Donald Trump Can Win The White House

Jamie Weinstein | Senior Writer

Don’t fool yourself: Donald Trump is capable of winning not only the Republican primary, but the general election too.

Political prognosticators who first predicted that Trump would never get in the presidential race and, once he got in, that he would quickly fade, are now predicting that he would have little shot of winning the general election should he be the Republican nominee.

I’m among those who predicted Trump wouldn’t get in the race and, at the very beginning of his entry into the field, that he could never win. Now I see the real estate billionaire as the second most likely to win the Republican nomination, narrowly behind [crscore]Marco Rubio[/crscore], and as a real contender to beat Hillary Clinton should he face her in the general election.

One reason some think Trump would get crushed in the general election is his unpopularity nationally. According to a recent Quinnipiac poll of registered voters, Trump and Jeb Bush have the lowest net favorables of any 2016 presidential candidate, Democrat or Republican, with a net favorability rating of negative 22 percentage points. Hillary Clinton’s numbers aren’t anything to write home about at negative 7 percentage points, but that’s still three times better than Trump’s.

This, however, is exactly the same reason why many didn’t think Trump could possibly perform well in the Republican primary.

“Taking into account name recognition, Trump’s net favorability rating (favorable minus unfavorable) of -32 percentage points stands out for its pure terribleness at this point in the campaign,” data journalist Harry Enten wrote when Trump entered the presidential fray in June. “For this reason alone, Trump has a better chance of cameoing in another ‘Home Alone’ movie with Macaulay Culkin — or playing in the NBA Finals — than winning the Republican nomination.”

But guess what happened over the ensuing months? Trump totally transformed his numbers. Today, he has a positive net favorability among GOP voters of 37 percent, according to the latest Quinnipiac poll, essentially tying him with Mike Huckabee for fourth among GOP contenders. (Rubio, [crscore]Ted Cruz[/crscore] and Ben Carson lead the field with net favorables in the mid-to-high 50s.)

That’s an amazing swing for Trump and I’m not so sure he can’t duplicate it among all voters if he makes it to the general election. Trump is a master brander, remember. Once he hones in on the audience he needs to woo, he tailors his pitch accordingly.

And tailor his pitch he will. Trump has no set in stone an ideology other than winning. If he has to modify some of the promises he made during the Republican primary in order to win the general election, who doubts he will? And just try and call him out on it. When has Trump ever been harmed by being caught in a flip-flop or a lie? He just denies he has flip-flopped or lied, even when there is overwhelming evidence, and moves along. Such a strategy doesn’t work for most candidates, but for some reason it works for Donald Trump.

What’s more, once he is the nominee, Trump-The-Master-Brander will immediately attempt to destroy Hillary Clinton in the same manner he destroyed “low-energy” Jeb Bush and some of his other primary contenders.

Trump will bring up the mysterious illness Hillary suffered at the end of her tenure as secretary of state and suggest she has never recovered from it and is too sickly to be commander in chief. He will portray her as a criminal for her email scandal and wonder how she is even allowed to run for president. “She’s a criminal,” you can hear Trump repeating and repeating and repeating, hammering it into the public’s consciousness. “How is she even allowed to run for president? She should be in jail.”

Trump’s ultimate appeal is not issue specific. It can be tailored to any community or cause. It’s a message that is compelling on a visceral level. He promises that he can solve all your problems if you just put your faith in him. He’ll fix the economy, destroy ISIS and make America — and maybe even you personally — rich. And he can do it all easily and at no real cost to — or sacrifice from — you.

We all want to believe this magical thinking. Trump is pretty good at getting large swaths of the public to buy it. Call me crazy, but I suspect once he hones in on white Democrats or the African-American community, he may be able to do better than people think with those constituencies.

And while, as I reported last week, some elite conservative thinkers may refuse to support Trump under any circumstance, most of the GOP base will probably remain with him. Some will support him enthusiastically, others will do it for tribal party reasons. Many of those more skeptical of Trump-ism will even probably support him by convincing themselves that while Trump is far from an ideal candidate, he is, for instance, at least more likely than Hillary Clinton to appoint conservative Supreme Court justices. Even some of those top conservative thinkers who have expressed reticence about supporting Trump may come around to that point of view in the end.

And let’s not overlook the potential for Trump to attract voters who traditionally don’t vote. Like Jesse Ventura when he ran for governor in Minnesota, Trump may expand the electorate.

This is not to say it will be easy for Trump. He will have to contend with a media that will be more disdainful of him than any candidate in history. But Trump may be able to use that to his advantage, as he has done in the Republican primary.

We are just under two months away from voters actually casting ballots in the Republican primary and Trump is hardly a sure thing to win the GOP nomination. As voters begin to pay more attention, Trump may finally, at long last, begin to fade in the polls.

But if Trump does hold on to win the GOP nomination, be wary of those who say Trump is all but dead in the general election. Trump would have defied all conventional political wisdom by becoming the GOP nominee — who’s to say he wouldn’t be able to defy it once more?

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