Since he burst into the American consciousness in the 1980s, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has carefully cultivated the image of a master salesman. More than anything else, Trump has thrived on his reputation as someone who can close a deal under difficult circumstances.
As Trump arrives in Gettysburg Saturday to begin the home stretch run of his presidential campaign, Trump faces possibly the most difficult sale of his life. The polls disagree about where he stands relative to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, but even the polls friendliest to Trump show him in a tie with the former Secretary of State.
However, the most daunting hurdle for Trump to overcome is not the fact that he is behind (or tied, if you prefer the daily tracking polls that have been friendlier to Trump), it is the fact that the voters who aren't already in his camp tend to overwhelmingly believe that he is not "fit" to hold the office — in other words, his ability to grow his base of support appears severely limited by the fact that undecided or persuadable voters simply cannot envision him in the role of President.
For instance, according to the most recent Quinnipiac poll, by a 58-38 margin, voters view Trump as "not fit to be President." Voters likewise aren't thrilled Clinton's fitness for the office, but by a much smaller margin, 47 percent to 49 percent. A recent Economist/YouGov poll tells the same tale: by a 52-37 margin, voters believe Hillary Clinton does have the right temperament to be president; however, by a 57-30 margin, voters do not believe Trump has the right temperament to be president.
The polls may be less than 100 percent clear about who is ahead and by how much, but they are in agreement about one key factor: Trump heads into the last two weeks of the election with a decided "fitness for the office" or "temperament" gap; and it is this gap, more than where the candidates stand on any particular issue, that is responsible for Trump's recent inability to reclaim his footing in the polls.
With that in mind, the Trump campaign arrives in Gettysburg, PA Saturday to kick off Trump's final pitch to voters — a pitch that is specifically designed to make voters comfortable with the idea of Trump sitting behind the desk in the oval office. In a location laden with symbolism as the site of the Confederacy's last meaningful stand in the Civil War, Trump plans to lay out a pragmatic vision of his first 100 days in office, in order to give potentially uneasy voters a glimpse of what Trump might do if America gives him the keys to the White House.
However, don't expect anything new in terms of policy from Team Trump, who believe they have already laid out a sufficient policy vision for America. According to Fox News:
"Trump will use the historic setting of Gettysburg where the country was saved,” a senior campaign source told Fox News. “He will lay out concise program that he will commit to execute on from first day in office.” . . .
Trump on Saturday is not expected to announce any new or major policy changes and will instead try to make a closing argument for him and his 16-month campaign platform, which includes tax reform, border security, rebuilding the U.S. military and cutting federal regulations.
“Our regulations are just taking over our country,” Trump told Fox News on Friday night. “We just cannot compete anymore.”
However campaign officials say Trump — whose withering attacks helped him beat 16 other major GOP candidates to win the party’s presidential nomination — will in Gettysburg continue to attack Clinton and draw distinctions between their respective visions for the country.
The challenge for Trump — who has remained unexpectedly competitive in spite of a string of controversies that have dogged his campaign since his announcement speech last July — might well be to stay out of his own way and avoid involving himself in controversies with members of his own party. Clinton's inability to put Trump away and the nonstop drip of damaging information released by Wikileaks from her campaign chairman John Podesta's email inbox have made many prominent Democrats nervous that the presidency might still be within Trump's reach in spite of an especially brutal last thirty days.
Trump, for his part, has promised that "the shackles have been taken off of me" and that he will spend the last few weeks of the campaign utilizing more of the bare-knuckled, improvisational style of speaking that he used in the primaries. He also made a show of physically dismantling his TelePrompTer during a rally in North Carolina last week. However, today's carefully scripted event in Gettysburg may signal that his campaign operatives have persuaded him to give a more disciplined approach one last try.