What Trump Must Change to Beat Hillary

Donald Trump’s supporters say he’ll beat Hillary Clinton because he’s saying what people want to hear, because he’s pro-American, and because he’s attracting all kinds of Democrats and independents.  He’s winning because he’s “breaking all the rules.”  Not so fast.  Unless Trump disciplines himself to stay on message and provide detailed solutions, and becomes very gracious (and quickly), he will not beat Hillary Clinton.

Attack and Rant: Trump Is Everywhere Except on Message

Trump gets distracted easily.  Whether it’s Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Carly Fiorina, Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Megyn Kelly, or some protester in the 17th row of some auditorium at a campaign rally, Trump can’t stay on message.  Instead, he sidetracks himself with personal attacks.  These attacks include calling John Kasich a “baby,” implying that Heidi Cruz is not attractive, saying John McCain is “not a war hero,” and questioning whether people would vote for Carly Fiorina in light of her looks.  He even suggested that Ted Cruz’s father had knowledge of the Kennedy assassination.  Instead, Trump should have been building relationships with state and local Republican Party officials.

Trump’s proneness to getting himself sidetracked will hurt him as the “Clinton machine” attacks him from several angles at once.  The Clintons are masterful at going after candidates to rattle them.  When Hillary ran against President Obama in 2008, she attacked him for his lack of experience.  Meanwhile, Bill characterized Obama’s win in the South Carolina primary as not at all different from Jesse Jackson’s in 1988.  Translation: Like Jackson, Obama could win only black voters.  The Clinton campaign also questioned Obama’s birth records and wondered if he was “fundamentally American in his thinking and in his values.”

And yet Obama never lost his cool or got off message.  He never let these incidents take away from reminding voters of his core theme of “hope and change.”  Contrary to Obama’s discipline, Trump wastes days counterpunching, mocking, and inventing stories against anyone who criticizes him.  Trump also brings these counterpunches into speeches at rallies, interviews with the media, and debates.  The bottom line is clear: if Trump can knock himself off message with Marco Rubio, Megyn Kelly, or a Washington Post article; the Clintons will have his head spinning.

Trump’s Solutions: Nothing under the Hood?

When Trump does focus on issues, he offers few specifics.  Take Trump’s two big issues: immigration and trade.  Trump fails to explain how he will achieve “building a wall” or stopping U.S. companies from locating abroad.  He floated a 50% import tax penalty on American products made abroad, but he seems to have walked away from that.  In fact, besides picking up the phone and calling the CEOs of U.S. companies that locate overseas, Trump offers no serious solutions.  Even on his plan to reduce corporate taxes, which could reduce American businesses departing from our shores, no one knows if he is serious.

In 1984, people asked of Democratic hopeful Walter Mondale, “Where’s the beef?” because he didn’t offer enough specifics.  Trump suffers from this same problem.

Trump also changes his mind.  He was against the minimum wage, and now he’s for it; he doesn’t think the U.S. should support its allies (belittling our Middle Eastern partners) and then argues that the U.S. will back its allies; and he wants to cut the deficit but won’t reform entitlements.  Even on core Republican issues like taxes, while Trump called for lower corporate and individual taxes, he changed his mind on certain higher income earners.  This hurt John Kerry in 2004 when he said he was “for the Iraq War before [he] voted against it.”  While Clinton has consistency problems, she can better weather them than Trump.  Despite being awkward and stiff, Clinton is more disciplined and measured in her rhetoric.

All this leads to another difficulty Trump will face with the crucial undecided voters in the general election: he’s not offering them a solution to fix the economic problems they face.  There will come a point where these undecided voters get serious about who they believe is best capable of being president.  If a candidate lacks elective office experience, he or she needs to offer specific, concrete policies to solve issues.  Such was the case with Ross Perot in 1992.  Perot spent money on 30-minute infomercials, detailing specific ways to cut the deficit.  This not only demonstrated Perot’s ability to deal with problems, but also reinforced his core campaign theme – get spending under control.  Trump has not done anything like this, let alone the necessary homework on key issues.

A Few White Males Like Him, but a Lot of Women and Non-Whites Don’t

Trump has high unfavorables among key voter groups – so high that he won’t be able to overcome them without a radical change of tune.  Trump’s unfavorables among women: 70-73%; among Latinos: 64%.  This challenge is made worse because non-white voters doubled in size from 1980 to 2012.  This was why Romney lost in 2012, even though he got a higher percentage (59%) of the white vote than Reagan got in 1980 (56%).

