2016 Elections

The Self-Driving Candidate

What the Republican candidate's speech on the Orlando massacre told us.

The self-driving candidate.

Photographer: Matthew Cavanaugh/Getty Images

Hillary Clinton delivered a substantive and somewhat bipartisan speech on Monday about the massacre in Orlando, Florida. She offered a number of specific-sounding prescriptions and recalled George W. Bush’s respect for the Muslim community.

Donald Trump? He started by bragging about himself and hinting that Barack Obama might be part of a plot against the U.S. Then he delivered a speech so full of flat-out falsehoods that the New York Times and the Washington Post adopted, as the Washington Examiner’s Byron York noted, a “new tone in straight-news general election reporting.”

The Post’s news story referred to “a speech laden with falsehoods and exaggeration,” while the Times said it was “rife with the sort of misstatements and exaggerations that have typified his campaign.” Neither newspaper relied on attributions like “some contend” or “many believe.”

This is highly unusual, particularly in coverage of a major-party presidential candidate. And it isn’t just another indicator of how different Trump’s character, temperament and political strategy are compared with those of other nominees, past and present. It also highlights the still-underappreciated fact that he barely has a campaign. 

Clinton’s response was similar to what Joe Biden or Martin O’Malley or Senator Sherrod Brown or Senator Amy Klobuchar would have delivered if one of them had been the presumptive Democratic nominee. Even Elizabeth Warren, who to date has shown little interest in national security, or Bernie Sanders might have sounded the same notes on both terrorism and guns. 

That is because any Democratic nominee would have had most of the same people working for him or her: similar policy advisers, speechwriters, communications experts and political strategists. Clinton isn’t backed by Hillary Clinton people (or Bill Clinton people). She’s backed by the Democratic Party.

Normally, the Republican Party would be fully supporting the Republican nominee. That’s simply not the case right now. 

Thus, even if he wanted to, Trump probably doesn’t have the ability to put together a serious policy speech on 24 hours’ notice, even on issues he has made central to his campaign -- like the terrorist threat. 

His shortage of resources is particularly glaring on foreign policy, where a large part of the Republican professional class that works on national security actively opposes Trump.

Reports indicate that the candidate’s daughter and son-in-law are part of the small team that drafted Trump’s speech. They and the handful of all-purpose experts who have signed onto the Trump campaign may simply not know much about the specific subjects at hand. 

We can’t say how much all of this will matter to the outcome on Election Day. If it hurt him in the primaries and caucuses, it wasn’t enough to prevent him from knocking out the other candidates. But without a serious policy shop or experienced speechwriters or even without the event planners and communications professionals who handle the mechanics of a presidential run, his campaign appears to be a vehicle careening along after half of its nuts and bolts have fallen off.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

    To contact the author of this story:
    Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

    To contact the editor responsible for this story:
    Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net

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