of ground game to match Clinton’s – a sprawling get-out-the-vote network of volunteers who will make sure Clinton's base gets to the polls. It’s a case in which Trump’s ego just may have gotten in the way of good planning. What do I need a ground game for, Trump might be asking himself. People love me. Just look at my crowds. Mitt Romney thought the same thing.

If Clinton proves right and she manages to deprive Trump of the presidency by winning Florida, Ohio or North Carolina while he’s off chasing an upset in Pennsylvania, Michigan or Wisconsin, Donald Trump will suffer the ignominious distinction of being an even bigger choker than Mitt Romney. Political historians will paint him as a political megalomaniac, a Hitler-esque figure who snatched control away from his seasoned political generals, so to speak, only to pilot his cause to disaster. The shark will have proven very, very dumb.

If, however, Donald Trump’s instincts are right, and if he has correctly calculated that the long-understood laws of political physics have been turned on their heads, then Donald Trump may be poised for a stunning electoral upset. If that happens, Trump will enjoy the last laugh. The shark will have proven far smarter and more deadly than his opponents allowed themselves to admit.

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