As things stand right now, Trump would lose hands down by a landslide to Hillary, mostly likely taking the Republican Party with him. People hate Hillary but they hate him a lot lot more. Not just white-American liberals, a lot of conservatives, libertarians, and of course every single minority group – or as he would call them “the blacks and the Hispanics”.
Basically he can’t beat her in fair fight in the existing electoral battlefield. To win he’ll need to take a page out of Sun Tzu and get Hillary to take him on in his terms. After about a few minutes thinking I scared myself a bit by how easy that would be to do.
First is taking away Hillary's biggest asset, the grassroots army of the Democracts. Without them she cannot win. I learned this firsthand in 2012 when I volunteered in North Carolina. Not only was the actual act of enrolling and voting difficult, so were the people. Apathy was rife and you had to go out there day after day and annoy people to vote, even though it was immensely in their interests to vote.
The Obama campaign had something like two million volunteers, and an intentionally undisclosed number of paid staff - many of whom worked pretty much 12-hour days every single day of the week for months on end, all so they could get their people who support them to actually vote for them.
Naturally, motivation is an issue, even with a largely poplar, inspiring and charismatic candidate like Obama. Even small changes in enthusiam towards your candidate (or party) can add up over time to mean less volunteers recruited, less doors knocked, less phone calls made and ultimately less voters at the polls.
Hillary's biggest weakness is her relationship with her party base, and conversely that’s Trump’s strength. Her unfavourability rating would be the highest in history if not for Trump. Conventional wisdom in the US elections is that both sides tack to their base (left and right) in the Primaries, but to the middle in the General. Trump isn’t going to do that. First because he’s physically incapable of not being an asshole, and second because it’s good strategy.
With two highly unpopular candidates the middle is not really in play this time around. The swing voters who generally don’t like or pay attention to politics are going to like it even less with two crappy choices, and most won’t show up on election day, and neither will a lot of people who are highly politically engaged but also hate their choices. Which, let’s be honest, is always going to hurt Democrats more than Republicans – but even more so now.
To win, both sides will have to rally their respective bases and make sure they actually turn out and vote. And guess whose base is more vulnerable? Hillary could make one of history’s greatest strategic mistakes by tacking to the right after she wins the nomination. The Democratic base would have their worst fears about her confirmed and while some might still volunteer and vote, Democratic turnout would be much much lower than it needs to be.
I hope she’s not stupid enough to do that, but even if she isn’t, Trump could actually provoke her to do so – and he’s very very good at getting people to talk about his agenda, helped in no small part by a news media that chases clicks over common sense.
We’ve seen it before, with Obama’s birth certificate. He relentlessly repeated the message that Obama was actually Kenyan and the media took the bait. I imagine that somewhere in some polls the powers that be in the Democratic party started noticing the issue come up more and more with voters, so in an attempt to defuse the situation they simply released Obama’s Birth Certificate, thereby neutralising that issue. Great it worked that time. But it’s not always that simple.
It wouldn’t take a lot for Trump to simply lie and make up some ridiculous claim about Muslims or Mexicans that would leave Democrats with a difficult choice: appear “tough” on some minority group or ignore him. And as we’ve seen before both in the US and in Australia, left wing leaders would rather send refugees to concentration camps than appear “weak”.
One well placed claim about Clinton being weak on “terror” with a dash of media repeating his lines verbatim for a few weeks and you have a swing in a few key demographics in Florida or some other swing state and the next thing you know Hillary lurches to the right to try and get back those “moderate” voters. Of course the more she jumps to his agenda the more she’ll lose the support of the Democratic base and live up to the untrustworthy label that the rest of the country and the world already sees her as.
His strength is that he “says what he means” of course, so it essentially in one move both sets the narrative of the election and demoralises his opponents base. And before you know it we’re all going to be driving around in packs of cars hunting for guzzoline in the wasteland that is planet Earth after he starts a nuclear war with China over a parking ticket.
To win, Hillary will basically need to learn how to not take the bait and not be drawn into battles she cannot win. She will have to show consistency so that her base trusts her. And she’ll need to show her real toughness to the rest of the country by using humour and wit to emasculate him in front of his supporters. It might actually make sense for her with the support of the rest of the party to refuse to debate him at all. The fact that he’s on the same stage would make them look like equals, which is the last thing anyone needs right now.
She does have a lot of cards up her sleeve if she wishes to use them though. The first being her pick for VP. That’s a chance to bring someone on board who can balance her weaknesses and hit Trump where it hurts, his fragile ego. And then she also has a really fantastic team behind her, of Obama, Bill, Warren and even Sanders. Together they have the potential to wipe the floor with this clown, and also win back a lot of seats in the House and Senate (see my previous post). All they have to do is not fuck up.