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Presidential Horse Race 2016: How Donald Trump became a conservative in a year’s time

We end the week with a brief look back at the evolution of Donald Trump’s campaign.

It’s safe to say Donald Trump kept us guessing from the beginning about the way he would conduct his administration if he were somehow elected president. On that fateful day in June last year when Trump announced his candidacy at Trump Tower in New York, no one quite knew what to expect from his campaign or even if he was serious about the endeavor.

Donald Trump It was also on that day (June 16, 2015) we heard Trump’s campaign theme for the first time: “We need somebody who can take the brand of the United States and make it great again,” he said.

After his announcement, Trump’s traveling entourage of a campaign took numerous twists and turns propelled forward by massive crowds at rallies and a message that was light on specifics but heavy in good old fashioned America-first populism.

The rest is history, of course, as Trump cut up and cut down the balance of the Republican field on his way to winning the party nomination. When Trump won the Indiana primary by 17-points on May 3rd, Ted Cruz suspended his campaign; thus ended the organized resistance to Trump’s populist army.

Since that time, the GOP nominee has sought to put policy meat on the populist bones of what would become his administration if he wins on November 8. This week provided further indications of what a Trump presidency would look like.

With Trump’s bringing on of former ardent Cruz supporter Kellyanne Conway and Breitbart executive chairman Stephen Bannon to officially head his campaign, the candidate not only signaled he was in the race for the right reasons, he showed he is in it to win it.

No doubt, some will need further convincing that Trump actually wants to be president as opposed to just being a famous guy who topped his career by running for the office.

W. James Antle III of the Washington Examiner writes, “For all Trump's flaws and foibles, to say nothing of his near-daily gaffes, he still has a potentially popular message as a change candidate pitting Washington, D.C., and the special interests against the rest of us...

“Nevertheless, this new set-up could help explain whether the campaign is more about an anti-globalist populist movement on the right or about Trump the celebrity. The candidate's own actions will tell us.”

I’ll admit, I myself doubted for a long time whether Donald Trump was really serious about running for president or if he was doing it merely as another attention-grabbing stunt to add to his already fascinating life story. And there have even been times where I thought he intentionally did things (such as failing to establish a professional ground game or buy advertising in the early states) that were designed to give him an “out” if he ended up losing in the primaries.

Simply put, Trump just never handled his candidacy like a politician would. He didn’t raise money because he said it would taint his message. He didn’t counter negative ads (and didn’t really have to, since the establishment candidates were so busy beating on each other) and he even skipped a primary debate a few days before the Iowa caucuses.

All along Trump based his campaign on being an outsider and vague promises to “make great deals” to improve healthcare for veterans or shrink America’s trade deficit.

Of course there were his many and varied promises to build a border wall with Mexico and get the Mexican government to pay for it. Trump’s claimed he was pro-life but also said nice things about the heinous Planned Parenthood along the way.

He also railed against George W. Bush’s foreign policy and cut poor Jeb Bush to the bone with harsh critiques of the establishment’s fondness for war as a measure to solve problems in the Middle East.

In other words, Trump has been populist to the core.

Once he secured the Republican nomination, it finally became clear to many of us that he was fully committed to win but just didn’t know how to go about it. Trump continued on with his strategy of encouraging earned media of any kind, only most of it became sharply negative.

As a result, Trump’s message was getting lost in the fury over his statements, a trend that has only increased since the conclusion of the back-to-back party conventions last month.

Now, with the hiring of new blood to help him refine his message, Trump signaled he’s ready to battle Crooked Hillary on ideas rather than pure bombast and personal popularity. Trump the celebrity morphed into Trump the conservative presidential candidate.

His recent speeches only confirm the transition.

Conservatives are paying attention, too. Yesterday, Richard Viguerie wrote, “Donald Trump’s recent economic speech, his national security speech and his law and order speech in Wisconsin were full of sound conservative policy prescriptions and were reflective of a strong conservative governing philosophy...

“With Kellyanne Conway and Steve Bannon at the top of the campaign, Mike Pence as Vice President and Senator Jeff Sessions at Donald Trump’s side, the Trump campaign is shaping up to be the most ideological campaign since Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign against Jimmy Carter.”

