Discontented turn to Trump, but his tactics limit his chances

Conventional wisdom says that Donald Trump, the Republican nominee, will lose the presidential election, because he embodies values and practices rejected by most Americans.

Whatever the dubious polling reports at any moment, reputable and successful forecasters see him losing the electoral vote by a landslide. Hillary Clinton, the expected Democratic nominee, would win as much because of Trump’s defects as her merits.

The media, abandoning its often misguided attempts simply to match quotes from two sides of an argument and call it objective reporting, has challenged Trump’s bold statements made with little or no basis in fact. Most news stories are about his false claims, “politically incorrect” statements and questionable business tactics.

Trump has made no effort to flesh out a platform, though there’s still time. His anti-immigrant promises are called un-American, but they appeal to some voters. His reliance on racist and even crypto-Nazi sources does not dent his popularity.

It is easy to assume that people backing Trump are themselves racist, holding opinions and values that are outside the American mainstream. Perhaps some fit this definition, but dismissing his supporters because of his behavior, values and lack of presidential demeanor misses the point.

The campaign may be more about the people who support Trump than about the candidate himself.

In reactions to my earlier columns and in a lengthy report in a recent issue in the New Yorker magazine, some Trump supporters reveal they are not racist, don’t really want to build a wall with Mexico and recognize that Trump’s talk often goes too far. In short, they are not what his opponents want to believe them to be.

They see what most Americans see – a political system that has become incapable of making decisions on pressing national needs, a system where partisan gain is more important than sound public policy. But they do not believe that a conventional politician can fix what’s wrong.

Many of his supporters seem to excuse his tactics. They may accept that he has no realistic chance of winning. But a strong race by him could send a chill down the spines of both parties, perhaps causing them to seek compromise as a way of assuring their survival. Or maybe a strong Trump run would lead to the creation of a new, moderate party.

Trump may not have run with this in mind. His giant ego will have been well fed merely by running as the nominee of one of the two major parties. Yet, even if his campaign is nothing more than a big ego trip, it has tapped into deeper political currents.

The Democrats seem to help him or fuel the views of his supporters. Hillary Clinton, demonized by the GOP, is the quintessential conventional candidate. She doles out promises to key constituencies and adjusts her message to pick up votes. Constituencies support her when she offers them what they want to hear.

Her drawback is that she is so obvious about it. Voters see a calculating politician of questionable sincerity, following a carefully drafted script and perfectly playing the usual role of candidates for federal office. These officeholders have been able to cling to power without producing needed results.

With her considerable background, Clinton almost looks like an incumbent. In a safe contest, the frontrunning incumbent simply avoids mistakes by avoiding the political debate as much as possible. She hasn’t had a press conference this year. She picks her talking points and avoids being questioned.

Clinton looks like the winner because she may have fewer negatives than Trump. Some Republicans, fearful of seeing their party seized by an untamed outsider, would rather sit out the campaign or even support Clinton, a known personality, than see Trump do well. They think he holds dangerous views.

It is possible that neither Trump nor Bernie Sanders, both fed up with conventional politics, thought they could win their party’s nominations. An incredibly divided field of conservatives helped Trump. A failure to move beyond his single, compelling issue when he started winning may have been Sander’s downfall.

The latest NBC/ Wall Street Journal poll reports that 56 percent of voters favor a candidate who would bring “major changes” to government even if the nature of those changes are now “not possible to predict.” Only 41 percent favor a candidate with a more “steady approach” even if that brought “fewer changes.”

It sounds like voters would favor Trump over Clinton. But he is falling short because of his undisciplined and controversial style. In other words, Trump may work as the messenger of national discontent but not as a presidential candidate.

Gordon L. Weil

About Gordon L. Weil

Gordon L. Weil formerly wrote for the Washington Post and other newspapers, served on the U.S. Senate and EU staffs, headed Maine state agencies and was a Harpswell selectman.