As we near the end of the primary season and the reality of a national contest sets in, the question on everyone’s mind is whether voters will come together to support their party’s nominee. Romney and other GOP leaders have publicly stated they will not support frontrunner Donald Trump. On the other hand, polls show that many Bernie Sanders supporters would rather sit the election out than cast their vote for Clinton. In short, both leading contenders face serious obstacles when it comes to unifying their parties, let alone the country.
Though he won three states on Super Tuesday and has secured roughly half the delegates needed to win the GOP nomination, last week party leaders secretly gathered to block Trump from the general election. Politico obtained a copy of an invitation sent to Republican leaders which read, “Please join other conservative leaders to strategize how to defeat Donald Trump for the Republican nomination, and if he is the Republican nominee for President, to offer a true conservative candidate in the general election.” According to political insider, Roger Stone, the Republican Party has, “cooked up a strategy…to steal delegates from Trump so that he’ll fall below 1,237 on the first ballot, and then, before the second ballot, to present one of their (own) group … as the Savior of the Grand Old Party.”
Given opposition from the most powerful members of his party, can Trump bring the GOP together? He can if he follows these 3 simple steps:
For openers, make certain his competitors join forces with him. Though Trump is widely known for his deal-making skills, pundits were completely caught off guard when Chris Christie and Ben Carson aligned with the frontrunner. If he’s successful at negotiating similar support from Rubio, Kasich, and later, Cruz, the GOP starts to come together right then and there.
Second, redefine who the GOP voter really is. This week on The Costa Report, cofounder and Executive Editor of The Weekly Standard, Fred Barnes, explained how the demographics of the GOP is changing. “A major reason for Trump’s emergence as the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination is his appeal to these overlooked (working class) voters. While the RNC was concentrating on appealing to its five “demographic partners,” (Hispanics, Asian and Pacific Islander Americans, African Americans, women, and youth) Trump was studying Rick Santorum’s book Blue Collar Conservatives.” Even GOP leaders opposed to Trump can’t deny the fact that he’s engaged a previously untapped voter – recruiting record numbers of discontented, frustrated working class Americans to vote in the primaries. Can the GOP afford to alienate the new recruits by circumventing their newfound hero? Doubtful.
Lastly, to unify his party Trump will have to soften his language on controversial topics, and grow vocal on issues on which ALL voters agree – issues such as lowering taxes and abolishing the IRS. Last year the Pew Research Center found that 59 percent of Americans feel “there is so much wrong with the federal tax system that Congress should completely change it.” Any candidate who appeals to 59 percent of voters is likely to experience success similar to Ronald Reagan, whose entire presidential campaign was based on tax cuts.
Next up, Clinton.
Whereas Clinton has the support of the Democratic establishment, she hasn’t been pulling the kind of primary numbers needed to win a national election. Not like Trump or Sanders. What’s more, 95 percent of all Democratic voters say they don’t want Sanders to throw in the towel and support Clinton. And over one third of Sanders’ supporters say they will not vote for Clinton if she is the nominee.
Recently, a number of online petitions have begun appearing on websites such as Change.org, where over 10,000 signatories have promised not to vote for Hillary if she is the party’s choice. Samantha-Jo Roth reported in the Huffington Post, that Sanders voters see Trump as a better option than Clinton because they want a non-establishment, Washington outsider. According to Calvin Priest, political organizer with Socialist Alternative, “If Bernie does not run all the way through November, the field will be left open to Trump to tap into the massive (Democratic) anger at the establishment. This can cause lasting damage, as many people who could have been won over to Bernie’s platform will be repelled by Clinton’s establishment politics, and won over instead to Trump’s right-wing, anti-immigrant, anti-worker message.”
When it comes to unifying the Democratic Party, it looks as if Clinton has as rough a road ahead of her as her Republican counterpart. So, what, if anything, can she do to pull her party together?
First, she needs Sanders to join her. Sanders supporters are urging him to run as a third party or ‘write-in’ candidateshould he lose the nomination and a defection would deal a deathblow to Clinton’s chances. While one third of Sanders supporters claim they will not vote for Clinton, that still leaves two thirds up for grabs. Two thirds that Clinton will need in a contest against Trump.
Second, Clinton must leverage the Democratic establishment to assert influence inside and outside the party. That means securing endorsements from popular Democrats who have large followings – such as the current President of the United States. The unanimous support of influential Democrats will go miles toward unifying the party.
Finally, Clinton must put distance between claims that she, and her husband, have been the victims of an “organized right wing conspiracy,” and that she has been unfairly scrutinized for her use of a private email server, her handling of Benghazi, and sizable speaking fees to financial institutions. To win Republican crossover voters, Independents, and those who are frustrated with “partisan politics as usual” and don’t want 4 more years of gridlock – Clinton will have to refrain from partisan rhetoric and prove herself capable of conciliation and compromise. Along these lines, she needs the endorsements of prominent Republicans and Independents with whom she has worked well with in the Senate and as Secretary of State. And similar to Trump, it would serve Clinton well to turn her attention to issues on which the vast majority of Americans agree, steering gently away from serving the special interests of specific demographic groups.
And there you have it. Three tactics each of the Presidential frontrunners can deploy to bring unity to their parties, and the country at large.
Those concerned that the primary season has done irreparable damage to each party’s nominee’s ability to bring voters together can rest easy. With more than seven months before we line up to cast our final decision – any doctor would tell you, that’s plenty of time for paper cuts and black eyes to heal.