Is Team Clinton systematically gutting Trump before our eyes?
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State of the 2016 Race
A column for The Hill analyzing the current state of the 2016 presidential race.

Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonRepublicans seem set to win the midterms — unless they defeat themselves Poll: Democracy is under attack, and more violence may be the future Popping the progressive bubble MORE's campaign is systematically eviscerating GOP nominee Donald TrumpDonald TrumpStowaway found in landing gear of plane after flight from Guatemala to Miami Kushner looking to Middle East for investors in new firm: report GOP eyes booting Democrats from seats if House flips MORE, and it is so obvious that few people recognize it while it's happening.

1. It began right after Labor Day, when The Washington Post began reporting on a foundation few of us had previously heard of: not the Clinton Foundation, but the Trump Foundation.

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2. In a series of articles by David Farenthold, the Post reported that the Trump Foundation had been fined by the IRS for incorrectly spending charitable money; had improperly donated $25,000 to Florida Attorney General Pam Biondi (R); had used $30,000 in charitable funds to buy two portraits of Trump; had spent $12,000 to buy a autographed football helmet; and spent $258,000 of charitable money on Trump's personal legal bills.

3. Then, at the first presidential debate on Sept. 26 at Hofstra University, Trump never even brought up all the controversies surrounding the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Foundation — especially as detailed in Peter Schweitzer's 2015 book "Clinton Cash"; his supporters were disappointed and wondered why the pay-for-play ethics of the Clintons never came up.

4. In the last 20 minutes of that debate, though, Hillary Clinton brought up the case of former Miss Universe Alicia Machado.

5. For the next five days, Trump obsessed and tweeted about Machado — about her weight, an alleged "sex tape" and the events surrounding the Miss Universe contest.

6. Both public and private polling by both parties soon began to show a sharp decline for Trump, especially among moderate Republicans, independents and women.

7. Then, on Oct. 1, The New York Times reported that it had "obtained" the three most crucial pages of Trump's 1995 federal income taxes. They had been snail-mailed to Susanne Craig, a Times reporter, in a manila envelope with the return address listed as "Trump Tower."

8. On Oct. 2, the Times ran a huge front-page spread featuring these tax returns and a detailed analysis of what they meant, how they got them and what the then-Trump accountant, Jack Mitnick, told the Times about their preparation.

9. Five days later, on Oct. 7 — just two days before the second presidential debate — the "Access Hollywood" live microphone tape was revealed by The Washington Post's David Farenthold, who later said he obtained it around mid-day; the video then soon appeared all over network news and upended the race.

10. Trump then began plummeting in the polls, and saw a mass retreat of endorsements and support.

11. Then came the second debate in St. Louis, considered by many debate-watchers to be one of the darkest debates ever.

12. The next morning, Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanNo time for the timid: The dual threats of progressives and Trump Juan Williams: Pelosi shows her power Cheney takes shot at Trump: 'I like Republican presidents who win re-election' MORE (R-Wis.) announced that he would no longer campaign with Trump and would instead focus on keeping the House in Republican hands.

13. Trump retaliated by attacking his own party's Speaker in a tweet.

14. The first poll taken since the "Access Hollywood" tape, but not including the second debate — the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll — saw Hillary Clinton with her biggest lead of the race: 14 points in a head-to-head match-up and 11 points in a four-way race. Trump had fallen all the way down to 38 percent in the former and 35 percent in the latter. And on the generic question, which party do you want to control Congress, the Democrats suddenly surged to a 49 percent to 42 percent advantage, thus furthering the panic inside the House and Senate GOP conferences.

15. Trump's dismal numbers — languishing in the mid-30s — were echoed in a Tuesday Politico/Morning Consult poll, although the spread was 5 points instead of 11.

16. This is where the race stands with exactly four weeks to go. How did we get here, and what is really happening?

17. I believe Team Clinton is behind virtually everything that has occurred since the two party conventions.

18. If so, Team Clinton's efficiency and planning are indeed exquisite.

19. It means that they identified each land mine that could damage Clinton and they defused each and every one of them.

20. Their opposition research/private detective group has most likely been on to Trump since last spring.

21. The information about the Trump Foundation, the three pages of heretofore secret tax returns, the Alicia Machado info, the "Access Hollywood" tape — all of these, and more yet to be made public, probably came from this massive Clinton opposition research team.

22. Why do I think this? Here's my guess.

23. Last winter, as Trump cut through the 17-person GOP field with alacrity, Team Clinton learned a valuable lesson: Do not take Trump lightly.

24. They proceeded to vacuum up everything they could find — and then, instead of revealing what they had, they held it.

25. And waited.

26. First, they waited for Trump to be officially nominated.

27. And then they waited again.

28. Until late September and the first debate, when they unveiled Machado and backed Trump off from attacking the Clinton Foundation by having the Trump Foundation card ready to throw in his face.

29. Then they doled out the income tax returns.

30. If I'm right, then Team Clinton has been diabolically clever.

31. They waited and waited and waited before unveiling all of this.

32. Why?

33. Because they wanted to make sure that state filing deadlines had passed and thus the GOP could not replace Trump with a better candidate who could defeat Clinton.

34. Members of Team Clinton recognize their candidate's weaknesses.

35. They know there is a "Hillary Clinton Ceiling," which is a level of support she cannot surpass due to her poor campaign skills and hideous poll numbers regarding her honesty and penchant for secrecy.

36. So, instead of trying to elevate her as another rock star like Obama, they set about destroying Trump.

37. And Trump is an opposition researcher's dream target; he is indeed The Gift Who Keeps on Giving.

38. During debate preparations, it was reported that Team Clinton even employed psychologists to explore the inner working of Trump's mind; from these experts, they learned how to "bait" Trump.

39. In the Machado case, this approach worked better than they ever could have imagined.

40. When the history of 2016 is written, will it be that Hillary Clinton learned from her 2008 mistakes and this time assembled a superb campaign team, while Trump's innate marketing genius was overrun by a lifetime of unacceptable and impolitic behavior?

LeBoutillier is a former Republican congressman from New York and is the co-host of "Political Insiders" on Fox News Channel, Sunday nights at 7:30 p.m. Eastern. He writes semi-regular pieces in the Contributors section on the "State of the 2016 Race."

This piece was corrected on Oct. 14, 2016 at 7:53 a.m. to accurately note the publication year of "Clinton Cash."


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.