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Donald Trump is pulling ahead of Hillary Clinton in one big way

Donald Trump still has an uphill battle in this election. But when it comes to controlling the news cycle in this election, he's running unopposed.

Consider the recent pivot in the Trump campaign. It began with a speech expressing his regrets for his past hurtful comments, followed by a visit to flood ravaged Louisiana. And it continued this weekend with a meeting with Latino supporters where he signaled a desire to temper his immigration policies and shift away from his previous support for mass deportations.

If this were any other candidate in any other election year, it would hardly be newsworthy and certainly not electorally beneficial for a candidate to move to be less offensive in his comments and join the mainstream position of his own party on immigration. But this is the year of Trump and Trump has spent most of this year setting the bar so low for his own candidacy that these kinds of shifts are both newsworthy and politically beneficial. Some polls have already shown a favorable Trump trend, and you can expect that to continue in the coming days.

And all of this is the result of a dangerous mistake by the Clinton campaign. It's fallen into a trap that's allowed Trump and his behavior to dominate the news coverage and the direction of the polls. Long ago, the Clinton campaign clearly decided to put all its work into attacking Trump and thus abdicating any serious efforts to promote their candidate and her policies. It's almost like the Clinton campaign would like us to forget about them entirely, as evidence by the forgettable choice of Tim Kaine as Hillary Clinton's running mate and her decision to basically take a few weekends off over the summer.

And Clinton Campaign Manager Robby Mook doubled down on that strategy over the weekend during an interview on CNN by spending far more time talking about Trump than his own boss. Even the mostly Clinton-supportive news media has long abandoned any effort to trumpet her candidacy in favor of an almost religiously fervent barrage of anti-Trump material day after day. And Clinton herself has seemed so relatively absent and quiet that perhaps the real question her campaign should be focusing on is not who they'll find to play Trump in the debate preparations but who they're going to find to play Hillary Clinton.

Trump's recent pivots won't convince any of his most ardent detractors and Clinton's biggest fans to change their minds, but there are still a good number of undecided voters out there who might. And then there's the traditional Republican voters who have been a little embarrassed by Trump, who will now be able to point to the plausible excuse of Trump's "maturing process" to vote for and more publicly support him.

"The fact that Trump’s getting all of this media attention must be maddening to team Clinton in the same way that the traditionally failing student who all of a sudden becomes a B student often gets more praise and attention from parents and teachers than the kid who’s earned A’s her whole life."

But the biggest trap associated with allowing an election to become completely about your opponent is that it guarantees that everything he or she does will be amplified exponentially. For weeks, that's helped the Clinton cause as everything Trump says or does that isn't 100-percent benign has had its negative aspects blown way out of proportion. But now that he's doing some things that are positive, or at least a little more acceptable, they're getting the kind of extreme coverage that most candidates could only dream of. Think about it: What did it cost Trump to issue mild regrets in a speech, visit Louisiana, or hold a meeting with Latinos who already supported him? Not much, of course. But the attention each garnered was pure gold for the Trump campaign in an arena Hillary Clinton seems to have exited long ago.

All of this has to be infuriating for Hillary Clinton and her campaign, which has made caution and restraint its mantra for years. Unlike the fly-off-the-handle Trump, it often seems like Clinton doesn't do anything on the campaign trail before it's edited by a dozen speechwriters, vetted by 15 lawyers, and presented to at least six or seven focus groups.

The candidates' Twitter feeds are probably the best example of that contrast. Clinton's's feed is filled with professionally-produced entries, all with clever graphics and videos while Trump's tweets are still dominated by statements that sure seem like he's typing them too late at night in his pajamas.

She's done everything safely and the "right" way, and the undisciplined Trump is still in striking distance and likely to keep making it closer in the coming days. The fact that Trump's getting all of this media attention must be maddening to team Clinton in the same way that the traditionally failing student who all of a sudden becomes a B student often gets more praise and attention from parents and teachers than the kid who's earned A's her whole life. Speaking of that kind of praise, the Democratic Governor of Louisiana said Sunday that Donald Trump's trip to his state was "helpful" in getting the country's attention on the devastating flooding around Baton Rouge. That quote is like poison for the Clinton campaign and her "duck and cover" campaign strategy.

If this keeps up, Clinton will have to find some way to wedge herself back into the narrative. Considering the tepid attendance at her rallies and the fact that so many of her supporters still can't really identify her core policies, that won't be so easy. Sure, it's been a good bet all summer that Trump would make the kinds of mistakes that justified handing him control of the news cycle. But in the last few days, those odds have diminished considerably and Clinton may be out of time if she ever needs to get our attention again.



Commentary by Jake Novak, supervising producer of "Power Lunch." Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.

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