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Commentary: The Surrogate Advantage For Clinton Over Trump

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during the final night of the Republican National Convention. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during the final night of the Republican National Convention. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)
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The lineup of Democratic speakers at the convention reminds us that the Donald Trump campaign will be at a tremendous disadvantage in the final weeks of this race.
As evident at the Republican National Convention, Trump doesn’t have anywhere near the number of popular surrogates who are willing and able to speak on his behalf. As a result, in the six to 10 swing states at the end, Democratic surrogates will be putting Trump on the defensive in local media. Despite Trump saying he doesn’t take naps, he cannot cover all those states personally.
Michelle Obama’s speech at the DNC was a great example of a persuasive speech -- combining the personal, political and philosophical to powerful effect. Melania Trump can’t deliver such a speech for Trump and, as much as the media praised their speaking at the convention, neither can the Trump children.
In the roll-out of Hillary Clinton’s VP pick, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia was also impressive in his remarks. Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, by contrast, does not speak as convincingly -- which helps explain his low polling numbers in his home state. He was lucky to bail out of his gubernatorial reelection campaign because he might well have lost in November.
The Democrats have other strong surrogates to make the case for Clinton -- New Jersey Sen. Corey Booker, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former presidential rival Bernie Sanders, former President Bill Clinton, President Obama and a long list of other Democratic leaders who are happy to serve as surrogates.
On the GOP side, Trump doesn’t have surrogates that compare. Both former presidents named Bush, former presidential nominee Mitt Romney, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, former rivals Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham, and countless other GOP leaders will not endorse Trump. That is unprecedented. And other GOP leaders have only given him a tepid endorsement — like former presidential nominee John McCain and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who would only send the convention a video endorsement. Other Republicans say they are too busy with their own campaigns to even do that.
Some say they “support” Trump, but won’t “endorse” him. Other GOP pols are too unpopular to appeal to undecided, independent voters, like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich -- both spurned by Trump in deciding on a running mate.
This disparity in surrogates is just as obvious with entertainment and sports celebrities. Trump could only get a few B-list has-beens to speak for him at the convention, whereas Clinton (as is usually true of the liberal Democratic candidate) will have numerous stars willing to campaign for her.
But even if some GOP leaders could be effective surrogates for Trump -- say, House Speaker Paul Ryan, or various senators, governors and congressmen — they have reason not to sign up for surrogate duty. They know that campaigning for Trump could be nightmarish.
Here are some of the reasons GOP leaders are afraid to be surrogates for Trump:
-- They know they’d have to explain policy positions that could change from hour to hour. Trump is notorious for saying contradictory things, and revising controversial positions. They know they’ll be asked “how will he do it?” regarding Trump’s controversial proposals, like deporting 11 million undocumented workers, or bringing jobs back from overseas, or banning Muslims. And they realize that they can’t suggest any details on those proposals for fear that Trump will then repudiate them and say they don’t speak for him.
-- They know he is just as likely to attack other Republican leaders –- like Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Texas Sen. Cruz -- as he is to criticize Democrats.
-- They know he will not just suggest a crazy conspiracy theory, but, after a storm of criticism, will reiterate his belief in it. He did exactly that in bringing up, yet again, a preposterous National Enquirer story trying to link Cruz’s father with JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.
-- They know he will often humiliate those who are deferential to him, like Christie, who is now widely viewed as a Trump sycophant. Indeed, Trump recently said he was surprised to learn negative things about some of the Republicans who applied for the job of his running mate and said maybe he’d write a book about their affairs.
-- Finally, they know they risk having their reputations stained in the pages of history for being silent about Trump’s bigotry and demagoguery -- like those who failed to renounce Joe McCarthy in the 1950s.

Related:

Todd Domke Twitter Republican Political Analyst
Todd Domke is a Republican political analyst for WBUR.

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