Right now (July), polls suggest that Hillary Clinton will win the presidential election, but I think Donald Trump actually has a much better chance of winning than most people seem to think.
Donald Trump would be a truly terrible president, but he is getting support because he is tapping into fears held by the white middle class that are genuine. Fears about income inequality. Fears about control of government by elites. Fears about good jobs moving to a small number of cities with unaffordable housing. Fears about large scale immigration of people from a different culture putting at risk an existing culture that many people value. Fears that the country is being controlled by a group of people who dehumanize them as “bigots”.
Media’s Role: To diffuse those fears, Hillary Clinton needs to convince the middle class that she really does care about their concerns, but her cautious approach to the media has prevented her getting that message across. Donald Trump has shown that in the new media world, the best way to reach voters is via the media, rather than via advertising. However the media will only carry your message if it at least somewhat controversial. Hillary Clinton has so far taken a “play it safe” approach in what she says, which means that the media rarely quotes her and few people know what she thinks.
Hillary’s failure to tell people who she is has allowed Donald Trump to define her by caricature. Since Hillary rarely says anything controversial enough to get quoted, the only information people have about her are the misleading claims made by her opponents. This has created a false impression that Hillary Clinton is dishonest and doesn’t care about the middle class.
Trump is a master salesman, and is using the same skills to sell his presidency as he used to sell Trump University, Trump Steaks, and Trump Casinos. In all cases, the actual product was terrible for the people who bought it, but Trump was able to convince people that he had the product that would solve all their problems. So long as Trump is able to stoke up fears about (real or imagined) problems, and convince people that he has solutions, there is a real risk that he could win – even if his promised solutions are make-believe.
Democrats are being lulled into a false sense of security by the same experts who thought Trump had no chance of winning the GOP primary. Trump is running to win, not to govern, and definitely not to serve the interests of his party. This has caused him to run a very different kind of campaign, which analysts fail to properly understand. In addition, the fact that Trump is so divisive means that it’s likely that many people who plan to vote for Trump are unwilling to say that to a pollster.
What makes Trump so dangerous is that he isn’t actually running because he wants to “make America great again”, but simply because he wants to win. This means that he is prepared to do things that a more conventional candidate would not be prepared to do if it increases his chance of winning – such as stoking up irrational anger, claiming to have solutions that he knows have no realistic chance of succeeding, and blatantly lying. I don’t think Donald Trump really cares about what would actually happen to America after he won, and that makes him a very risky candidate to campaign against.
Hillary Clinton would be a vastly better president than Donald Trump, but Trump is a better salesman. The biggest thing that Hillary needs to do is reassure people who would otherwise vote for Trump that she respects them and cares deeply about the things that concern them.
Don’t demonize Trump supporters – Trump’s supporters are not bad people, or “bigots”. They are decent people, with genuine concerns, being led astray by a man who is selling them a make-believe story about “bad people” and “simple solutions”. If she wants his supporters to vote for her, then she needs to convince them that she respects them.
Assure Trump’s supporters that she cares about their concerns – Trump gets the support he does because he taps into fears that are legitimate. Fears about the decline of the middle class. Fears about control of government by elites that don’t understand the concerns of the middle class. Fears about large-scale immigration from people with a different culture putting at risk an existing culture that people value. I believe Hillary Clinton does care about these issues, but that message is not being heard in the media.
Say things that are surprising enough to get media coverage – Donald Trump has demonstrated that in the new media landscape the best way to reach voters is through the media, rather than through advertising. However, the media will only carry your message if it is at least somewhat controversial. Hillary has so far taken a “play it safe” approach in what she says, which means that the media rarely quotes her, creating the risk that Trump can define who Hillary is through caricature.
Put a wedge between Donald Trump and his supporters – Find areas where the views and actions of Trump are clearly misaligned with the views of his supporters – and push on them. Make it clear that she is supporting the middle class against Trump, rather than opposing both Trump and his supporters.
Put forward an inspirational vision of the future, including for Trump’s supporters – People vote for Trump because they are worried about the future and think that they need to “push the eject button” in order to avoid catastrophe. To prevent that, she needs to reassure them that they have an exciting future to look forward to, including the expectation that the issues Trump is making them afraid of will be addressed.