Can Donald Trump change his campaign stripes?
Trump, the runaway winner in both Iowa and New Hampshire and everyone who’s anyone’s
pick for the GOP nomination going in to this year’s general election epic battle versus near-sure-to-be-nominated Democrat president senile Joe Biden, is regarded as a shoe-in for being on the ballot this November. But yet all is not well in Trump-land.
There’s no denying it, both Trump and Biden aren’t perfect candidates. Far from it. Surefire MAGA believers love Trump and say he shouldn’t change a thing. In-the-tank Trump-hating Democrats think Biden has flaws, but he’s still doing a good enough job to deserve another term – and in any case, to them, he’s much better than Trump, who is so awful that he’d act as a dictator and end democracy on Day One.
Both would be considered vulnerable. But can Trump in particular be fixed? In a well-reasoned piece shortly after the New Hampshire primary titled “Trump’s Primary Win Exposes General Election Vulnerability”, astute political watcher Daniel J. Flynn wrote at The American Spectator:
“The exit polls surely showed him to be the president of rural Republicans, Republicans lacking college diplomas, and poorer Republicans. One does not win the presidency with such a coalition alone.
“This is why last night was a missed opportunity to extend an olive branch rather than wield a brickbat against Haley, to stop harping on old grievances that alienate the voters he needs, and to exude a sunny optimism appealing to independents. By not doing this, Trump appears preoccupied with being the president of the Republican Party rather than the president of the United States. He always plays to the room and never to the larger audience outside of it. This serves as his Achilles’ heel. He doesn’t know his audience…
“Adapt and overcome. Stay unmoved in the same place at the risk of the coroner confusing the inability to change with rigor mortis. New Hampshire sounded an alarm. Donald Trump can ill-afford to hit snooze.”
I’m not sure an alarm actually went off, but I admit I was taken aback by the apparent vitriol from which some of these independent voters hold Trump. Something like a third of Nikki Haley’s backers said they would vote for senile Joe Biden if Trump ended up the Republican nominee. Sure, a good slice of those will change their minds eventually, but the stubborn ones won’t. And therein lies the problem.
One of the main benefits of having the Republican primary campaign end so early is it provides the opportunity for the winner – Donald J. Trump – to work on and hone his message in a way that would provide some sense of reassurance to his detractors that they can expect at least a slight change in tone from Trump’s first term and its aftermath. Is such a subtle departure from the “old” Trump necessary?
Here's guessing the de facto nominee would deny a softening is called for, or potentially worthwhile, and bat the question back at the asker as though it were so many tennis balls in the Australian Open. But even Trump can’t keep denying that he should be doing better with some members of the old GOP guard and with the so-called “swing” voters that both sides pursue in national elections.
This is especially so since Trump clearly has the superior issue platform, a much better governing record and is facing an opponent who is personally failing right before our eyes. The Democrats have gotten so cautious in their handling of senile Joe that he hardly makes an appearance in public these days, and when he does, he’s got so many shackles placed on his freedom that he might as well be a member of a chain gang on a country road somewhere.
Polls continue to show Trump either tied with senile Joe, or slightly in front, and the numbers in the most hotly contested states from the past two elections are all or mostly positive, yet the New Hampshire experience – and some evidence from Iowa as well – confirmed that he’s not reaching those who already don’t like him and frequently employ the “never” term when queried as to whether they’d pull the lever for him this year.
Will Trump have enough true believers to make up for all the gutless pessimists who can’t stomach the thought of voting for him again?
This clearly seems to be what Trump believes, that he can continue on the path he’s always been on and he can free-wheel his rallies and public appearances without a watch-what-you-say filter attached. But this election is too important to leave for chance. And it’s not as though Trump needs to convince the totality of the electorate that he’s really a mild-mannered great guy who never says anything mean or inappropriate.
In reality, he “only” needs a small percentage of the skeptical independents or undecideds to break his way, and he’ll be in pretty good position.
