LOS ANGELES, Aug. 22, 2016 — Despite the polls, Republican candidate Donald Trump is now positioned to win the November presidential election. If he can remain on his current path and retain his discipline for the remainder of the campaign season, he will defeat Hillary Clinton in November.
Over the last few weeks, Trump has been plagued by unforced errors that were amplified by a media gleeful to harm him and protect Clinton.
However, Trump came into this race with one advantage that had nothing to do with him: Voters rarely ever give the party in power three straight election victories. Clinton is the status quo candidate at a time when the hunger for change has never been louder. Americans overwhelmingly believe America is on the wrong track. While President Barack Obama is personally liked, his main policies have never had majority support. The Affordable Care Act and the Iran deal are his legacy items, and they remain deeply unpopular.
A traditional Republican candidate with the slightest communication skills would defeat Clinton, who remains awkward on the stump.
Trump is not a traditional candidate. He won the GOP nomination by vowing to get serious about issues that traditional Republicans have ignored for far too long. Tough stands on illegal immigration and trade propelled him to victory. In the general election, he has public support for many of his policies. The substance battle is his for the taking, since Clinton tends to offer stale platitudes. Trump is getting killed on style points, allowing Hillary to possibly win by default.
Trump’s weakness is his lack of discipline. He shoots from the hip. He ridiculed serious presidential contenders with belittling nicknames. Sen. Ted Cruz became “Lyin’ Ted.” Sen. Marco Rubio was “Little Marco.” Gov. Jeb Bush was turned into “Low energy Jeb.”
These insults left supporters of those candidates seething. Many traditional Republicans have vowed never to vote for Trump under any circumstances. Trump can still win some of them over, but everything comes down to discipline. The way to prove people wrong is to do exactly that, and Trump in recent days has shown signs that he is ultra-serious.
Radio host Sean Hannity is one of Trump’s staunchest media backers. Hannity took to the airwaves and offered Trump a very simple strategy: From now until the election, Trump should not talk about anybody other than Obama and Clinton. Every moment spent arguing with a private citizen, media personality or political operative is worse than a waste of time. It is counter-productive.
Trump appears to have gotten the message. On Aug. 15 he gave a speech dedicated to national security that was centered on the threat of radical Islam. His remarks were nothing short of magnificent. He followed the three stages that all of his speeches must have. Gone were the bombast, bravado and braggadocio. Trump spoke in a calm, sober, serious voice that had the audience hanging on his every word.
He began by laying out the problem of radical Islam and using specific examples. While the Orlando shooting is still fresh in people’s minds, Trump brought up the Charlie Hebdo massacre that has faded into the background. He took the audience on a chronological tour of radical Islam. He then shifted to Obama and Clinton, focusing like a laser on their failed combined record. He then stated exactly what he would do differently to more effectively combat radical Islam.
He did not mention Mexicans or Muslims or any other ethnic group. He kept to his script, which was that Obama and Hillary have compromised national security and made America and the world less safe. He kept his remarks to 50 minutes, far shorter than his 75-minute convention speech.
Trump stuck to the teleprompter and did not wander off into streams of consciousness that get him into trouble. The result was a disciplined, focused speech that had former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani gushing.
Trump needed to repeat this performance, and he did. His next economic speech started with the problems we face and the anxiety that is more widespread than the liberal media care to admit. Trump then focused on Obama policies causing economic failure and Clinton’s vow to continue those failed policies. He wrapped up with what he would do to solve the mess Obama created and Clinton cannot fix.
Hillary Clinton cannot beat Donald Trump when Trump talks policy and only policy. If the race becomes personal, Hillary Clinton wins. Obama’s cult of personality allowed him to beat war hero Sen. John McCain in 2008. Obama’s demonizing of Gov. Mitt Romney as a greedy vulture capitalist allowed him to survive re-election, with significant help from Hurricane Sandy. Clinton is attempting to repeat the 2012 playbook because it worked. She knows she is disliked and distrusted. She needs to run a scorched earth campaign convincing just enough voters that her opponent is worse.
Clinton cannot run a positive campaign because Americans are not happy with the current condition of the country or the world. Americans are looking for an excuse not to vote for her. She ran an uninspiring primary campaign during which the Democratic National Committee tried to rig the nomination in her favor. Even with those thumbs on the scale, she still barely survived against a 74-year-old Vermont socialist. Voters do not want her. They will vote for Trump as long as he shows that he is an acceptable alternative.
Trump as the challenger does not have to be spectacular. He only has to be plausible. Ronald Reagan passed the plausibility test and crushed Jimmy Carter. George W. Bush passed the plausibility test when the liberal media had anointed Al Gore. Although he lost in 2012, Romney’s strong first debate performance allowed him to ace the plausibility test. Even in defeat, his competence was never questioned.
The first debate is Trump’s best chance to show that he is a serious individual prepared to tackle vexing problems. Until then, as long as he stays on message and sticks to policy, he will be in strong shape heading into that debate.
Clinton will try to demonize Trump as a racist, sexist, bigoted homophobe who kicks puppies and kittens. Trump is more pro-gay rights than Hillary and just issued a powerful rebuke of liberalism’s destructive effects on blacks. When Trump brings up Bill Clinton’s misdeeds toward women, Hillary Clinton quickly backs down from her war on women line of attack.
Clinton will do everything to bait Trump. Expect more taunting from the usual bullies from Obama to Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Trump needs to be presidential. He must be above the fray.
If he can maintain this discipline and keep hammering on policy and only policy, he will win the 2016 election.