Trump’s supporters will dismiss this by saying Trump got more than 10 million votes in the primaries, surpassing Romney.  But Trump’s primary election victories won’t be carried over to general election results.  Many of these voters are registered Republican voters, independents who used to be Republicans, or renegade Sanders voters who re-register as Republicans in open primary states.  That’s one reason why Trump won so many open primary states, while Cruz won so many closed primary states.  It also means many of the crossover votes Trump got will not be loyal in the general election.  They will either go with Sanders or, more likely, sit out instead of voting for Clinton.  Besides, primary elections represent only about 18% of total voters.

Most general election voters don’t get serious until Labor Day.  Trump’s failure is that he’s done little to prepare himself for a general election campaign.  He did not use his nearly one year of campaigning to develop his approach to solving problems and to refine the best way to explain his approach to voters.  Trump is lucky Sanders has kept Clinton from transitioning fully to general election mode.  But that luck will run out when the conventions are over in August – just when general election voters start paying attention.

The one saving grace Trump has is that Hillary Clinton’s favorability rating has gone from about 56% to 36% over the past nine months or so.  Interestingly, Sanders’s favorability rating has increased from 29% to 52% over this same time frame.  Moreover, Clinton struggles with men and young people.  However, she’s working on this, while Trump seems oblivious to his problems with women and non-white voters.

At the end of the day, Trump’s inability to win will come from the fact that he can’t stay focused on his campaign message, that he fails to explain how he will solve the nation’s problems, and that he’s generated too much ill will from too many voters.  Trump’s campaign is a set of 30-second commercials, punctuated by distracting personal attacks, rants, and raves.  Enough voters will conclude that Trump is not serious and/or not capable, and enough voters will conclude that Clinton is more serious and/or capable – despite holding their noses the whole time.

For Trump to win, he must find a message and stay on it, provide detailed solutions (including the creation of focused “policy teams” that can blanket the media with detailed answers), and end the personal attacks.  And for good measure, Trump should suspend his Twitter account until November 9.

Steve Ackerman is a political and economic researcher and analyst. He has worked on several state and national campaigns.

Donald Trump’s supporters say he’ll beat Hillary Clinton because he’s saying what people want to hear, because he’s pro-American, and because he’s attracting all kinds of Democrats and independents.  He’s winning because he’s “breaking all the rules.”  Not so fast.  Unless Trump disciplines himself to stay on message and provide detailed solutions, and becomes very gracious (and quickly), he will not beat Hillary Clinton.

Attack and Rant: Trump Is Everywhere Except on Message

Trump gets distracted easily.  Whether it’s Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Carly Fiorina, Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Megyn Kelly, or some protester in the 17th row of some auditorium at a campaign rally, Trump can’t stay on message.  Instead, he sidetracks himself with personal attacks.  These attacks include calling John Kasich a “baby,” implying that Heidi Cruz is not attractive, saying John McCain is “not a war hero,” and questioning whether people would vote for Carly Fiorina in light of her looks.  He even suggested that Ted Cruz’s father had knowledge of the Kennedy assassination.  Instead, Trump should have been building relationships with state and local Republican Party officials.

Trump’s proneness to getting himself sidetracked will hurt him as the “Clinton machine” attacks him from several angles at once.  The Clintons are masterful at going after candidates to rattle them.  When Hillary ran against President Obama in 2008, she attacked him for his lack of experience.  Meanwhile, Bill characterized Obama’s win in the South Carolina primary as not at all different from Jesse Jackson’s in 1988.  Translation: Like Jackson, Obama could win only black voters.  The Clinton campaign also questioned Obama’s birth records and wondered if he was “fundamentally American in his thinking and in his values.”

And yet Obama never lost his cool or got off message.  He never let these incidents take away from reminding voters of his core theme of “hope and change.”  Contrary to Obama’s discipline, Trump wastes days counterpunching, mocking, and inventing stories against anyone who criticizes him.  Trump also brings these counterpunches into speeches at rallies, interviews with the media, and debates.  The bottom line is clear: if Trump can knock himself off message with Marco Rubio, Megyn Kelly, or a Washington Post article; the Clintons will have his head spinning.

Trump’s Solutions: Nothing under the Hood?

