By all objective measures, Trump has had probably his best week of the general election so far, by a considerable amount. He still is acting like a juvenile infant on Twitter, but against all expectations, he’s carved out a persona on the trail that has been downright sunny (by comparison to prior weeks). He beat both Obama and Hillary to the punch in showing up in Louisiana and by all accounts appearing to act like a more or less normal person. He seems to have made an effort to permanently put his grudges with other Republicans behind him. Hillary continues to suffer from an ongoing trickle of email related news, including another Wikileaks scandal that promises to add fuel to the “undisclosed health issue” fire, if Trump is inclined to use it.
And yet, Trump finds himself in a position of not reaping the benefits in the polls, or anywhere else. In fact, if anything, the polling news continues to get worse. Roanoke College released another poll yesterday which confirmed that Virginia likely is out of Trump’s reach for good; and Trump’s path to victory without Virginia and Colorado looks completely nonexistent. Trump isn’t picking up the major endorsements he’s been lacking or healing the divisions within the party that are currently dragging him down in the polls.
Trump is learning, belatedly, that he is subject to at least some of the ordinary rules of politics. And one of those rules is that most voters tend to make up their minds quickly and overcoming an extremely negative first impression can be almost impossible, especially if your opponent has a basically limitless war chest to spend on TV ads that remind everyone of your lowest moments. Just like most other electorates before it, the 2016 electorate tuned in to the convention and maybe the 4 or 5 days after that, made up their minds, and went straight to watching the Olympics and ignoring politics.
Welcome to the doldrums of summer, Donald Trump.
Absent some truly world-altering event, the public simply isn’t going to tune back into the race until the debate season starts again in late September. Until then, Trump’s ability to make a positive impression with the people he needs most will be extremely limited if not non-existent. Yet, you can believe that if he opens his mouth and screws up again, the media will take the opportunity to help harden some negative impressions against Trump. For the next few weeks, there’s no real opportunity for Trump to move up in the polls, only for Hillary (or himself) to go down. Which is why Trump’s decision to squander the vital week after the conventions with his tiff against the Khan family and other Republicans was more damaging than Trump was able to understand at the time.