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President Trump? Here's how it could happen

He’s been written off thus far, but he’s still around and could become President.

Larry Donnelly

THOSE OF US who like to think we know a little bit about American politics have been dealt a severe ego blow in 2016.

Our collective denial of Donald Trump at every stage – that he would mount a campaign, that he would be a viable candidate, that he could actually win the Republican presidential nomination – has proven spectacularly misguided. At some level, one cannot help but be very impressed. Trump’s manifest resilience and self-belief have been crucial to his success.

While Trump’s extraordinary triumph is the cause of much insider head scratching and consternation, it has also shocked and horrified tens of millions around the world who just can’t believe that a man who has made so many profoundly objectionable statements has been rewarded for them by voters.

The factors behind Trump’s rise have already been analysed and deconstructed ad nauseam by commentators of every stripe. In the main, they point to the anger and pessimism that currently permeate every corner of the United States about a myriad of issues and the way Trump has masterfully manipulated this sentiment to his advantage.

They are right.

Phonies

Election-Oregon-Presidential Campaign Source: Ted S. Warren

A conversation I overheard while back in Boston a couple of weeks ago reflects his populist appeal.

A middle-aged man said to his friend that Trump “is only saying what we all think…no, actually, he says what we all fuckin’ know. The rest of them are total phonies.” Even in liberal Massachusetts, this is not an uncommon opinion. Indeed, Trump enjoyed one of his most decisive primary wins there.

The conventional wisdom now holds that, although Trump’s capturing the Republican nomination was a remarkable feat, he cannot win over the broader electorate.

Specifically, his negative poll numbers with women and with Hispanics, coupled with the inescapable realities of Electoral College maths, render it virtually impossible for him to defeat Hillary Clinton.

Source: CGP Grey/YouTube

I largely subscribe to this view, yet perhaps daunted by what has transpired to date in the election, I cannot say there is no path to the White House for Donald Trump. For instance, if he can hold onto all the states won by Republican nominee Mitt Romney in 2012 and also prevail in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida, he will be the next president. And there are other formulae that add up.

The path for Trump is far from straightforward and will necessitate a carefully orchestrated balancing act, as well as some luck. Here’s how he should proceed on five vital fronts.

Substance

DEM 2016 Clinton Source: Andrew Harnik

On trade and military interventionism, Trump’s outlook is abhorrent to the Republican establishment, yet his sceptical stances are what have rallied so many disaffected men and women to his candidacy. He must convince the party leadership, which is all too aware of its difficulties with the country’s rapidly changing demographics, that these Americans can constitute an important new component of a renewed GOP coalition.

A slight rhetorical move – from being resolutely opposed to trade and the use of military force to favouring “fair trade” and military force only as a last resort – may suffice to keep both his most fervent supporters and traditional Republicans on side.

That so many of the latter have fallen into line lately, even before he has made any tangible policy shifts, suggests they are willing to compromise. He must utilise the same strategy on other issues, such as immigration.

Style

GOP 2016 Trump Echoes of Wallace Source: AP/Press Association Images

Trump’s bombastic and way over the top rhetoric on matters ranging from the infamous wall between the US and Mexico to America’s foreign debt is what has most alarmed political leaders at home and abroad. Again, however, as the man in Boston said, “telling it like it is” is what has drawn disenchanted voters to the billionaire’s side. He can’t disown his unique style at this stage. But he should deploy it only where it works to his advantage.

While outsiders may find his “let’s make America great again!” mantra irritating, at best, and jingoistic, at worst, it is a winning slogan in the US. It is a loud and unapologetic invocation of the patriotism that still animates much of American culture. Undeniably, there are undertones to this message.

Especially for older voters, it hearkens back to a very different time in America, when some things were certainly better, but when the country was a much less diverse and tolerant place. That said, wrapping his candidacy in a bold and brash patriotism, even if it’s of a nostalgic and unrealistic sort, has worked and will continue to work for Trump.

Going Negative

GOP 2016 Debate Trump takes on Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz in the Republican debate in March. Source: AP/Press Association Images

In some ways, Trump vanquished his Republican rivals because he was the biggest and most skilful bully on the stage.

But petty attacks on Hillary Clinton’s personal appearance or her marriage will backfire and may engender considerable sympathy for her in the electorate, particularly among women.

Nonetheless, one of the great lies about so-called negative campaigning, oft-propagated by the media and some political scientists, is that it doesn’t work. They’re wrong. When done well, it is highly effective.

What Trump has to do is focus Americans on Hillary Clinton’s trustworthiness. His new moniker, “Crooked Hillary,” suggests that he will.

Opinion polls consistently show that many people don’t trust the Clintons – “one rule for them, one rule for the rest of us” is a refrain that has been repeatedly heard.

There are weighty questions to be answered about her email server and the Clinton Foundation’s raising funds from foreign governments (the latter may prove more potent in the coming months). Trump needs to keep asking them pointedly.

Outreach

The reality is that Trump is not going to run well among women and Hispanics. Yet he must endeavour to garner every one of their votes he can. With Hispanics, he should target and praise those who are working hard to build their own “American Dream,” and argue that his policies would be better for them than Hillary Clinton’s.

Implicit in this, of course, would be driving a wedge between these new Americans and other new Americans who are struggling. It represents his best chance at building a small base in the fastest growing voter bloc in the US, however.

His more conservative positions on social issues may also allow him to make some inroads with Hispanics who are practising Catholics.

Trump must direct his outreach to the not insignificant number of American women who define themselves as anti- or non-feminists. At the same time, it is worth his highlighting the women who he has hired and promoted in his various business ventures. Those who are willing to speak out may help to soften his image. Lastly, he needs to avoid making the indefensible, misogynistic comments he has made for most of his adult life.

Vice President

GOP 2016 Trump Source: Mary Altaffer

Simply put, Trump must pick a serious running mate from a key state who can go a long way toward helping him to win that state and maybe others.

He would be extremely foolish to pick someone as unpopular as ex-Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich or ex-Alaska Governor Sarah Palin – both of whom are said to be under consideration – or any other such character.

Ohio Governor John Kasich, one of his most formidable foes in the Republican primary, could help Trump to win Ohio, has a broad range of experience and polls well with minorities and women. He would be an excellent choice. There are others worth looking at, too.

GOP 2016 Kasich Source: John Minchillo

So, will Donald Trump be the next President of the United States? I still don’t think so, but it’s not beyond the realm of possibility. The past few months have shown that he is not a man to be underestimated. A fascinating – and, for many onlookers, frightening – battle lies ahead.

Larry Donnelly is a Boston attorney, a Law Lecturer at NUI Galway and a political columnist with TheJournal.ie and IrishCentral.com. To hear more from him, tune into The Right Hook on Newstalk FM at 5pm today. 

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