Donald Trump needs to make this election less about him and more about Hillary Clinton, and he needs to show he cares about the Republican Party’s fortunes.
The best way for him to do both is to disappear until the Republican convention.
In a vacuum, Clinton is unpopular. Next to Trump, right now, she’s Taylor Swift.
The comparison hurts him and helps her. She’s more substantive, more disciplined, more in touch with her own party’s values and less offensive. If Trump walks away from TV cameras and big rallies, he’ll force the media and the public to focus on Clinton. They will again compare her to perfection — and she’s far short of the length of that measuring stick.
Trump could use time away from the trail to rectify his weaknesses. His schedule should be packed with the fundraising events he’s started holding, both because he needs the money badly and because it would give him a chance to meet privately with GOP bigwigs and reassure them that he can and will do better.
When not rubbing elbows with rainmakers, he could invite experts in to teach him about American public policy so that when he re-emerges he sounds like someone whose interest in reading news stories and books ranges beyond those about him.
He could learn about the risks of starting trade wars, how deficits grow when you tax less and spend more, and what the nuclear triad is. He could start to understand for himself where the holes in Hillary Clinton’s platform are — hint: It ain’t Benghazi — so that he’s ready to go toe-to-toe with her. He might even begin to appreciate the protections of minority rights embedded in our Constitution.
He could, in short, make himself a better American and a stronger candidate. And it would be a shame if he didn’t do that, because we are better off when both parties put forward strong contenders for the presidency. Right now, many Republicans are caught between their hatred for Clinton and their concern that Trump would be a catastrophe for their country.
A little bit of polish, a lot of studying and endless meetings with influential Republicans across the ideological spectrum would do him a lot of good. And, notwithstanding a weak-sauce economics speech from Clinton this week while he was pushing back on her, he’s even better off if there’s no live contrast for her to make.
The biggest beneficiaries of a Trump break would be down-ballot Republican candidates.
His penchant for driving controversy and drama is killing Republican candidates for the Senate and House. They’re being asked daily to comment on the last attention-grabbing epithet he’s thrown at a federal judge or minority group — a drumbeat of Donaldisms that sounds a lot like the footsteps of defeat.
There’s never a good answer. Disagree with him and they risk alienating the base that voted to nominate him; agree with him and kiss away the moderates they need to win in competitive districts and states.
At least Republican challengers can try to duck the media a bit. But the candidates the GOP most needs to win are incumbents, and they’re easy for reporters to find in the halls of the Capitol. When he’s not talking publicly, he’s giving breathing room to incumbents in tough races, and that, in and of itself, will help him show he cares about the future of the party and help him unify it.
Trump’s entire strategy rests on a 30,000-foot argument that Americans must make a bold change in leadership — even if it means taking a risk. It’s not like he’s strategically holding rallies in swing parts of swing states — or that he’d win by doing that — anyway. He should spend some time honing his change argument and diminishing the evident risk that voters see right now.
He could help himself, leave a less-than-beloved Clinton shadowboxing and help Senate and House Republicans keep hold of their majorities. It’s the hardest thing to ask Trump to do — to subordinate his need for attention to anything else — but he and the GOP need a little bit of Donald downtime.
Roll Call columnist Jonathan Allen is co-author of the New York Times-bestselling Clinton biography “HRC” and has covered Congress, the White House and elections over the past 15 years.