How Donald Trump defeats Hillary Clinton Obama’s black supporters are crucial to a Trump win, and pollsters say he has a chance with this bloc. By Ben Schreckinger Politico
If Donald Trump becomes the next president of the United States, there will be plenty of surprises along the way. One of the biggest will be the help he gets from black voters.
According to Republican pollsters and Trump’s allies, the GOP poll-leader — who has been dogged by accusations of racism, most recently for tweeting out a chart that exaggerated the share of murders committed by blacks — is poised to out-perform with this demographic group in a general-election matchup with Hillary Clinton.
“If he were the Republican nominee he would get the highest percentage of black votes since Ronald Reagan in 1980,” said Republican messaging guru Frank Luntz, referring to the year Reagan won 14 percent of that bloc of voters. “They listen to him. They find him fascinating, and in all the groups I have done, I have found Obama voters, they could’ve voted for Obama twice, but if they’re African-American they would consider Trump.”
Another longtime Republican pollster and veteran of multiple presidential campaigns has tested Trump’s appeal to blacks and Hispanics and come to the same conclusion. “He behaves in a way that most minorities would not expect a billionaire to behave,” explained the pollster, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid damaging relationships within the party. “He’s not a white-bread socialite kind of guy.”
There’s more. The rest of Trump’s path to general-election victory, as laid out to POLITICO by pollsters, his campaign and his former advisers, looks like this: After winning the nomination on the first ballot, Trump unifies the party he has fractured behind him and reinvents himself as a pragmatic businessman and family man at the Republican National Convention. News of small-scale terror plots on American soil, foiled or successful, keep voters in a state of anxiety. Trump minimizes his losses with Hispanics by running Spanish-language ads highlighting his support for a strong military and take-charge entrepreneurial attitude, especially in the Miami and Orlando media markets. He draws the starkest possible outsider-insider contrast with Hillary Clinton and successfully tars her with her husband’s sexual history.
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If he does all that, holds Mitt Romney’s states, and drives extraordinary levels of working-class white voter turnout in the suburbs and exurbs of Ohio and Virginia, as well as in the Florida panhandle and Jacksonville, he can flip those three Obama states and rack up 266 electoral votes. Winning any one of Iowa, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Colorado, Nevada or New Mexico would put him over the top and make Donald John Trump the 45th president of the United States.
Shrinking Democrats’ edge with black voters is just one of the counterintuitive wrinkles to the scenario in which Trump stuns the world and wins the White House. His path also includes playing the gender card against Clinton, a Karl Rovian gambit to turn his opponent’s strength — her feminist appeal — into a weakness.
In October, Roger Stone, Trump’s former longtime political adviser who left the campaign amid acrimony in August, published “The Clintons’ War on Women,” a book that portrays Bill Clinton as a serial sexual abuser and Hillary Clinton as complicit in silencing his victims.
Trump has seized on that line of attack this month. He greeted the New Year by tweeting, “I hope Bill Clinton starts talking about women’s issues so that voters can see what a hypocrite he is and how Hillary abused those women!” on Jan. 2. Five days later, his campaign released an Instagram video that features images linking the Clintons to Monica Lewinsky, Anthony Weiner and Bill Cosby and declares Trump “the true defender of women’s rights.”
It is an especially audacious move for Trump – who left the first of his three wives for his then-mistress and was the subject of a since-recanted accusation of marital rape – but one that has already re-injected Bill Clinton’s sexual history into the political conversation.
Before he’ll get the chance to take on Clinton though, Trump will have to win the primary. With less than three weeks to go until the Iowa caucuses, polls show Trump leading nationally and in nearly every state except for Iowa, where he and Ted Cruz are neck-and-neck.
If Cruz wins Iowa on Feb. 1, as many expect he will given his campaign’s organizational muscle and the endorsements he has landed from many of the state’s top conservatives, Trump would need to finish a solid second to hold together his double-digit lead in New Hampshire.
Eight days later, Trump would likely need a win in New Hampshire to defend his frontrunner status heading into the Feb. 20 vote in South Carolina, where polls show him in the low 30s, roughly 10 points ahead of the Texas senator’s second-place standing.
