Hillary Clinton needs to do these 3 things right now to save her campaign

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton
Brendan Smialowski | AFP | Getty Images
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton

With the polls continuing to show a decided trend in Donald Trump's favor, it's time for Hillary Clinton and her campaign to make some serious changes. There are probably 100 things a candidate who was once seen as a shoo-in winner needs to change once the tide turns, but let's get right to the three top priority musts:

1) Accept the facts

The biggest danger now for the Clinton team and her key backers is to brush off the polls as statistical noise or just a very brief trend that will flame out. The reason brushing off the polls is the biggest danger is because Clinton indeed does need to make serious changes that are much less likely to happen if her advisers believe she's going to win no matter what. Right now, there are still way too many Clinton supporters laughing at the mere suggestion she might lose. There are also a lot of Clinton team members who believe Trump's popular vote poll surge is partially real, but they're not convinced she can lose the Electoral College. Someone in the Clinton campaign needs to put the real fear of God into her staff and get them to act like she's truly behind now, because there's a really good chance she really is.

2) Get out in the streets

I've been advising both candidates to stop campaigning solely at rallies and on Twitter for months. Trump's momentum seemed to have changed for the better as soon as he did just that and visited the flood-ravaged areas of Louisiana and met the President of Mexico. Clinton hasn't changed her routine. She is talking a bit more to the news media lately, but mostly from inside her campaign jet which projects an air of literally being above the voters. (She also looks positively annoyed about even having to talk to the media during those jet trips, but more about that later).

It's way past time for Clinton to get out from behind the podium and walk among the crowds at events where people are gathering for reasons other than an arranged campaign happening. I'm talking about maybe visiting a college football tailgate area or a shift change in the parking lot of a major U.S. automaker. Not only would this give the voters a new context, it could also really help Clinton overcome the serious questions about her health.

If she can be seen to be willing to interact with thousands of people, even though many of them aren't her hand-picked supporters, it will show a unique double shot of emotional and physical strength just when she needs it most. At a time when conspiracy theorists are spreading stories of Clinton body doubles and even green screen/CG effects being used to make it look like Clinton is at campaign events, it's imperative that the voters see a vital and real Hillary Clinton on the trail.

3) Give Trump a hug... really!

In the smash hit musical "Hamilton," the Aaron Burr character's memorable musical leitmotif of advice is: "Talk less, smile more." It's wasn't just good advice for candidates in the 18th century, it's sadly still true today. Clinton's most memorable statements and on-camera moments in this campaign have been mostly doom and gloom comments and warnings about Trump.

Clinton talks and tweets so incessantly about Trump it's really getting hard to remember what she's proposing herself anymore. There's a La Brea tar pits aspect to this election when it comes to attacking Trump. It sure looks enticing to pile on him, but then you get stuck forever in talking about Trump and not doing the things you need to do to beat him.

And before you accuse me of being sexist by asking Clinton to smile more, let me explain that I think this is true for male candidates too. Was there ever a more glaring contrast in a presidential election than the difference between Bill Clinton's happy smile and Bob Dole's scary resting expression scowl? Jimmy Carter's smile as big as Georgia was a key asset for him in 1976, and his wearier look in 1980 helped bring him down. You almost never saw Ronald Reagan not smiling and laughing in public. The list goes on.

With that in mind, I have one big visual stunner that could instantly change everyone's impression of Clinton as being too cold and calculating. When she and Trump do the traditional handshake before their first debate next Monday night, she shouldn't just shake his hand. She should warmly hug him.

It would catch everyone so off-guard that it would guarantee that something positive Clinton does will dominate all coverage of the debate, possibly for days. Afterwards, Clinton can come up with some kind of "hate the sin, love the sinner" explanation for the gesture. We all like to convince ourselves that as voters we're far too intellectually sophisticated to allow physical appearances or gestures to sway our election decisions. But that's exactly how most of us make our political decisions, just ask all the top psychiatric experts on human decision making and preferences.

Fifty days remain until Election Day. Clinton can keep burying her head in the sand and/or doing what she's been doing so far or make the changes she needs to salvage her campaign. Time's running out.

Commentary by Jake Novak, CNBC.com senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.

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