When Trump does focus on issues, he offers few specifics.  Take Trump’s two big issues: immigration and trade.  Trump fails to explain how he will achieve “building a wall” or stopping U.S. companies from locating abroad.  He floated a 50% import tax penalty on American products made abroad, but he seems to have walked away from that.  In fact, besides picking up the phone and calling the CEOs of U.S. companies that locate overseas, Trump offers no serious solutions.  Even on his plan to reduce corporate taxes, which could reduce American businesses departing from our shores, no one knows if he is serious.

In 1984, people asked of Democratic hopeful Walter Mondale, “Where’s the beef?” because he didn’t offer enough specifics.  Trump suffers from this same problem.

Trump also changes his mind.  He was against the minimum wage, and now he’s for it; he doesn’t think the U.S. should support its allies (belittling our Middle Eastern partners) and then argues that the U.S. will back its allies; and he wants to cut the deficit but won’t reform entitlements.  Even on core Republican issues like taxes, while Trump called for lower corporate and individual taxes, he changed his mind on certain higher income earners.  This hurt John Kerry in 2004 when he said he was “for the Iraq War before [he] voted against it.”  While Clinton has consistency problems, she can better weather them than Trump.  Despite being awkward and stiff, Clinton is more disciplined and measured in her rhetoric.

All this leads to another difficulty Trump will face with the crucial undecided voters in the general election: he’s not offering them a solution to fix the economic problems they face.  There will come a point where these undecided voters get serious about who they believe is best capable of being president.  If a candidate lacks elective office experience, he or she needs to offer specific, concrete policies to solve issues.  Such was the case with Ross Perot in 1992.  Perot spent money on 30-minute infomercials, detailing specific ways to cut the deficit.  This not only demonstrated Perot’s ability to deal with problems, but also reinforced his core campaign theme – get spending under control.  Trump has not done anything like this, let alone the necessary homework on key issues.

A Few White Males Like Him, but a Lot of Women and Non-Whites Don’t

Trump has high unfavorables among key voter groups – so high that he won’t be able to overcome them without a radical change of tune.  Trump’s unfavorables among women: 70-73%; among Latinos: 64%.  This challenge is made worse because non-white voters doubled in size from 1980 to 2012.  This was why Romney lost in 2012, even though he got a higher percentage (59%) of the white vote than Reagan got in 1980 (56%).

Trump’s supporters will dismiss this by saying Trump got more than 10 million votes in the primaries, surpassing Romney.  But Trump’s primary election victories won’t be carried over to general election results.  Many of these voters are registered Republican voters, independents who used to be Republicans, or renegade Sanders voters who re-register as Republicans in open primary states.  That’s one reason why Trump won so many open primary states, while Cruz won so many closed primary states.  It also means many of the crossover votes Trump got will not be loyal in the general election.  They will either go with Sanders or, more likely, sit out instead of voting for Clinton.  Besides, primary elections represent only about 18% of total voters.

Most general election voters don’t get serious until Labor Day.  Trump’s failure is that he’s done little to prepare himself for a general election campaign.  He did not use his nearly one year of campaigning to develop his approach to solving problems and to refine the best way to explain his approach to voters.  Trump is lucky Sanders has kept Clinton from transitioning fully to general election mode.  But that luck will run out when the conventions are over in August – just when general election voters start paying attention.

The one saving grace Trump has is that Hillary Clinton’s favorability rating has gone from about 56% to 36% over the past nine months or so.  Interestingly, Sanders’s favorability rating has increased from 29% to 52% over this same time frame.  Moreover, Clinton struggles with men and young people.  However, she’s working on this, while Trump seems oblivious to his problems with women and non-white voters.

At the end of the day, Trump’s inability to win will come from the fact that he can’t stay focused on his campaign message, that he fails to explain how he will solve the nation’s problems, and that he’s generated too much ill will from too many voters.  Trump’s campaign is a set of 30-second commercials, punctuated by distracting personal attacks, rants, and raves.  Enough voters will conclude that Trump is not serious and/or not capable, and enough voters will conclude that Clinton is more serious and/or capable – despite holding their noses the whole time.

For Trump to win, he must find a message and stay on it, provide detailed solutions (including the creation of focused “policy teams” that can blanket the media with detailed answers), and end the personal attacks.  And for good measure, Trump should suspend his Twitter account until November 9.

Steve Ackerman is a political and economic researcher and analyst. He has worked on several state and national campaigns.