Trump has the ball and Hillary can't run out the clock

Running out the clock is a term often applied to the Clinton campaign as Election Day appears on the horizon, now only 68 days away. And with a lead in the RealClearPolitics average of polls once at an almost-insurmountable 7.9 points on Aug. 9, playing not to lose perfectly taps into Clinton's best strength.

But some funny things have happened in the past three weeks, including this one: From a media optics perspective, Donald TrumpDonald TrumpManafort to share notes from Russian meeting with Senate probe: report Trump: European Union 'is very protectionist with the U.S.' GOP-controlled Congress nears legislative triumph — on Russia MORE is winning each of those weeks since that low point of his candidacy earlier in the month of August. And he's doing it with basic hustle over his opponent.

ADVERTISEMENT
It started with the visit to flood-ravaged Louisiana three days after the worst disaster to hit the U.S. since Superstorm Sandy. President Obama dithered on Martha's Vineyard, not even making a public statement on the devastation. Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonManafort to share notes from Russian meeting with Senate probe: report Scarborough to Trump: Switch cable news to ‘SportsCenter’ Ex-Bush ethics lawyer: Trump calling for Clinton to be prosecuted is an ‘impeachable offense’
 MORE — in-between multiple million-dollar fundraisers across the country — only issued a statement indicating she didn't want to tour the area until she was sure it wouldn't disrupt recovery efforts (now 20 days later, she still hasn't gone).

Enter Trump, who, along with running mate Mike PenceMike (Michael) Richard PenceTrump: 'So great' McCain is returning for healthcare vote McCain returning to Senate in time for health vote Lewandowski suggests he’s still advising Trump MORE, stole the media spotlight and even received generally favorable reviews (a rarity) after a Friday trip to the state.

Again, optics: Obama stayed on vacation. Clinton issued a terse statement. Trump got on a plane and surveyed a situation firsthand.

Trump won the week as a result. And the RCP average shrank from Clinton ahead by 7.9 points to just 5.7.

Week 2 saw more negative news for Clinton in the form of The Associated Press's disastrous report showing more than half of her non-governmental meetings as secretary of State were with donors to the Clinton Foundation.

Even Trump — who time and again would muffle bad news for Clinton with his own comments or actions at the time drawing attention back to him by a clicks-and-ratings obsessed media — didn't step on Clinton's bad week.

But Week 3 — this week — appears to be another winner for Trump. The visit to Mexico to meet with its president, a risky proposition but one a trailing challenger had to make in an attempt to look presidential, paid off big. How well? Even Bill Kristol — one of Trump's staunchest critics from the right — Tweeted this:

And then there's the sentiment shared by Howard Wolfson, a former communications director for Hillary Clinton:

Some cynics, of course, keep pointing to Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto's tweet, well after the fact, stating he unequivocally told Trump right off the bat his country would not pay for a border wall. But ask yourself this: If that's the first thing he said to Trump, and that's a big statement, why not share it during remarks made to the press afterward? It's not like there wasn't ample opportunity to do so.

Meanwhile, until Wednesday in Ohio, Clinton hadn't made a public speaking appearance in six days. Six. She's looked small, slow and, worst off, establishment when compared to Trump, who is seemingly everywhere (Washington state, Mexico City and Arizona in the span of 24 hours) and controlling the narrative in the process.

The RCP average is now at just 4.6 points in a two-way race. It's 4.1 in a four-way. Seven of the last eight polls have been shown a Clinton lead of 5 points or less after 8- to 12-point leads were common.

It's game on now as we head into Labor Day weekend, the unofficial true start of the campaign. The debates will ultimately decide everything, particularly the first one in Hempstead, N.Y., on Sept. 26 that at least 80 million will tune in to watch.

But in order for that to matter, Trump needed to be within only a few points to bridge the gap completely. He's almost there now.

"Hillary Clinton should be up by double digits right now against a man who ... is all over the place, doesn't follow directions, ignores his staff, ignores his family, ignores his political party," explained Joe Scarborough on MSNBC Wednesday, adding, "And yet, you look at these recent polls, he is within 3 or 4 points ... in every single poll," he said.

"There's a reason. She needs to wake up and understand she could still lose."

Running out the clock. It was once a viable option for Clinton, the candidate who really believes in not holding one press conference during an entire year while running for president.

But this new Trump — nothing close to a perfect candidate but far better than the one who existed when August began — is winning week after week via more energy, taking more chances and dominating media relatively positively in the process.

Concha is a media reporter for The Hill.


The views of Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.