Why Democrats Must Not Underestimate Donald Trump

TrumpBillionaire mega-developer and reality TV star Donald Trump continues to roll toward the 2016 GOP Presidential Nomination at the party convention in Cleveland in late-summer. With Ohio Governor John Kasich choosing to remain in the race despite facing calls to drop-out, he has consistently denied Texas Senator Ted Cruz the ability to win in close contests with the GOP frontrunner. With the nomination all but his, Democrats have yet to fully evaluate the businessman and television star’s ability to capture the 270 electoral votes needed to win the election. Rumblings have begun, however, and for four good reasons.

White Working-Class Voters Can Still Carry a GOP Candidate to the White House.

While those both inside and outside of the political sphere are very much aware of current trends pointing to a majority-minority America by 2050, Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg was quoted in an op-ed by Mara Liasson for MPR News, in which he admitted, “The Reagan Democrats are alive with the angry white male who’ve made themselves felt in the Trump primaries,” which amounts to a mere glossing-over of the reality on the ground. Both Democrats and Republicans are well aware of the fact that, despite their share of the vote continuing to lose ground to minorities, there remains a large enough population of white voters (particularly white working-class males) to elect at least one more GOP candidate. As Greenberg stated, and perhaps most importantly, they’re angry; they’re angry because they’re scared, and nothing motivates voters to turn out like the idea of their fears coming to fruition. Candidates on both sides have used the tactic to great effect, such as Dick Cheney in 2004 and even President Obama in 2012 when he raised doubts about Mitt Romney’s support for women’s health issues. Mr. Trump, however, represents a group whose numbers have increased in both size and intensity. His is a demographic which cuts across gender, socio-economic, and even certain partisan ideological lines, which leads to the point.

Donald Trump Has Genuine Minority Appeal.

It began with a one-off SurveyUSA poll from September 2015, which measured 25% support among African Americans for Mr. Trump. Most dismissed it as an outlier; an isolated spike in a campaign season in which identifiable trend-lines have been exceedingly sporadic, with polling all over the map. But ever since turnout statistics from the Georgia and Virginia Super Tuesday primary contests were made public, it’s been apparent that Mr. Trump has a built-in advantage with African Americans, as turnout increased as much as 400% in the two purple states, according to data compiled by the CNN Election Center. It remains to be seen whether these numbers will increase to levels which carry electoral consequence, however the African American community has become increasingly fertile ground from which to pull votes. The reasoning behind this lies in the general consensus that the post-recession socio-economic recovery among African Americans has not kept pace with the national average. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, black unemployment stood at 8.8% in February of 2016, nearly twice the national average, which fell to 4.9% in January. It is widely-known that food stamp usage has risen to record levels and currently sits at 45 million, or 1 in 7 people receiving benefits. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities recently found that food stamp usage has increased among African Americans since 2008, as their need is also higher than that of the average household receiving SNAP benefits.

He Continues to Expand the Electoral Map.

The culmination of what has been stated above has led to perhaps the most underestimated concern among Democrats heading into the fall, and it shows no sign of alleviation. For a multitude of reasons, Donald Trump has the ability to win states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, even New Jersey and New York, a result of both his broad appeal and voters’ excitement about his campaign. A recent poll by Mercury Analytics has found that 20%, or 1 in 5 Democrats, would vote for Donald Trump among likely voters, who are most likely to turn up at the polls on the first Tuesday in November. Matt Stout of The Boston Herald recently reported that 20,000 Democrats and independents changed their party affiliation to join the Republican Party in just the 60 days prior to the state’s March 1 primary, which Trump would go on to win in a landslide. As if it could not get any worse for Democrats still shrugging off so-called Trump-mentum, according to Nate Cohn of The New York Times, the Republican’s strongest support nationwide comes from large swaths of New York and West Virginia. 2014 election data kept on file by Syracuse.com shows that Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo wiped out in areas outside New York City and, if Trump’s current levels of support there hold, he would, theoretically, need only a modest losing effort in the Five Boroughs to carry the state, which would spell disaster for the Clinton campaign nationally, as a slew of additional states would fall into contention. When it comes to countering these demographic strengths however, Hillary Clinton faces a tougher battle than her staff may yet be willing to admit.

Clinton is Exposed Defensively, Lacks Rhetorical Firepower to Counterpunch.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton faces many more obstacles today than she would’ve eight years ago as a junior senator had she wrested the nomination from then-Senator Barack Obama (D-IL). Besides the fact that Americans usually don’t elect candidates from the same party three elections in a row, anti-establishment fervor is at historic levels, with both major-party primaries under siege by sustained insurgency movements. That is about where the similarities cease to exist, however. While the Republicans have more or less embraced the populist metamorphosis foisted upon both partisan contests by their respective primary electorates, the Democrats are poised for one last go-around with the perceived safe bet in Ms. Clinton. The problem for her campaign is that many of her perceived weaknesses play directly into Mr. Trump’s strengths, while she never regained the former “Clinton mystique” which she and husband Bill have generally used to great effect prior to 2008. The reason for this is that rhetorically and aesthetically speaking, Hillary Clinton, the candidate is far from Bill, the President.

For every charge of sexism, racism or xenophobia, Trump can (and likely will) respond with attacks of his own regarding the accusations of sexual assault against President Clinton, and may even bring up Hillary’s own supposed involvement in silencing alleged victims, as reported by Mark Hensch of The Hill. On top of this lies Clinton’s exposure on policy issues, both foreign and domestic. She has taken pains to tether herself to President Obama’s domestic agenda in the Democratic Primary, as her own polling likely shows high levels of approval for his social initiatives. This double-edged sword has the ability to cut into the enthusiasm of the Clinton coalition and rally support for Trump, as large numbers of centrist Democrat and independent voters have long grown disillusioned with the Obama presidency, a result of stagnant wages and the administration’s foreign policy missteps of the past three years.

At the end of the day, much of the threat posed by Donald Trump to Hillary Clinton’s presidential aspirations will hinge on how far he is prepared to go with the voracity of his attacks against her. He has made quick work of candidates once thought to be formidable campaigners, such as Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Rand Paul, with no more than a dismissive quip about some trivial shortcoming that each is afflicted by. He will no doubt employ this strategy against Clinton as well, attempting to charge, try and convict the former Secretary of some serious allegations with a glibness which passes them off as common-knowledge. Clinton’s success will depend on her ability to anticipate and counter these attacks and counter-attacks from her opponent as the head-to-head duel wears on, taking care to avoid appearing out of touch or sounding smug and dismissive, which has never been her strong-suit. An eternity lies between now and Election Day, in political terms, as many things can and most likely will change over the next five and a half months. However the one thing that’s for sure is the fact that this election will be one of the hardest hitting, high-stakes contests in a generation, and will leave us with no less political upheaval than it brought about, regardless of who is the victor.

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