“United In Our Loathing For Trump”: Why Donald Trump Is Probably Praying For An Amnesia Epidemic
There are a few unfortunate people in the world who, because they experienced a brain trauma, are unable to form new memories. They exist in a combination of the distant past and the present moment, unable to contextualize what they see right now with what happened yesterday or the day before. If Donald Trump is to become president of the United States, he needs a majority of the American electorate to experience this cruel brand of amnesia.
To understand what I mean, let’s start with where Trump is right now. While the contest for delegates is in a phase of uncertainty, it’s still likely that Trump will become the Republican nominee. And Trump is not just unpopular, but spectacularly unpopular. The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll showed 67 percent of voters have an unfavorable opinion of him. Not only has no presidential candidate with negatives that high ever won, no candidate has ever had negatives that high, period, with the sole exception of KKK leader David Duke. Trump is disliked by majorities of men and women, whites, blacks, and Latinos, young people and old people, rich people and poor people, Southerners and Northerners, liberals and conservatives. America may be a divided country, but we’re united in our loathing for Trump.
Even a candidate with the evident weaknesses of Hillary Clinton would not just beat Trump, but destroy him. Based on the polls as they are now, not only could Clinton win the states Barack Obama won four years ago — enough to give her a comfortable victory in the Electoral College — but some Republican states, as well. One poll even shows her beating him in Utah, one of the most conservative states in the country.
But not to worry. Trump promises everything is going to change, just as soon as he has pulverized Ted Cruz and John Kasich. “When I take them out, I will be so presidential you won’t believe it,” he said earlier this week. He goes on: “And then, of course, I’ll start on Hillary, and then I’ll be a little bit less presidential. But assuming I win, I will be very, very — the country will be very proud of me and we will make America great again.”
One can’t help but wonder what being “presidential” means to Trump, besides not being a jerk. He has said more than once that when it’s necessary, he’ll transform into someone completely different. And if he’s going to have any chance at all to win, he’ll have to. But once he does, will the public forget the person he is now?
Sure, every presidential candidate adapts when moving from the primaries to the general election. But most of the time, that involves a change in emphasis, highlighting a different set of issues to appeal to a broad electorate with different priorities from your party’s faithful. For instance, if Cruz becomes the nominee, he’ll probably talk less about building border fences and repealing the Affordable Care Act, and more about creating jobs and fighting terrorism. Wholesale flip-flops are exceedingly rare; instead, candidates seek to alter the ingredients of voters’ decision-making, putting their more widely popular positions nearer to the top of voters’ agendas.
The problem for Trump, however, isn’t just the positions he’s taken but the way he’s taken them. Try to imagine, for instance, that he stopped talking about his border wall and deporting 11 million undocumented immigrants, and instead made some kind of push to woo Latino voters. To succeed, he’d need one of those little memory-wiping devices from Men in Black. According to that Post-ABC poll I mentioned, only 15 percent of Latinos view him favorably, while 81 percent view him unfavorably. It’s going to take an awful lot to change their minds, given Trump’s extreme and vivid rhetoric about immigrants.
Or what about women, 75 percent of whom view Trump negatively at the moment? Are they going to forget his long history of misogyny? What could he possibly say to change their minds?
Trump is counting on Americans having not just short attention spans, but incredibly short memories. He’s planning on giving a series of policy speeches, which is presumably supposed to make voters say, “Huh, I used to think he was the biggest ignoramus ever to run for president, but I guess he’s actually pretty wonky and really knows his stuff.” I have no doubt that once the primaries are over and he’s won the nomination, Trump will alter his tone. But for such a shift to be successful, millions upon millions of voters will have to get temporary amnesia on election day.
Are our memories really that short? It looks like we’re probably going to find out.
By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, April 15, 2016