There are two Trump campaigns underway: one, to secure the GOP nomination and two, to remake Trump into an acceptable presidential candidate. Especially after Trump’s resounding wins last night and in recent primaries, a new Donald may be the heavier lift.
Housebreaking this unruly Golden Retriever will require buy-in from his master. Trump has worked hard to win votes and primaries; now he has to win self-control. He has to listen to his advisors, which will be a challenge, and he has to stop pandering to the adoring crowds who have brought him so far. When 10,000 cheering supporters demand red meat, it’s hard to throw them salmon fillets. But that’s what he must do.
Trump needs to deflate his extremely high “unfavorables” by dumping his trademark vulgarity and bullying. A test will come at his sit-down with Fox News host Megyn Kelly on May 17; he’ll have to show he can handle a tough interviewer without resorting to playground insults.
Improving his tone is important, because voters will then focus more intently on his actual policies – many of which are more mainstream and popular than pundits suggest. For every past Trumpism that has caused a ruckus, there is a kernel of common sense. Right-wing pundits rail that Trump is no conservative – but millions of Americans are impressed with Trump’s authenticity and could care less about his ideological purity.
These policy positions have landed Trump in hot water, but he is actually in agreement with the majority of Americans:
Abortion. Trump has repeatedly stepped in it when asked about abortion. He has called for a ban, but also suggested the laws in place today should stand. He suggested to MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews that the woman should be punished for breaking the law but immediately walked that assertion back when informed that it countered established conservative dogma. He also has said that he would like to change the party platform banning abortion to carve out exceptions for rape and incest.
His multiple responses reveal the obvious: He couldn’t care less about the issue. He has been pro-choice in the past, and he is most likely pro-choice now, despite his nod to the pro-lifers who loom large in GOP primaries. Trump’s veering off-message is the result of not having studied the issue, but also reflects his gut instinct, which is not so out of line with the consensus. Americans do not list abortion as one of their top concerns. His journey on this issue is very similar to Mitt Romney’s.
Conservatives want to ban abortions under all circumstances; only 19 percent of the country agrees -- a figure that has not budged in 40 years. Similarly, for more than four decades a little over half the country has thought that abortion should be legal “only under certain circumstances.” Last year, a Quinnipiac survey asked, “How about when the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest? Do you think abortion should be legal in that situation or illegal?” 78 percent said legal. That’s where Trump is, and where Romney was.
Muslims entering the country. Last December, Trump was hammered as a racist for suggesting “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on." He called for the ban in the wake of the San Bernardino mass murders by two Islamic terrorists and while President Obama was advocating for the admission of 10,000 Syrian refugees. At the same time, both National Security Chief James Clapper and FBI Director James Comey had testified that it was almost impossible to properly vet refugees from war-torn regions where records were unavailable. They also admitted that there were instances of jihadists posing as refugees. Europe is dealing with just such problems, with jihadists hidden among the flood of Syrians seeking asylum.
In a recent YouGov/Huffington Research poll, 51 percent of Americans agree that we should have a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country, compared with 40 percent who disagree. That represents increasing support for the idea, now embraced by 62 percent of independent voters.
Immigration and building the wall. Trump early on inflamed critics by suggesting, “When Mexico sends their people, they are not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems. They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” When asked why he called them rapists, Trump cited studies showing that 80 percent of women entering the U.S. illegally from Mexico had been raped during that journey. Challenged by CNN’s Don Lemon, who pointed out those rapes occurred outside our borders, Trump countered, “Well, somebody’s doing the raping….Who’s doing the raping? How can you say such a thing?”
He has a point. In a recent survey of Americans’ top concerns, “immigration and illegal aliens” ranks fourth, just below the economy, jobs and “dissatisfaction with government,” and ahead of terrorism, healthcare and education. A recent Rasmussen survey showed that more than half the country supports Trump’s plan to build a wall along the Mexican border. Moreover, “59 percent of likely U.S. voters think gaining control of the border should be the priority when it comes to immigration reform. Thirty-four percent (34 percent) disagree and say it’s more important to grant legal status to those already living here.” This is not new; the polling outfit notes that the findings have been roughly stable for the past four years. Unlike Obama, Trump is in sync with the country.
There’s no doubt that Trump has work to do to convince American voters that he is fit to be president. People need to envision him in the Oval Office and as Commander in Chief. Should he run against Hillary Clinton in November, he will be competing against another candidate with high “unfavorables.” Her problem is that she is not considered honest and trustworthy.
As Trump’s new r campaign chief Paul Manafort noted, “‘Fixing personality negatives is a lot easier than fixing character negatives…You can’t change somebody’s character. But you can change the way somebody presents themselves. It’s easier to change issues of style than issues of character.”