One of my nightmares is waking up the first Wednesday of November and finding out that Donald Trump is our president elect. There are lots of sane reasons to think that this simply can’t happen. The Donald’s negatives are through the roof. Last July a Washington Post/ABC News poll reported 61 percent of voters would never vote for Trump, but that was before he started running in earnest. In December, according to a Quinnipiac survey, fifty percent of registered voters last month said they would be embarrassed if he were our president. One thing that makes me leery is that people were saying the same things about Ronald Reagan but mainly by force of his personality plus that certain intangible something that people saw in his eyes he became president anyhow. We are still stuck in the Reagan wreckage, and arguably Donald Trump is the latest creature to crawl out of it.
There is no question that Trump has charisma, although lots of people see past it. So many factors affect who will be our next president. Much could hinge on the economy, but a lot of it will simply have to do with who gets nominated and how enthusiastic each party is about their candidate. Republicans probably won’t be enthusiastic if Trump is nominated, at least not establishment Republicans. But Trump though is going for a bigger audience and he is attracting principally disaffected whites, many of which haven’t voted in recent elections. They like his brash style and take charge attitude and see it as authentic, but mostly he plays on their fears, an unstated fear of losing white privilege. While Trump has high negatives, so does Hillary Clinton. Trump is a master persuader, Clinton not so much considering how President Obama managed to win the 2008 Democratic nomination. So yes, it’s possible, although I would like to take comfort in polls that suggest it just won’t happen.
Back in 2012 as that process went forward I offered my thoughts on how to deal with political bullies. Four years later the post still gets regular hits. The Republican presidential field has many bullies. Trump certainly is one but (among those still in the running) others include Ted Cruz, Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina. All are used to getting their way and will use tactics fair or foul to achieve it.
Trump though combines bullying with other non-bullying tactics including humor, demagoguery, flippant remarks and a well-practiced technique of staying in the news. Pretty much every day he will say or do something controversial specifically so he will stay at the top of the news. Most recently was a deprecating remark about Ted Cruz being born in Canada and how that could be a problem. While a lot of what he spews is crazy, it’s actually quite well thought out. Rest assured that Trump has lots of lines and tactics in reserve that he will use to cut down the competition. He has a keen sense of when to release a quip or barb so that it will be most wounding.
Trump is a different kind of bully, most of who have only a couple of tactics they repeat ad nauseam. With Trump, you never know what will come out of his mouth next, but you do know it will be something and it will be controversial and entertaining. Surprise is one of his unique weapons. Hillary Clinton, if she wins the Democratic Party nomination, is likely to be too civilized to go for the jugular like Donald. Trump excels at getting people off their gait and you know he has some waiting for her when their time is optimal. Ideally Clinton needs to get Trump off his gait, which no one seems to be able to do. She (or Bernie Sanders should he win the nomination) needs to channel their inner Molly Ivins. Also, she to plant a meme in the voters mine now that will grow and win. Identifying that meme and planting it early may be crucial to winning in November.
In 2012 the winning meme was that Mitt Romney didn’t understand ordinary working people. The surreptitious recordings that he thought 47% of us were moochers made it stick like superglue. Due to Trump’s wealth and disdain for all sorts of groups, this can potentially work again. However, it will be harder because Trump is drawing many of these people. Trump is running a Fox News election by creating a theme and hammering it in relentlessly. You must have been asleep for the last six months not to know it: Make America Great Again.
What could be Clinton’s meme? Perhaps she could borrow portions of Trump’s theme. Here is my suggestion for an election meme for the Democratic candidate: Make America Whole Again. She could appeal to the disaffected by promising to be the president not to push a liberal agenda but to bring America together again. She could say that if elected she will champion the cause of moderates. She could promise to end gerrymandering, which simply removes moderates from the political process. For example, she could promise to pass a law that requires states to draw districts that are politically neutral and are overseen by impartial federal judges. She could run a campaign for the people, not just those with wealth.
She could say that our current poisonous partisanship is a cancer on our society and our government, and that Trump is exploiting it. (In fairness, Bernie Sanders has been saying this throughout his campaign.) In fact, she could say that Trump embodies this cancer and is making it metastasize. Fortunately Trump has quite a record that would be easy to exploit, for example his statement earlier in the campaign that Americans were being paid too much and aren’t working hard enough. This is laughable to anyone actually in the workforce today.
“Make America Whole Again” is the perfect rejoinder to Trump’s slogan. It plays on his slogan but makes it positive and sounds like something your mother would say. It acknowledges that things have gotten seriously off track but that she is the right one to fix it. She could even say that as a woman and mother, she knows it is true. She can play on the lessons that she learned, from her failure by being too insular in her health care legislation that she championed as First Lady, to her work as Secretary of State to help bind the wounds of a complex world. She can recall the real America she grew up with, that was hopeful and where America’s leadership was earned and based on respect and our beneficence. Trump’s entire demeanor is disrespectful. It could be a campaign about restoring our respect by making our government representative of everyone.
A campaign message of wholeness and integrity I think would have real legs, because it is authentic, not weaselly. One thing that is totally clear about Donald Trump is he lacks integrity. If the 2016 campaign becomes an integrity meme, then I think Trump can be neutered.