Or, as I’ve written in the past, he can leave it up to fate and hope that the illegal immigration issue will motivate enough of the middle grounders to choose him, or that the economy will remain moribund and lifeless, something that’s bound to happen with Biden’s handlers guiding the government ship. But no one should count on it, or necessarily wish for it.
People are hurting out there. One overlooked fact from New Hampshire was the poll which found a high percentage of voters there want a complete systemic overhaul, and of those who listed this as a vital goal, most chose Trump to be the one to lead it. This is only natural since Trump is, by himself, an outsider who owes no allegiance to anyone but the MAGA forces who put him in office.
Nikki Haley owes lots of people lots of favors. Joe Biden does too, though the older he gets the less he seems to worry about what others think, least of all the Obamas and the Democrat powers-that-be. If he did care, he wouldn’t have insisted on running for reelection, as all Democrats appear to believe that anyone could beat Trump, and Trump is therefore the ticket to Democrat electoral immortality.
Their only problem is they have no “bench” of upcoming talent to take over from the current aging generation, the ones who’ve pulled enough wool over enough eyes for decades and managed to win even when their policies were garbage.
That hopefully will change this year, but Trump could do himself a favor by heeding the advice from supporters such as Ron DeSantis and find a means to win back some of his past wayward backers. Trump’s words might be music to most of the MAGA crowd, but he’s got to keep in mind that securing the base, which is already there and solid, isn’t enough.
How can Trump hone his 2024 message?
Number one, rework how he describes the 2020 election. Instead of droning on about how the election was stolen from him, from which he makes a good case, but most people outside the MAGA sphere are tired of hearing about it, so why not initiate a gradual switch to making pleas to ensure elections integrity this time around? Americans with any common sense are receptive to arguments in favor of requiring Voter ID, limiting mail-in balloting and stepping up security of ballots.
Why not say something like, “We don’t want to go through what we did in 2020 all over again – not just for the strife it caused, but if we get it right before Election Day (in terms of securing the ballots), then none of the bad things will happen again this year.
“Make it a challenge-proof election by guaranteeing fairness. The work for doing so begins now. Be vigilant. Volunteer to be a precinct captain or a poll-watcher. Call up your local Republican party office and ask them what they’re doing to secure the election. All the effort is in getting out the vote, now let’s make sure it’s counted properly.”
The Trump campaign could gather information to distribute to potential volunteers, of which there would be many.
Number two, drop most of the criticism of Nikki Haley and focus almost exclusively on the damage Joe Biden is causing to the American way of life. Trump is already doing much of this, but when he has a national audience as he did in New Hampshire after his victory, he should be disciplined enough to know that his addressees don’t want to hear insults or gloating or any of the other traits that make Trump unpopular.
Haley made a fool of herself the way she acted the other night. What’s the old Napoleonic saying? “Never interrupt an enemy when he (she?) is making a mistake?” Or something like that.
Trump would soften his presentation immediately by simply ignoring Haley from here on out. As tempting as it might be to call her “Birdbrain” or something similar, Trump should restrain himself from talking about her at all. Imagine the news coverage he’ll engender by omitting Nikki completely from his next campaign rally.
After a while, news reporters will be forced to cover the issues Trump talks about rather than his unique personal verbiage. And criticism of Biden is fair game.
Lastly, Trump needs to stop basking in the moment and remember the end goal. If he preaches nuanced messaging on abortion to “first win elections”, he should remember, at all times, that winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing. Save the insults for another day. Try to gain that extra point or two that will win you the election, Mr. President.
The old saying goes that elections are always about the future. In Donald Trump’s example, this truism is doubly correct. The people who don’t like Trump despise him because he appears to be petulant, thin-skinned, arrogant and condescending. These traits are changeable, particularly when there’s the fate of the nation as inspiration to do so. Trump hates losing; make the switch and win, Mr. President.
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