The Pros and Antis: Sectioning the General Election

Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton and NY Governor Andrew Cuomo march on Memorial Day May 30, 2016 in the Clinton’s hometown Chappaqua NY. Photo: Marianne Campolon / Shutterstock
May 25, 2016 Republican Nominee Presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at campaign event in the Anaheim Stadium in Anaheim California to Thousands of fans and Supporters. Photo Mikeledray / Shutterstock

As we approach the conventions, it looks increasingly like the 2016 presidential election will be a contest between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton (apologies to Bernie Sanders supporters). I’ve spoken in past posts about taking a step back from media hyperbole, catching your breathe and moving forward with a clear head and calm pulse. So while you’re relaxing, I’d like to offer you an idea to chew on. Our electorate is comprised of basically five different groups of voters:

• Pro-Trump: For Republicans and those favoring particular stances of issues such as abortion, immigration, and taxation, Trump is the Republican standard bearer.

• Pro-Clinton: Similarly, for Democrats and those favoring Democratic stances on issues, Clinton is the Democratic standard bearer.

• Anti-Trump: These voters think that Trump is unqualified for one reason or another to be President. While these might be policy reasons, they are more likely to be questions of temperament and character.

• Anti-Clinton: Likewise, these voters disqualify Clinton for reasons of temperament and fitness.

• The Uncertain

Crucially and unfortunately for the Trump campaign, for over twenty years political partisans have been seeking to cast doubts upon the character of Clinton and the GOP is like the Boy who cried “wolf!” Unless something more significant arises such as an indictment resulting from her email handling, those voters who have not already been persuaded that Clinton is unfit for the Oval Office are unlikely to suddenly change their mind and largely will tune out such rhetoric as more of the usual propaganda.

On the other hand, as we are already seeing, the Trump campaign is already wrestling with the reality of a harsh media spotlight. The large GOP primary candidate field and the relatively weak attacks thrown between the candidates doesn’t compare with the one on one nature of the Presidential election.

What this means is that while the whole electorate has been exposed to decades of anti-Clinton rhetoric, it has only begun to be exposed to anti-Trump rhetoric. So, when we look at the unprecedented unfavorability numbers of the two candidates, it’s likely that Clinton’s is close to its floor while Trump’s has not yet begun to fall from the predictable onslaught of campaign rhetoric.

For Trump, this means his campaign needs to bring something new to the rhetorical table that makes even jaded voters think twice. Another unsubstantiated scandal will be insufficient. For the Clinton campaign, this means tearing down and shining light on every unsavory and unpalatable action Trump has taken over the decades and parading them in the public eye.

On defense, both candidates need to avoid unforced errors and stop making enemies of voters. To date here again, Trump has got his work cut out. He has a lot of television experience but so does Clinton and she also has the political experience and sixth sense to avoid making truly calamitous gaffes on camera.

When it comes to the rhetorical war between the candidates and voter sensibilities, Clinton starts with a lead born out of surviving twenty years of attacks.