Can winning strategy come from new dynamic?
Ohio and Florida have spoken. Currents political analysts T.J. Rooney and Alan Novak look at the next steps in the campaign.
Rooney: What happens when Donald Trump gets to the convention remains to be seen. He may not have enough votes to secure the nomination on the first ballot, but the only thing that is certain is that in the political world of unpredictable people, places, and things, Trump ranks first in every category.
Novak: What’s next? Two things – Trump starts to show us whether he can be presidential and he starts to do things that the winner or presumptive winner of a primary does – and that’s reach out. Trump will point out that he is performing well in open primaries – where Republicans, Democrats, and Independents can vote for any candidate. The Ted Cruz people use that as a negative. To me, that’s strength. Sure he is loosing some Republicans, but he is attracting Independents and Democrats in open primaries. That’s the name of the game!
It’s the job of the party to win elections. Republicans can’t sit this one out. The only option is to build a winning strategy around this new dynamic, around this unpredictable, larger-than-life candidate and the fact that he brings a lot of people with him.
Rooney: You certainly can’t turn your back on Trump’s supporters. That’s obvious. The biggest challenge is, how do Republicans deal with him? And I don’t just mean Trump – I mean his supporters. Trump isn’t going to moderate his approach, his views, or his speech. He can’t. Trump is not malleable. Rather, he is so mercurial that he is going to rewrite the rules. And that is the fear – not in what he says or how he says it, but in trying to fit Trump into the construct of a political party with hard and fast rules about what gets done, when and how.
Exhibit A is the Fox News debate. The first thing he does out of the box last Tuesday is to announce he is not going to participate. Instead he is going to give a speech. And Fox cancels! Trump has no intention of conforming, but he is going to continue to stick his finger in the people’s eyes. He is not a great deal maker. He’s a bully who resorts to being mean to get to his end.
Novak: By snubbing Fox he said, “I don’t need the largest conservative media outlet.” Fox had to cancel because Trump was going to win the ratings game. He’s made this an entertainment-first, politics-second kind of election. Trump is bigger than Fox News! He is way outside the conservative box that frankly he has never been in. Being the “true conservative” is “Trumped” by being the “authentic outsider.”
Rooney: Trump has no ability to follow the construct of American politics, which is why I am not of the view that the Republicans can just kind of take this one on the chin and be content. I still think the Republican Party will take the long view and that the prospect of Trump getting chucked under the bus at the convention in Cleveland is stronger today than it was before.
Novak: If that happens, it is the equivalent of the Republicans taking a mulligan on the election. I don’t see anybody emerging from Cleveland that suddenly becomes the great big persona that wins this election. A brokered convention that would make Ohio Gov. John Kasich the candidate I could get behind because I think he plays well in Pennsylvania and nationally. But Sen. Ted Cruz – I don’t see him doing anything other than loosing the Trump people. I don’t think he adds people. For years conservative pundits railed on the establishment about needing an outsider. Their outsider was Cruz and now Trump makes Cruz look like an insider.
Rooney: If I were Trump I would keep having conversations with Paul Ryan. That’s the kind of guy to be worried about. You can’t pick somebody from outer space. But, could you turn to the speaker of the house? Absolutely! I just think that there does need to come a point in time that Trump has to figure this stuff out. Working a convention means being prepared for any eventuality and that’s where Trump comes up short.
There is a reason they call it political science. There is a lot that goes into making a winning presidential campaign. And there is a lot going on all around those campaigns. If there is one-thing parties care about other than the presidency, it’s all their status in state legislative chambers and Congress. Thanks to reapportionment, Republican gains might stymie the Democrats for years to come, unless some sort of crazy event occurs. That crazy, cataclysmic eventuality is Donald J. Trump. So I think that there are a whole host of folks that would throw him under the bus in a nanosecond to save the majorities in the Congress and in state legislatures across America.
Novak: The dilemma is this Trump-generated turnout – a lot for him and some against him. What do the other people on the ballot do? They embrace the people – they connect to the people. To fail to do that, they risk loosing those people. Elections are about addition.
That’s why the convention is so important. The image of a bunch of lawyers huddled in corners and figuring out procedural moves to free up delegates from a commitment to vote for Trump – that is the worst optic Republicans could give people. That will drive Trump’s supporters nuts. It will make them more committed then ever and they’ll cut anyone associated with the party that did that to Trump.
Editor’s Note: This column first appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer.