As the Republican presidential primary season closes in on its final stretch, the inevitability of Donald Trump winning the GOP nomination edges closer and closer. Assuming that Trump does get the nomination, what happens then? How will he fare in the general election against likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton?
While Trump has already said that he’s very much looking forward to facing Clinton in the general election (and she’s said virtually the same thing about him), the brash Republican frontrunner might want to re-examine a few polls to see what his chances are come November.
Although Trump has already bragged about a Fox News poll that showed him beating Clinton by 5 percent (“easily,” as he put it), this was but one poll that as of March was in conflict with most other published polls showing just the opposite to be true.
To be fair, in many of these polls, the lead of the winner was close to or within the margin of error, so it’s possible to assume that both candidates might have an equal shot if the election were held today.
A fair amount of time remains before November, and a lot can still happen. However, there are some basic takeaways that Trump should consider if he’s serious about beating Clinton in the Fall:
- Trump’s Core
Trump’s base of support comes from older, less affluent, less educated, white male voters who hail from suburban and rural areas. He does less well with women, educated voters, younger voters, nonwhite voters, affluent voters and voters living in urban areas.
Among voters lacking a college degree, Trump beats Clinton by 15 percent. Among men, Trump beats Clinton by 5 percent.
Among voters aged 40 or older, the two candidates are nearly tied. But among voters under age 40, Trump loses to Clinton by two-to-one margins.
It’s worth noting that Trump isn’t the top choice of even the number of white voters that supported Mitt Romney in 2012. And almost one in ten white voters are repulsed enough by both Trump and Clinton that they’ve indicated to pollsters they’ll likely sit out the election in November.
Meanwhile, a recent Washington Post poll showed that Trump enjoys the support of just one in five nonwhite voters.
To his credit, Trump might be cognizant of the perception that he’s a favorite candidate among white supremacists. His invitation to former GOP rival contender Ben Carson to join his team may have been a belated recognition of the need for his campaign to improve its perception by African-American voters, many of whom identify with the national “Black Lives Matter” (BLM) movement.
BLM has denounced Trump and threatened to follow a Trump inauguration with violence. Whether having Carson on board will make a difference with this possible outcome is questionable; Carson had at most scored a 37 percent favorability rating with African-American voters prior to his dropping out of the race.
- Trump’s Woman Problem
Whether one believes it started with his castigation of Fox News commentator Megyn Kelly or his impugning of former presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, Trump has a serious image problem among female voters.
In fact, one can point to a decades-long history of Trump’s put-downs, insults and humiliations of numerous women, from his ex-wives to Rosie O’Donnell to a phalanx of Miss USA beauty pageant contestants. This has led to a sharp disapproval rating for Trump among female voters that’s been recorded as high as 70 percent.
While Trump’s former wife Ivana claimed that he had raped her (she later clarified that she didn’t mean this in “the criminal sense”), she now has come out in support of her ex-husband’s campaign and even held fundraisers for him.
Certainly, Trump’s current wife Melania and his daughters Ivanka and Tiffany show great admiration for him. Ivanka is very active in Trump’s real estate company along with her brothers Eric and Donald Jr.
But for now, the damage may be done. It remains to be seen if Trump can reverse any of that damage. Certainly, Megyn Kelly seems to have weathered an enormous quantity of verbal abuse from the candidate, even as it’s boosted her own stature and in no small part has led to a greater role with her employer, Fox News, and a $10 million book deal with HarperCollins.
- Trump’s Problem with Latino Voters
From the get-go, Trump may have vastly miscalculated when recklessly offending Latinos with his talk of deportations, building a wall on the United States’ southern border, disparaging Mexican “criminals” and demeaning immigrants in general.
While it’s true that he’s singled out other minority groups (notably Muslims), Trump is ignoring that Latino voters crucially make up one of the fastest-growing segments of voters and a group that Republicans desperately need to tap into to grow their numbers. In fact, his statements likely couldn’t have been more incendiary and alienating to this important bloc of constituents.
In past polls of Latino voters, Trump fared the poorest of all of the GOP presidential candidates. In a February poll, seven in 10 Hispanic voters were recorded as having a “very unfavorable” impression of the blond-haired frontrunner.
