Donald Trump has famously said that if he does not win the presidential campaign the entire endeavor will have been a tremendous waste of time.
It appears crystal clear now that Trump will reach that precise conclusion in 19 days.
While it is risky to make sweeping predictions in the least predictable and most volatile presidential campaign in living memory, they call it political science because there is a science that explains politics.
By every metric that we use to evaluate campaigns, the only conclusion that one can draw is that Donald Trump is not going to be the next President.
Since he effectively clinched the GOP nomination in April after defeating U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in the pivotal Indiana primary, Trump has been stuck in the high 30s in two-way and four-way polling.
As Fox News contributor Karl Rove and Bloomberg Politics’ Mark Halperin have pointed out: In a best case scenario, Trump has a path to 265 electoral votes (win the Romney states, including North Carolina, and add Ohio, Florida, Iowa and Nevada). But that leaves him five electoral votes short—and there is no realistic path to 270 from there. New Hampshire would be the next place to look, but that would only get him to a 269-269 tie.
This reality sets the scene for the final presidential debate, tonight, inside the Thomas and Mack Center on the campus of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.
Moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News is widely respected for being an extremely tough and fair interviewer. As the first Fox News journalist to moderate a presidential debate, the stakes are high not just for him, but for his entire cable news network.
While Trump appears incapable of personal growth, strategic discipline or accepting advice, I would humbly suggest the following tonight:
1) Demonstrate honest contrition—Trump never apologizes. He sees it as a sign of weakness, when in fact, apologizing is a sign of strength. I do not expect him to plead guilty to the groping charges tonight, but he certainly could help himself by admitting indiscretions when he was younger and apologizing to anyone that he hurt over the years. The American people are forgiving, but you have to ask for forgiveness.
2) Surgically hold Hillary accountable—The last few weeks should have been disastrous for Hillary, with dozens of troubling revelations from WikiLeaks and the stunning information released by the FBI on Monday that appear to suggest that the State Department offered a “quid pro quo” to help Hillary on classified information on her server by offering the FBI more personnel abroad. Trump did make Hillary play defense in the second debate—he needs to do that even more tonight. He doesn’t need haymakers, instead he needs to offer facts and make her deny her obvious dishonesty and poor ethics.
3) Detail how the country would be better after four years—Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America” was effective because it was hopeful and optimistic. Trump’s message has not been positive. He needs to paint a picture tonight of what the country would look like after his first term. Specifically where would the economy be? How would our foreign policy be better? How would Americans be safer?
4) Stay away from controversies—Trump has demonstrated almost no self-control the past 18 months. He must do so for just 90 minutes tonight. Hillary will make news by being forced to finally answer tough questions about her email server and the Clinton Foundation. Trump needs to let that be the news, not his latest rant or unhinged conspiracy theory.
Trump’s campaign is in dire straits.
The walls are closing in and their time is nearly up.
Tonight’s debate is Trump’s final chance to change the trajectory of this campaign by winning back the Republican and college-educated white women voters whom he has been hemorrhaging.
Can he perform?
Disclosure: Donald Trump is the father-in-law of Jared Kushner, the publisher of Observer Media.
Matt Mackowiak is syndicated columnist, an Austin-based Republican consultant, and a former Capitol Hill and Bush administration aide.