Sincere Advice for Mr. Trump (If He Wants to Win)
Dear Mr. Trump,
What follows isn’t an endorsement of your campaign or a “Never Trump”-based criticism. Rather, it’s an observation of the potential pitfalls in your current campaign strategy that need major revisions before you wind up not being the Republican nominee (if such remains your goal).
There is currently a confluence of events in the election cycle that make this particular period treacherous for the “Make America Great Again” campaign. The first is the news today that your campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was arrested for pulling on the arm of former Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields. This comes as the narrative of “whose wife is hotter” dominated the airwaves last week. There is one week until primary voters cast ballots in Wisconsin. Hillary Clinton, the presumptive nominee of the Democrats, has turned much of her focus on you. Scott Walker has endorsed Ted Cruz in Wisconsin. The “conservative” media’s “Never Trump” campaign continues (whether they actually believe it, or whether it’s merely to generate clicks on their websites remains unclear– probably a feedback loop if we’re honest). Finally, you are losing delegates to Cruz in states that you won because your ground game was not intact (many of them are “pledged” to you for just one vote at the convention. If you don’t get 1,237, they’re going to Cruz).
It may not seem like all of these are connected, but you should plan as if they are. Forces in the media, the GOP, and the electorate are converging at the same time and it is possibly the worst time for this to happen (if you have your eyes set on 1237 and a majority at the convention).
As you’ve probably been briefed, the endgame of the 1,237 issue is a math problem: can Trump (because Cruz is unlikely to reach the threshold, and it is mathematically impossible for Kasich) get 1,237 GOP pledged delegates by the end of the primaries (June 7). Online numbers vary, but, we’ll say you have 755 right now. Your closest rival, Sen. Cruz, has 466. Despite this “huge” lead, there are only 896 delegates remaining “outstanding” (not counting unbound delegates). You need about 54% of the remaining delegates. If your current trajectory holds, you’re likely to secure the 1,237 on June 7 (you’re currently winning about 48% of delegates, but those figures are weighted towards the numerous proportional contests earlier in the race. The upcoming states are more weighted in favor of “winner take all by Congressional District” which increases the winner’s share of the delegate haul.)
The problem for you, however, is one one of appearances. The one thing most everyone has learned this campaign season (whatever their ultimate opinion of your candidacy may be) is that Americans, especially folks who feel left out or betrayed by the political process, are willing to give you a try. Americans have also seen that you are fiercely loyal to people who do right by you. The political class of pundits and lobbyists originally didn’t understand these about “Trump the Politician,” but they do now. They are going to use these two things (willingness of disaffected voters and your personal loyalty) to end your candidacy at the GOP Convention.
Right now, the calendar is working against you. I know you took a few days off from campaigning last week. That was, despite the criticism from talking heads, probably pretty smart. In the next three weeks, there is only one contest: Wisconsin. Let’s get this out of the way now: it’s going to be hard for you to win there, and it’s going to be a big problem for you. Being that it is the only vote for about a month, the media is going to be swarming over every scrap of news from the campaign trail.
We all know that the endorsements from the likes of Jeb Bush and Scott Walker are not really meant for Cruz. Rather, they are using Cruz as an incubator for their angling for an open convention. Both Bush and Walker think that they have a shot at getting on the ballot at an open convention where the Party “elites” can steal the nomination out from under you. Don’t be distracted by the likes of Walker and Bush. Rather than throw mud at Walker (yeah, he’s said mean things about you), you need to throw a compliment or two his way. I know, this flies in the face of he confrontational strategy you’ve gone with so far. But, Walker is a little different (Kasich too). You need to be Presidential with sitting Governors and Senators. If you win the nomination, they’re necessary in the Fall. More than that, if you’re elected, you’ll need their help in their home states. (Non-incumbent “power broker” politicians are less important in this regard– and they’re never going to support you).
Because the “establishment” folks have a plan (to deny you 1,237 through hijacking Cruz’s campaign, then discarding it like a husk at the convention and cobbling together a ticket of Walker-Kasich or something similar, and taking the nomination from you), you need new leadership on your team. (This is the “loyalty” exploitation from above). You may believe Corey is wholly innocent or you may believe Michelle Fields is a drama queen who is just whining for attention. The truth is: it doesn’t matter. You know this better than anyone. This is a question of appearances, not a question of facts. What you should do, and absolutely no one would blame you, or even bat an eye: give Corey paid leave until the case against him is over with (say something like, “You better remember this, because when he’s not guilty, he’s going to be getting a top spot in the Trump White House). Then, hire a campaign manager who has a plan for you in case of an open convention. The hire doesn’t have to be well-known or an “establishment-type,” but that person needs to have a plan for your future success (how to win big in New York, get over 135 delegates in California, and win New Jersey would be on that checklist).
If you, and your campaign apparatus remain tied down to the news of the day and potential scandals, you will not be winning over the “folks willing to give Trump a try.” There’s no doubt that you have a sizeable amount of support among the Republican base. No one is going to take that away from you. However, potshots at women’s appearances and Ted Cruz’s sex life just aren’t going to get people who have lost their jobs on board to support you. (Look, I get it, you feel that the biased media is out to get you. They probably are. They are goading you into attacking. It’s great for their ratings. However, now is the time to make them come to you rather than you go to them.)
Most of the pundit-class is right about one thing: if you want to be President, you need to have some policy specifics. The fact that you don’t want to commit to particular courses of action in the primary is actually decent strategy (so you don’t give the Democrats a foundation from which to attack you). However, the problem is that you’ve now been poorly-reviewed by both the Editorial Boards of the Washington Post and the New York Times (now, you and some of your fans may just roll their eyes and say “that liberal trash can’t be believed” ok, fine, but now they’ve been releasing transcripts of what you said to them for everyone to read). They may very well be biased against you, but, you’ve succeeded in setting expectations fairly low for policy positions. If you were able to come out swinging on a fully-realized and integrated trade, military, and economic policy, you would knock the socks off of the press. This is the second recommendation: develop a fully formed and integrated policy map.
Like “Make America Great Again” and “Build The Wall,” your focus on “making good deals” is a trope of the campaign. The problem is, unlike building a wall and the goal of making the nation great again, the “dealmaking” you advocate has become a campaign crutch. Rightly or wrongly, when you reach the end of what you’re inclined to say about policy positions, you, more often than not, resort to “making great deals.” Again, referencing back to the people who are inclined to give you a hearing, the same people who are out of work or are underemployed, they need to hear about the actual deals you intend to make and why those deals would help them. It would help you tremendously to make a slogan out of “dealmaking” and only reference it as a solution when the crowd chants it.
Again, this letter isn’t meant to be an endorsement, but rather a policy-based warning to a campaign that has, seemingly, avoided all the normal forces of political gravity. Your campaign is about to face a major test, and, given the news of the day, it seems that gravity is doing its best to catch up with you.