Trump critic Carly Fiorina liked Trump’s Tuesday speech too, tweeting “Donald Trump gave an important speech last night—and he's right.”

In essence, Trump has gone from the famous rich guy in New York promising to make the American brand great again to a political candidate who’s realized that this election is about more than just him and the concept of “greatness”. It’s no longer a one man crusade against the lobbyists and career politicians. Our problems are deeper than just Obama’s failure to make “deals” that will help government take care of its constitutional obligations.

It’s an ideological war for the heart of America, one that can be won with solid policy proposals and an anti-establishment bent. Donald Trump is no longer just a populist; he’s a conservative.

Greater focus on Trump’s conservative/populist message can win the race

Of course there are those who will argue Trump’s recent evolution into a true conservative candidate has occurred too late to overcome Crooked Hillary’s polling lead (Clinton +5.8 in the Real Clear Politics average). To hear the naysayers talk you’d think it’s well after 11 p.m. on Election Night and the networks are readying their victory projections for her.

It’s almost like Karl Rove is sitting at the data desk right now sweating another Republican defeat, though I’m guessing this one would be a lot less painful for the establishment hack to swallow.

But before you cancel those hotel reservations for Inauguration Day next January, consider that even the experts say the race isn’t over.

After clearly stating that his models show Clinton will likely win the election, Harry Enten writes at FiveThirtyEight.com, “[T]here is precedent for a big enough share of the electorate to change its mind that Trump could come back. It certainly wouldn’t be easy for Trump — he’s the overwhelming underdog, but it’s not impossible for him to win.

“Simply put, the polls aren’t perfect at this point in the cycle — there’s still a good deal of uncertainty inherent in trying to predict who will win the election and by how much based on the polls. We have more than two months until the election, and polls have coverage error, measurement error and non-response error…”

Of course the polls don’t reflect Trump’s recent more serious tone and his two policy speeches this week. I’m not entirely sure that enough Americans would even be paying attention in the first place to make a difference at this point. But perusing some of the major news sites like Politico and The Hill, there’re a lot fewer blatant anti-Trump stories going on this week.

Whereas the past month was all about Khizr Khan, Second Amendment supporters and Trump’s ISIS comments, the current headlines deal with the campaign shakeup, Trump’s plan to start running ads today and his tweet yesterday that said “They will soon be calling me MR. BREXIT!

Trump also received a fair amount of favorable coverage on his policy speeches this week.

Trump’s direct appeal to black voters on Tuesday night even caused Al Sharpton to respond – negatively, of course. Politico quoted Sharpton as saying, “If he cares about black voters, he certainly has shown a complete disregard and disrespect for addressing them and their issues. I don’t know what’s in his head, but I know where his body has been. And it’s been absent in terms of black concerns and black people and black audiences throughout his campaign.”

I personally think the more Sharpton talks the better it is for Trump. Sharpton may have the rioting leftist thugs in his corner, but I can’t help but think the law abiding citizens who are stuck in crime ridden inner cities would respond well to Trump’s message. Even if they might not end up voting for Trump at least they’ll give serious thought to whether choosing Hillary and the stagnation that comes with her is a good idea.

The cycle needs to be broken eventually. This could be the beginning.

There’s still plenty of time until Election Day for Trump to change minds. With his campaign’s more focused direction, there’s a reasonable chance things can turn around.

Anti-Trump Republicans still languishing on the sidelines in no man’s land

Speaking of changing minds, GOP vice presidential nominee Mike Pence has been making the rounds talking to anti-Trump Republicans trying to bring them onboard the party effort to defeat Hillary Clinton and at the very least save the Supreme Court for the next generation.

If reports are to be believed, Pence’s overtures haven’t been very beneficial.

Matthew Nussbaum of Politico reports, “Pence is hoping his years in the upper echelons of Republican politics will help him win over Republicans still skeptical of their party’s nominee, but his bid has gotten little help from the top of the ticket. The plan for GOP outreach started with Pence, his aides confirm, and while Trump nominally supports the effort, he hasn’t taken an active part in it…The extent of Trump’s participation is to discuss with Pence some, but not all, of his meetings…

“Among some vehemently anti-Trump Republicans, however, no amount of Pence outreach can paper over their differences, leaving Pence searching for a consolation prize: keeping them from vocally opposing Trump, and depriving Hillary Clinton's campaign of more fodder from the anti-Trump wing of the GOP.”

