Donald Trump’s taxes. Hillary Clinton’s emails. Trump thinking he can win the African-American vote. Clinton going on Jimmy Kimmel Live. In a way, the 2016 election still feels very much up in the air — as if the two candidates are going flat-out to try and convince as many of those wily but surely numerous undecided voters to throw their support behind them.
That’s mostly wrong.
This isn’t to say that this election is already decided — far from it, according to the latest presidential polls. But it’s worth it to take a moment to ask ourselves who the two different campaigns are talking to right now. One thing is for sure: They definitely aren’t talking to each other.
One of the most pronounced recent examples of this has been Donald Trump’s overtures to the African-American community. “What do you have to lose?” he asked a mostly white crowd on Friday at a rally in Michigan. It was a strange thing to hear coming out of a presidential candidate’s mouth for many reasons — not least of which is that "What do you have to lose?" is a sales strategy that works a lot better with buying a new brand of shampoo than choosing a president. However, the ultimate conclusion was that Trump wasn’t really pitching to black voters. “The point here,” wrote Jamelle Bouie in Slate, “is to salvage Trump’s standing with college-educated whites" — that is, people who want to be sure that they aren’t “backing a bigot,” as Bouie puts it.
Clinton was up to the same kind of game Monday night with Jimmy Kimmel, addressing rumors from conservatives that her health is failing.
“Take my pulse while I’m talking to you,” Clinton joked. “Make sure I’m alive." Nobody who seriously believes the rumors about Clinton’s health were about to be swayed by her jocund humor — this was to reassure the Clinton faithful she could yuk it up and wasn't worried about closing the presidential deal.
Watching cable news, the cross-talk can get even more discombobulating. In a debate on Anderson Cooper 360°, Trump supporter Kayleigh McEnany and candidate for Lt. Gov. of South Carolina Bakari Sellers argued about a stat that Trump had been using in his speeches — that 58 percent of African American youths are unemployed. The actual substance of the number notwithstanding, after watching the two pundits hash it out, all I could conclude was that both of them could walk away from that exchange thinking they had won. Sellers had reiterated all the reasons most African American voters would not — would never — back Trump, and McEnany had maintained that the statistic was valid and that Trump was not a racist.
We’re still envisioning a direct competition between the two candidates, like a game of basketball where each side is trying to out maneuver the other. Lately, though, it looks each candidate is trying to win at a different game. One is trying to hit a home run, while the other is trying to score a touchdown. In both cases, their fans cheer from the sidelines and are happy to believe that they are the ones winning. But when will each candidate truly look beyond their fans?
Image: Bustle/Caroline Wurtzel