WASHINGTON — Donald Trump heads into the Labor Day weekend trailing his Hillary Clinton both nationally and in some of the most crucial states. But with just over two months to go, he still has a narrow window to try to make up for wasted time.
Trump remains deeply unpopular, especially with minority voters and women, giving him a tenuous path at best to the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House.
Yet if this election has any lessons to offer, it’s to expect the unexpected and never write off Trump.
A look at Trump’s Labor Day to Election Day to-do list:
GROUND IT OUT
Trump and Clinton are both historically unpopular candidates. That could make motivating voters to turn out — and ensuring they do — more important in this election than in most.
In the business, that’s called ground game — and Trump has little of it to speak of.
The billionaire has outsourced virtually his entire early voting operation, battleground state staffing and get-out-the-vote organization to the Republican National Committee.
That makes Trump’s relationship with the RNC critical. He must maintain a strong relationship with the national party, which could turn its back on Trump if it thinks its resources would be better spent on defending vulnerable Senate and House candidates.
Trump recently updated his leadership team with outspoken RNC critics, which could make his task harder. Almost completely reliant on the national party’s ground game, Trump can’t allow party leaders to jump ship.
WALKING THE PATH
Trump has a narrow path to 270. With only two months to go until the Nov. 8 election, he doesn’t have time to waste in states that aren’t on it.
Trump needs victories in Florida, Ohio, North Carolina and Pennsylvania to have a realistic chance. That means he needs to live in those states for the next two months.
No longer can he devote his most valuable resource — his time — to states such as Connecticut, New York, Washington and Maine.
That’s not to say his presence wouldn’t be helpful in other places. Battleground state polls suggest he’s in trouble in virtually every region in the country, even in reliably GOP states — Georgia, Indiana, Utah and Arizona among them.
But it’s time for Trump to focus. He must devote the vast majority of his campaign appearances to the states that matter the most.
Nonwhite voters represented just 12 percent of the electorate in 1980. The number grew to 28 percent in 2012. That’s bad news for Trump, whose standing among blacks and Hispanic voters is historically bad. (He’s struggling among women in both parties, too.)
The Republican nominee must improve his standing with voters who are not white men to have a chance.
That won’t be an easy task for a candidate who has called Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals, has condemned the Black Lives Matter movement, and lashed out at female critics as “fat pigs” and “dogs.”
Avoiding such insults is a place for Trump to start. He can also spend more time in minority communities, as he did Friday in Philadelphia and was doing Saturday in Detroit.
Even if Trump has spent more of his time to date speaking to majority-white crowds in majority-white communities, he’s not yet made the sale with white men.
Recent polls suggest that while Trump has more support than Clinton among white men, he is doing significantly worse with that demographic than GOP nominee Mitt Romney did four years ago.
STAY ON MESSAGE
With a drip, drip, drip of negative news about Clinton’s family foundation and her use of a private email server as secretary of state, Trump has plenty of material to use against his Democratic rival.
But time and again, the GOP nominee’s own controversial statements have dominated the news cycle and diverted attention away from Clinton’s problems.
To best position himself over the coming weeks, Trump needs to avoid major gaffes that lead voters to question his judgment and temperament, and keep the focus on Clinton.
He’ll also need to fine-tune his attacks, delivering a more subtle critique that may sway undecided voters instead of the kinds of sweeping broadsides that appeal to his Republican base.
EXCEED DEBATE EXPECTATIONS
Expectations for the presidential debates are far lower for Trump than they are for Clinton, thanks in part to his relative political inexperience. If Trump appears composed and informed, he is likely to earn strong enough marks from undecided voters to win a closer look.
Yet the risks for the notoriously unpredictable Trump are enormous.
The GOP nominee has shown resistance to traditional debate preparation, and it remains unclear whether he’ll buckle down and engage in formal mock debates as a way to get ready.
Trump’s performances at the GOP debates were uneven, with Trump often lashing out and mocking his rivals. Research suggests that in-your-face strategy could be especially risky now that he’s up against a female opponent.