Nussbaum’s story indicates Pence has met with or reached out to Arizona Senator Jeff Flake as well as former rivals Ted Cruz and John Kasich, but none of them have changed (or are likely to change) their positions on Trump.

It’s a terrible shame that it has to come to this. With Trump’s choosing of Pence for his running mate as well as recently proving that he’s listening to policy ideas from known conservatives, you would think most adult human beings would be able to put petty personal grudges aside long enough to at least express openness to changing their minds.

Shouldn’t Pence be telling these folks that a vote for Trump is also a vote for him too?

This primary cycle and general election race has revealed an awful lot about a number of people that used to command a lot of respect. Many conservatives and establishment Republicans have taken the right road and now openly back Trump even if they continue to suffer from the wounds of the contentious primaries.

But as I’ve wondered before, didn’t John Kasich say he might change his mind if Trump changed his tone? Isn’t that happening right before our eyes?

Or is it really the fact that “tone” has nothing to do with Kasich’s childish beef and he’s just a selfish establishment loser who didn’t like the fact Trump beat him. He didn’t even come close to winning, either.

With so much time left before Election Day, perhaps the holdouts are just waiting for the right time to announce an intention to vote for Trump. That’s really the only justification I can come up with to remain quarantined in no man’s land. This election is far too important to not take part.

Here’s hoping they’ll get over their self-imposed isolation and support the candidate – and his vice president – that isn’t Hillary.

Why this year’s right track/wrong track numbers will make a difference in November

Finally this week, there may still be a few Republicans who can’t get themselves to open up to Trump’s candidacy, but opinion polling on the direction of the country suggests Americans may be amenable to changing the party controlling the White House.

Or does it?

David Byler of Real Clear Politics writes, “[O]ne polling question – about the direction of country – continually produces results that might scare Democrats. The number is pretty simple: Pollsters ask Americans whether they think the country is going in the right direction or if it’s on the wrong track, then tabulate the results.

“Right now, 28.8 percent of Americans think that the country is going in the right direction, and 64.6 think it’s on the wrong track. Moreover, the majority of Americans have felt the country is on the wrong track for almost all of the Obama presidency.”

Byler analyzes the data factoring in Obama’s approval rating (which hovers around 50 percent) and concludes that the right track/wrong track polls don’t necessarily indicate dissatisfied voters are going to take out their frustration on Crooked Hillary this year.

But Byler also admits this election could be different.

I’m admittedly biased, but I think this year will be unique for a couple reasons. First, Obama’s approval ratings still remain reasonably high because of the nature of his supporters. The Democrats’ core coalition of minority groups and hardcore liberals are more likely to remain positive about Obama because he’s seen as “one of them” and has definitely advanced the liberal cause regardless of the awful economic condition of the country.

This group could care less about the national debt as long as same-sex marriage is legal and federal checks keep arriving for their payoffs.

George W. Bush’s approval ratings sank rapidly towards the end of his second term because he betrayed many of his own supporters in a way that wasn’t forgivable. When Bush tried to force amnesty down conservatives’ throats in 2007 and then bailed out Wall Street in 2008, there was no going back. Conservatives are more principled than Democrats and judge their leaders based on objective criteria. Democrats don’t seem to care either way as long as their guy is the one in the White House and feeding them what they want.

It’s unconditional support for the Democrats. We see it in congressional battles as well. Democrats are much more unified than Republicans.

Lastly, both Crooked Hillary and Trump are both viewed unfavorably by the majority of the country. In other words, some of the “wrong track” people aren’t happy with either of the candidates or the country’s direction. If anything, this group would be more likely to sit it out or vote third party than choose between the Democrats and Republicans.

They’re the hopelessly undecided and won’t factor into the election. Or they’re #NeverTrump and appear to be as equally hopeless as the uninformed permanently angry group.

Trump’s success will depend on his ability to take advantage of the persuadable “wrong track” people by convincing them a real change is at hand if he’s elected president.

Again, it boils down to message. If Trump sticks to it, he can win. If he doesn’t, get ready for President Clinton part two.

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