Winning South Carolina and avoiding embarrassment in the Nevada caucuses three days later would set Trump up to win big in the 12 Super Tuesday states, including six of South Carolina’s southern neighbors, that vote on March 1. If Trump fends off Cruz on Super Tuesday, and establishment voters rally around a single candidate too late or too tepidly, Trump could land major delegate hauls in winner-take-all states like Florida and Ohio, which vote on March 15, and from there roll on to the nomination.
It’s a scenario that requires many unreliable voters to show up at the polls for Trump and for the businessman to avoid the kind of last-minute reevaluation that drove voters away from Howard Dean’s 2004 Democratic primary campaign. It’s still possible for big-money Republican donors, who so far have sat on the sidelines, to find an effective attack on Trump and get it on the air. And even if Trump wins a plurality of the delegates, if no candidate enters Cleveland with the 1,236 needed to win the nomination, he would find himself negotiating on hostile territory in the case of a contested convention.
But Republican insiders are increasingly coming to grips with the possibility of nominating Trump.
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While many Republicans say Trump’s nomination would hand the presidency to Clinton, others see the former secretary of state as a deeply flawed candidate who could squander Democrats’ structural advantages in the race, including in a matchup with Trump.
“I’m not willing to say he’s the most electable candidate for president because of the hostility he has generated from women and Latinos,” said Luntz. But he added, “I’m unwilling to write Trump off any more. It’s foolish.”
Already, Trump has been laying groundwork in the African-American community that could pay dividends in a general election. With the help of his political and business adviser Michael Cohen, Trump has spent years cultivating black faith leaders. Last year, he held meetings with black pastors in Georgia and at Trump Tower in New York. Trump’s team has also made a pair of black female video bloggers, Lynette “Diamond” Hardaway and Rochelle “Silk” Richardson, prominent surrogates online and on the trail.
Still, he has alienated Hispanics and women and his favorability rating with all voters is further underwater than Clinton’s. Indeed, a race between Clinton and Trump could open the window for a third candidate to spoil Trump’s chance.
Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, who ran for president as the Libertarian Party’s nominee in 2012 and is again seeking the party’s nomination, told POLITICO he views a Trump nomination as an opportunity to poach Republican voters. “It’s ripe pickings,” said Johnson, citing Trump’s positions on trade, his support for eminent domain and his plan to deport millions of undocumented immigrants.
Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has also reportedly polled on a three-way matchup with Trump and Clinton, and it is unclear how the entrance of a second billionaire and third New Yorker would reconfigure the race.
While few if any Republicans view Trump as the party’s most electable nominee, some say he would bring unique assets to a general election.
“You can say whatever you want about Donald but it’s going to be really tough to nail Donald on abortion,” said the veteran Republican pollster who has studied Trump’s appeal. “It’s going to be really tough to nail Donald on gay marriage. It’s going to be really tough to nail Donald on Planned Parenthood. It’s just not who he is, while Cruz has fought and died on every one of those hills.”
Though Trump has been dogged by allegation of sexism, and he apparently insinuated that Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly was menstruating when she asked him tough questions during the first Republican debate, his former political aide Sam Nunberg, said the businessman can still attract many female voters.
Though Nunberg left Trump’s campaign in August, in a recent poll conducted for another client, Nunberg asked women in Connecticut who opposed marijuana legalization who they respected more: a politician who is also charitable and a world-renowned businessman, father and grandfather or an “Elderly woman who not only openly allows her husband to have affairs but tries to silence the women.” The figure with the favorable abstract framing of Trump beat the figure with the negative abstract framing of Clinton by more than 20 points, according to Nunberg.
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The limited sample, tilted framing and withholding of candidate names all qualify the finding, but it does suggest that if Trump can somehow shed his baggage and impose his preferred narrative on the match-up with Clinton, he can appeal to female voters. “He’s a masculine figure and that will attract women to him,” said Nunberg. “It’s their dirty little secret. They like Donald Trump.”
Campaign manager Corey Lewandwoski said Trump’s operation remains focused on winning the nomination, but suggested that the businessman would outperform recent Republican nominees in rust belt states ravaged by free trade, naming Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan.
In a follow-up conversation, Lewandowski took a more expansive view of Trump’s general election prospects, suggesting the businessman could expand the electoral map to include California, Illinois and New York. Several Republican strategists and pollsters laughed off the suggestion. But 2015’s lesson for 2016 may be this: Never say never.