US election diary: Was this the week when Trump finally blew his chances?
PUBLISHED: 09:20 09 October 2016 | UPDATED: 10:03 09 October 2016
Just as he began to narrow Hillary Clinton's lead in some of the opinion polls, so Donald Trump went and did what he does best - implode thanks to a series of ridiculous own goals.
It all started with a bad first presidential debate last week against Clinton. The consensus was that Trump held his own for the first half-hour or so, but he then walked into a trap cunningly laid by his Democratic rival.
The problem Trump has is that he finds it impossible to stop digging. On this occasion, Clinton casually mentioned during the debate the case of Alicia Machado, a former winner of Miss Universe. Clinton told the 80 million-plus people watching the debate that Trump had made fun of Machado’s weight and called her “Miss Piggy”.
It might have seemed a random thing for Clinton to bring, but it worked a treat. Because whether Trump is unable to see things for what they are, or whether he is so overly-confident in his ability to ride the storm, he didn’t just let the issue pass and hope the news cycle would move on. Far from it.
Instead, he rang the only TV station he still speaks to (Fox News) the next morning and just added to the problem, refusing to apologise and criticising Machado’s weight once again. Not exactly very presidential.
This was manna from heaven for Clinton, who could just sit back and watch Trump self-destruct. So much for the Republican’s ludicrous claim that he has natural appeal to women voters...
Aside from this latest sexist outburst, there was Trump’s anger publicly directed at those within his own campaign who’d admitted that he hadn’t won that first debate.
Choosing to ignore all the proper polls that suggested Clinton had won, he was more interested in the non-scientific comments on those right-wing websites that are read only by die-hard Trump supporters. Of course Breitbart readers would say they thought their man had won the debate - it’s a bit like asking readers of a Manchester United website whether they prefer their own team or Liverpool.
No serious pundit thought that Trump did very well during the Long Island debate - yet in the days following the event, he seemed more interested in lambasting his own aides who admitted his shortcomings than in turning the page and moving on.
And then came the bombshell about his taxes. Despite many calls to do so, he has failed to release his tax returns. He has come up with excuse after excuse, even though opening up one’s tax affairs has long been an accepted part of the process for presidential contenders.
It has now emerged that even though Trump likes to boast about what a tremendous businessman he is, he made such an astronomical loss nearly two decades ago that he has been able to write off any federal income-tax liabilities against that loss over the past 18 years.
There is no suggestion he has done anything illegal, but the story rather undermines the idea that he’s a gifted businessman like no other. And while the electorate might like low or no taxes, they will not be so keen on there idea that the mega-wealthy can avoid paying taxes for nearly 20 years while the man-in-the-street pays his fair share.
Add to this the bizarre episode in which Trump began to fire off Twitter messages from his phone at 3am, criticising the media’s coverage of him, and all in all it’s not been a good few days for the presidential hopeful. No wonder there are reports that his closest aides try desperately to hide his phone so he can’t cause any more damage.
Trump’s vice-presidential candidate, Mike Pence, gave a solid performance in his own debate this week against his Democratic opponent, Tim Kaine. Perhaps if Pence were at the top of the ticket, things would be looking a bit rosier for the Republicans.
But they are stuck with Trump. And with polls suggesting that Clinton is pulling away from her opponent in key states such as Michigan and New Hampshire, and with a Fox News poll putting her reasonably comfortably ahead of Trump on a nationwide basis, this could prove to have been the week in which Trump’s chickens came home to roost.