In another poll, Hispanic voters preferred Clinton to Trump by 73 to 16 percent, an even greater margin than that by which GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney lost to Barack Obama among such voters in 2012.
While it’s true that in vilifying Mexicans, Trump may be feeding the fires that drive his traditional base. But it could also be said that this has come at the expense of cannibalizing his support among Latin-American voters.
It’s likely not enough recompense that Trump has also said he “loves the Mexican people” and that he employs thousands of them; to many members of the Latino-American community, he’s irredeemably harmed himself.
- Trump’s “Loose Cannon” Style of Speaking
If it were merely a few sensational comments, such as those he made earlier in his campaign regarding Mexicans, Muslims, John McCain or Megyn Kelly, Trump might be able to count on time fading voters’ memories of his lightning-rod statements and tweets in the media. But the problem for Trump is his statements just keep on coming, each week seeming to be louder, more bombastic and spite-filled than in the previous one.
Part of this is intentional — Trump is the king of the PR game, and he knows that in order to stay at the top of the news cycle, he has to constantly “turn up the volume” to drown out his GOP (and soon Democratic) competitors.
Trump has proven to be such a master of publicity that some have likened his methods to those of less savory characters such as Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels. But regardless of their influence, it’s clear that Trump’s military school training and attitude have endowed him with much more than the superfluous campaign spectacles that many pundits thought were all he had at the beginning of the race.
At this stage in the contest, one thing should be very clear; Trump is in it to win it, and his guiding principle is to take no prisoners. Even with such matters as the ongoing Trump University lawsuit, Trump’s tactics are to scorch the earth.
Former Establishment foes such as Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio who underestimated Trump in the beginning of their campaigns have paid dearly for it with humiliating defeats at the hands of rabid voters.
But what may have been winning tactics in the GOP competition could end up being his undoing in the general election. More conservative elements of the party who didn’t support him previously may either vote for Hillary Clinton (something 9 percent of registered Republicans — at least in Michigan — have committed to doing) or abstain from voting at all.
When Trump impulsively says he wouldn’t rule out the use of nuclear weapons when dealing with ISIS, it only feeds the worries of those voters who have strong concerns about the character of their nation’s future leader. A recent poll regarding this exact issue gave Clinton a 58 percent score for her personality and temperament compared with a 25 percent showing for Trump.
What Can Save Trump?
At this point, many election watchers are predicting a “pivot” at the point in time when Trump’s assumption of the GOP nomination appears to be secure and he can turn his attention to the inevitable Democratic nominee.
All past GOP nominees have been subject to this action, and one only needs to look at history books to see which candidates spun best. But in historical terms, if Trump is determined to win in the Fall, he may have to execute a truly exceptional pivot to both lure the voters he’s already alienated and to pull modern “Reagan Democrats” (the kinds of registered Democrats who voted for Reagan in the elections of 1980 and 1984) away from Clinton.
Many pollsters are already saying there’s no way he can win the general election without doing this to a degree that’s never been seen. But he’s also proven many of these pollsters wrong, time and time again.
On the other hand, there are analysts who cite another phenomenon — namely, that Trump is getting people to care about his campaign and vote in numbers that haven’t been seen (especially for a political neophyte) in a long, long time.
Some pundits have said these irregular or previously uncounted voters may number as many as ten million or more. If true, these numbers could be enough to radically alter the race. Whether they would be enough to propel him to a general election victory (perhaps coinciding with a weak turnout for Clinton — something many pundits are already predicting) is hard to say.
Perhaps, at this point, what Trump should be most worried about is the public’s growing fatigue with his near-constant PR bombardment. In his efforts to topple his GOP rivals, he may have hammered his messages into voters too many times and too loudly, to the point where unconvinced viewers are wearying of his exhortations to “Make America Great Again.”
From this perspective, we may have seen Peak Trump. Or, perhaps, like a skilled general, he’ll fade slowly from view after securing the nomination only to launch an attack on Clinton that is so vicious and calculated that political watchers may gasp at its ferocity. One of Trump’s specialties is unpredictability, and Clinton, being a scripted politician to her core, isn’t used to anything like his behavior.
Time will tell if this race shapes up to be a landslide or a nailbiter.