For those of you anticipating a stunning, Donald Trump, general election pivot, you’ve likely been disappointed thus far. The candidate and perpetual double-down machine has continued along the same trajectory since announcing his presidential bid last June. It’s a trajectory that abandons all preconceived notions of what a presidential candidate can be. Trump is an entirely different animal. He exists in a Trump-sized space that he carved out for himself. And inside this space, this vacuum, everything we know about politics, public speaking, diplomacy, and discernment need not apply. The platform Trump now stands upon was created by unorthdoxy, and thus, to slide away from it would be abandoning whats worked. Of course, what works for a primary, may not work for a general.
Therein lies the rub—and the catch 22 of the whole thing.
Now Trump could still slide to the center and tone down the rhetoric a bit—he may not be past the point of no return just yet. Today he unveiled his economic plan at a press conference that was straight-forward, largely gaffe-less and not nearly as Trump-y as most of his recent appearances. He even kept his cool during multiple interruptions from protestors. However, a stately and generic presidential pivot just doesn’t fit with Trump’s image, and his image, with its bombastic, orange glow, is his entire appeal. This is not to say that a slide to the middle would alienate his base—every enthusiastic passenger on the Trump train has pretty much made his/her decision regardless of what occurs in the next few months. And it seems as though Trump’s hubris ensures that that a true pivot is not a possibility anyway. He’s like the Golden State Warriors: he will live and die by the three.
So can he win without a pivot?
While it’s true that Trump tallied the most GOP primary votes in history, primary performance is not indicative of general election performance. Research by Politifact shows that in our six most recent elections in which both sides held contested primaries, the side with more primary votes won the general election only 50% of the time. Additionally, over the last 11 elections, there was no correlation found between primary votes and general election votes. It’s like winning a preseason scrimmage. It’s not entirely meaningless, but it’s a very poor barometer for measuring regular season success.
In 2012, Mitt Romney, a candidate with a considerably broader, albeit less polarizingly passionate appeal, lost soundly to President Obama. Romney ended with 206 electoral votes to Obama’s 332. Of course, Obama had the ever-important incumbent advantage, and was a stronger candidate than Hillary Clinton. But even so, Trump has to flip a number of states the GOP lost in the last election in order to have a chance at this thing, and right now, that seems like a long shot. Using the Romney/Obama map, if Trump were to flip, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, he’d have a real shot at hitting 270 and winning. This is far easier said than done though. And, it implies that Trump would hold all 24 states Romney did, which is by no means a guarantee.
We may never know the impact of a Trump pivot. The man is incapable of being anything else than what he is. He’s a big, charismatic, fact-averse, filter-less, carrot-colored candidate—and he will live and die by his (gold) sword, forever flailing.
by Jesse Mechanic
Jesse Mechanic is the editor in chief of The Overgrown.