As we approach the General Election, Trump plans to become “more presidential”. Many think it’s not possible. If Romney couldn’t shake that etch-a-sketch fast enough for the General Election in 2012, how can Trump?

As we approach the General Election, many think Trump’s message is too polarizing to convince swing voters that he can be “presidential”.  Richard Wagner explains how Trump could adapt his message to become, as Trump has said, “more presidential”.

A President needs to represent the whole country, not just a passionate segment with high voter turnout. So far, Trump has accomplished what the Paul’s (Ron and Rand respectively) did not.  Trump has mobilized a sizeable minority of GOP voters that will likely lead to his nomination, as the rest of the GOP has been split between several candidates.

As we approach the General Election, Trump plans to become “more presidential”.  Many think it’s not possible.  If Romney couldn’t shake that etch-a-sketch fast enough for the General Election in 2012, how can Trump?  I’m not saying he will, but I’d like to explain how Trump could become more Presidential.

Trump’s Presidential Platform

Jobs, jobs, national security, and jobs.

  1. Stay the course on China.  Americans are seriously worried about both the job loss to China, and the Chinese Communist Party’s genuine threat to our national security, such as the cyber attacks.  Trump need not etch-a-sketch here at all, and if he’s up against Clinton, he can easily put her on the defensive with this issue.
  2. Etch-a-sketch the Mexican border wall.  Mexico is not going to pay for that wall, and outside of the Trump base, this position is considered laughable.  For Trump to win over swing voters, he should tone this down to the more affordable border fence.  The fence is already under way, and promising to merely finish that fence is hardly a radical position.  
  3. Strong military focused on ISIS.  Trump should promise to only put our troops in harm’s way to go after our enemies, rather than engaging in costly nation-building quagmires.  This will appeal to many swing voters and blue collar Democrats.  Trump can also remind Americans that he opposed the invasions of Iraq, Libya and the arming of “rebels” in Syria, all of which have played in the hands of ISIS.
  4. Working across the aisle.  Trump should emphasize even more his ability to work with competing interests to find solutions to problems, as he has in the business world.  Trump should promise to work with both parties in Congress on a variety of domestic issues, including infrastructure, criminal justice reform, education, health care, etc.  He can promise to focus on the American people, rather than the establishments of either party, and take only the best ideas from both sides to implement policies that are good for the whole country.  
  5. Avoiding the next Great Recession.  So far, Trump has barely touched on banking and finance, but Americans must be reminded of what led to the Great Recession of 2009, which is partly due to decisions made by Bill Clinton, as I’ve explained here.  He should also promise to develop a comprehensive financial reform package that will prove far more effective than Dodd-Frank ,which is needlessly complicated and doesn’t have sharp enough teeth.
  6. Etch-a-sketch the plan to ban all Muslims.  A more realistic policy would be the one proposed by Rand Paul, to temporarily block visas from countries that are known to be hotbeds of terrorism.  The base is unlikely to notice the shift, or care enough to turn on Trump, but swing voters will be far more comfortable with a policy that targets a few dangerous countries than one that bans an entire world religion.  He should then follow it up with a plan to ensure that peaceful people can enter the country while ensuring that potential terrorists cannot, thereby emphasizing that even this would only be temporary.
  7. No more inflammatory rhetoric!  Trump doesn’t need to flip on his offensive statements.  Americans have very short memories.  But he needs to let the heat die down by November.  He should choose his words more carefully in a General Election, while maintaining his positions in order to keep his base behind him.

How will this affect Trump’s chances of winning the whole election?

Whether facing Clinton or Sanders, the above platform would help Trump to broaden his base and get more average Americans to actual see Trump as “presidential”.  There’s only so many times Americans can see the clip of Trump’s offensive statements about Mexican immigrants before it loses its ability to cause the knee-jerk anti-racist reaction upon which Trump’s opponents rely.  Will Mexican Americans forget? NOPE!  But it will have less of an impact on most Americans that are more concerned with other issues.

If  he becomes “presidential” soon enough, Americans will mostly get over his inflammatory rhetoric by November.  He has defied all expectations and caused even the most brilliant political analysts to fear making predictions in this cycle.

Trump is a lot smarter than many of us thought, and certainly than he seems.  I think he knows what he needs to do to have a chance of winning the General Election, and we’ll see how many my above suggestions he will take…assuming that he isn’t brokered out of the GOP nomination.

Richard Wagner is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at Florida State College at Jacksonville. He conducts independent study on the American conservative movement and foreign policy. When he is...

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