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ground game

The summer of Donald Trump’s self-inflicted wounds

Donald Trump.
Donald Trump.(Eric Thayer/REUTERS)

It’s summertime in a election year, which means the presidential campaigns will attempt a singular herculean task: Make their opponent seem unelectable.

Considerable time, money and effort will be spent on branding the other nominee -- but at a time when many voters are on vacation, watching the Olympics, or otherwise not paying attention.

In August 2004, there were Swift Boat ads attacking John Kerry’s service record. In 2008, John McCain tried to set up a contrast between his military service and Barack Obama’s youth. In the last presidential campaign, President Obama’s campaign nearly went broke spending so much money in negative ads attacking Mitt Romney as a greedy business guy who screwed the little guy. The branding stuck.

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Clinton is expected to pursue a similar approach this year. Flush with campaign cash and holding an infrastructure advantage, her campaign is set to engage in an onslaught of Trump’s character.

But as it turns out, Trump’s damage this summer might be entirely self-inflicted. He might be the one making himself unelectable in the eyes of swing-state suburban voters.

His spat with the Khan family now enters its fifth day of coverage. On Twitter, Trump asked whether he has the right to defend himself against the Khan, whose son died while serving in Iraq in 2004. Clinton didn’t ask the same question -- or say anything -- in response to Patricia Smith, who said at the Republican National Convention that Clinton was responsible for the death of her son in the Benghazi attacks.

Had Trump not been engaged in a weekend fight with the Khans, he could have been talking about Clinton’s interview on Fox News Sunday, where her statements about her email usage as US secretary of state didn’t match with the facts laid out in the FBI investigation. (Or Trump could have been explaining his factually incorrect statements about Russia’s involvement in the Ukraine. While that wouldn’t be helpful to Trump, many Americans zone out on such a topic -- especially in the summer.)

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Clinton appeared to begin the summer ready to start a full onslaught on Trump. She traveled to Atlantic City to attack his record in business. Clinton-aligned Super PACs began airing advertisements in swing states replaying some of his more offensive comments during the campaign trail.

But for now, Democrats appear to be holding their fire as long as Trump wants to keep shooting himself in the foot.


James Pindell can be reached at james.pindell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell or subscribe to his daily e-mail update at www.bostonglobe.com/groundgame.