Will moderating his policy positions really be of benefit to Donald Trump?
On 20 June 2016, Corey Lewandowski was removed from the position of campaign manager for the Donald Trump presidential campaign following an internal struggle with Trump strategist Paul Manafort. Manafort was later announced as Lewandowski’s replacement as campaign manager. Lewandowski was influential in the Trump campaign’s primary strategy of dominating the news agenda through insulting his opponents and making outlandish statements. Lewandowski had the phrase “Let Trump be Trump” fixed to his office wall, and this tended to be the way in which the primary campaign was run. However, there were many who predicted that this strategy would not serve Trump well in the latter stages of the presidential campaign, and that if he were to challenge Hillary Clinton then he would have to adopt a more professional persona or risk alienating the swing voters which are crucial to any election victory. Therefore, the appointment of Paul Manafort as the new campaign manager is seemingly a step towards the professionalisation of the Trump campaign. Manafort has pedigree having served as an advisor to the Republican presidential campaigns of Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, George W. Bush, and John McCain. This suggests that Trump is aiming to move his campaign away from the strategy that served him so well in the primary campaign, to one which allows him to target the centrist voters who will be key if he is to defeat Hillary Clinton in the general election.
There have also been signs that Trump has moved to the centre on some policy positions with his statements in favour of an increase in the minimum wage and higher taxes for the wealthiest. Both these measures are likely aimed at the centrist voters that Trump needs to win over in order to triumph in the general election. We have also seen Trump seemingly soften his stance somewhat on other controversial issues. Having previously stated during the primary campaign that he was in favour of banning all Muslims from entering the United States he has now said that he is only in favour of banning those from countries with a proven history of terrorism. However, although on paper this appears to be a softening of his position, realistically Trump’s stance on this issue has not really changed. His previous policy position of a complete ban upon Muslims entering the United States would surely have been found to be unconstitutional by the judiciary as it is clearly discriminatory on the grounds of religion. However, by switching his policy proposal to a ban on immigration from countries with a history of terrorism then Trump has likely achieved pretty much his original aim but has done so in a way that is less likely to be seen as unconstitutional. Therefore, Trump’s views are arguably just as extreme as they were during the primary campaign. However despite this, there is no doubt that Trump is attempting to appear more moderate in an attempt to woo undecided voters.
However, it is surely debatable whether this apparent moderation will serve Trump well during the general election. The argument that undecided and centrist voters will not vote for Trump if he retains his extreme policy positions on certain issues is a valid one. If Trump does completely retain his early policy positions then it is hard to see how he could possibly win a Presidential election against Hillary Clinton. However, the groundswell of support that Trump built up during the primary campaign chose to support him because of his anti-establishment positions. The vast majority of Trump’s original support was made up of people who don’t always vote in elections and who have become apathetic about establishment politics. These are people who have no interest in voting for a member of the establishment running on a platform of establishment policy positions. In order for Trump to retain the support of this group then he needs to stick to the principles which gained him support and momentum in the first place. This would mean Trump choosing not to professionalise his campaign and not overtly targeting centrist voters. Effectively, Trump’s earlier campaign strategy has put him into a “catch-22 situation”. If Trump continues to run his campaign as he did in the primaries then he will retain the support he gained during the primaries but he will perhaps struggle to persuade many undecided and centrist voters to back him. This failure to persuade centrist voters to back him would be likely to cost him the election. Conversely, Trump could begin to run a more professional campaign in an attempt to attract more centrist voters. Although this would likely gain him some support amongst undecided voters and traditional Republicans, it could also lead to Trump losing significant support amongst those who originally backed him. Many of the original group who backed Trump don’t regularly vote and therefore if Trump were to morph into a member of the political establishment then once again they would be likely to elect not to cast a vote. Again, this would be likely to cost Trump the election.
Ultimately, this gives Trump a serious problem as it seems that whichever decision he makes regarding the direction of his campaign, he is going to struggle to defeat Hillary Clinton in November. Currently general election polling reflects this, with polls giving Clinton an average lead of 4.6 per cent over Trump. This suggests that Trump’s level of support is significantly lower than it was several months ago, meaning that the attempt to moderate his campaign is yet to be effective. It seems that although Trump’s insurgent campaign was brutally effective during the primaries, it is simply not suited to a general election. Trump’s reliance on retaining the interest of individuals who rarely vote was always going to be risky. Whilst his decision to take extreme policy positions and publicise these so widely was always going to make it difficult for him to attract centrist voters. It now seems increasingly unlikely that Trump will be able to beat Clinton. As Clinton no longer has the threat of FBI charges hanging over her head, there seems to be little in the pipeline that would be able to knock her popularity, meaning little chance for Trump to gain supporters.
Thankfully, it seems as though the Trump campaign has run out of steam, and that Donald Trump will not be the next President of the United States, with no amount of moderation being able to change this.