Right now, Donald Trump is regarded unfavorably perhaps by as many as two-thirds of the American electorate. That’s why the general expectation is that nominating Donald Trump would be a disaster for the Republican Party. (The unfavorables of Trump’s likely opponent, Hillary Clinton, though also quite high, are lower than Trump’s.)
But the election isn’t being held now. And I’ve been wondering: how able would Trump be to improve significantly his favorable/unfavorable ratio in time for the general election in November?
Trump’s unfavorable ratings arise from how he has been campaigning –successfully, it appears –for the Republican nomination. That campaign has been geared toward a small segment of the American population. Assuming Trump becomes the Republican standard-bearer at the convention in July, he will have more than three months to change his act and re-introduce himself to the American people.
Over the years, there have been many demonstrations of how short are the memories of Americans. So it seems conceivable that if Trump were to change his ways effectively enough, as he pivots toward the general election, he could bring his unfavorable-ratings down significantly.
That leads to the question: how capable would Trump be of transforming his presentation in order to appeal to the broader electorate? This is not a rhetorical question. I truly wonder.
On the one hand, it seems reasonable to see Trump as an actor capable of casting himself in whatever role suits his ambition. It seems doubtful that he believes much of what he has said during this campaign, which would suggest he could easily change his script. More even than most politicians, Trump seems unmoored from core convictions or principles. And even during this Republican campaign, he has occasionally shown an ability to act more reasonable and conciliatory—more presidential, if you will.
(The challenge for Trump – if he is indeed the excellent actor that he sometimes seems to be – would be how simultaneously to hold onto the core support he has won by playing Mussolini while also expanding his appeal to the broader electorate that wants a president rather than a boorish, bullying strong man.)
On the other hand, Trump also sometimes seems so driven by some of his ego needs and insecurities that he might be trapped into much of the persona that has earned him his high unfavorables. As some have observed, Donald Trump seems unusually thin-skinned, and reflexively compelled to respond to any attack on his self-proclaimed greatness. (Consider how he seems unable to stop talking about his hands, and all that their size might imply.) His insistence on having the last word could prove a trap that his opponent could exploit at will to expose the unsavory side of Trump.
So which is it? Is Trump the accomplished actor who will be able to re-invent himself in the perception of the American people, with their short memories, in time to get their votes in November? Or is he a man trapped in his narcissistic personality disorder to such an extent that his character is his destiny, and his destiny is to lose in a landslide with the highest unfavorables in the history of polling? Or what kind of mixture of the two?