No one can accuse Kellyanne Conway of complacency. She is already preparing for post-election recriminations.
Donald Trump’s campaign manager has recently cited Hillary Clinton’s financial advantage, media bias, and President Barack Obama’s popularity as reasons Trump should be losing to Clinton even more badly. She also floated the stabbed-in-the-back thesis: “We have the Never Trumpers,” she said in a MSNBC interview, “who are costing us 4 or 5 percent in places.”
No one can doubt that Trump is at a financial disadvantage (which is why he either should have spent more of his purported $10 billion on his campaign, or built a serious fundraising operation); that the media hate him (it also hated Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, who won four presidential elections between them); or that Obama is popular (alas).
It is the claim about Never Trump that is risible, and will set the stage for the initial hostilities in the impending post-election Republican Civil War.
The Trump forces have never gotten their story straight about Never Trump. At times, the GOP’s internal opposition is supposed to be irrelevant; at other times, it is invested with more sinister significance than the Doctors’ Plot at the height of Josef Stalin’s paranoia. Which is it?
It was never right to call Never Trump a movement; it is a motley collection of conservative commentators, political professionals, policy experts, and a handful of politicians who had the (not particularly stunning) foresight to see that Trump would be the weakest and most vulnerable of the Republican general-election candidates and the (not particularly acute) discernment to recognize in him qualities unsuited to the presidency.
The arguments between Never Trump and its critics are fascinating and important, but it is fantastical to consider them electorally decisive in a contest with some 130 million voters.
Prior to the first debate, Trump had more uniform party support than Hillary Clinton in some polls. Gallup shows Trump’s favorability rating among Republicans has been steadily falling since. He was at 72 percent favorable and 26 percent unfavorable in late September. Now, he’s at 63-34.
This is unsurprising, given his jaw-droppingly self-destructive past month. Never Trumpers didn’t advise Trump not to prepare for the first debate; they didn’t tell him to attack Alicia Machado and tweet foolish things in the middle of the night; they didn’t sanction him saying lewd things on tape, or allegedly groping women; they didn’t recommend charging the election is “rigged.”
All of that is on the campaign, and especially the candidate. For more than a year, Trump has had the biggest megaphone on the planet. His performance has mattered more than what any columnist or blogger says about him.
And Trump has damaged himself, especially among voters already leery of him. Data from NBC News has Clinton leading by 26 points in the inner suburbs, 10 points better than Obama’s margin over Mitt Romney in these areas.
To think this is the work of Never Trump, you have to imagine moderate suburban women intensely following the intraconservative debate over Trump and changing their allegiances based on the latest Twitter flame war. Anyone who believes this has probably never been to a kid’s soccer practice.
If Trump thought he needed any of his conservative critics or reluctant endorsers, he could have actively sought to allay their concerns and conduct himself and his campaign more rationally. But the fundamental conceit of his campaign was that he could do it his own way, and win. With the exception of the month prior to the first debate, he has indeed done it his own way, and is losing.
Should Trump come up short against a desperately flawed Hillary Clinton, it will be his failure and his alone. So if Kellyanne Conway is preparing for the blame game, the first thing she should do is direct the candidate’s attention to what is surely one of his favorite household accoutrements: the mirror.
— Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.