Diary

Five things Trump would have to do to win my support

Tales are already circulating of conservatives willing to vote for Hillary Clinton for president over Donald Trump. As one commentator put it, it’s like choosing between malaria and Ebola, and at least one has a chance of recovering from malaria (Clinton).

I’m not there. I figure you can die from either disease.

I can’t get past the outrageous things Trump has said and done, his reckless approach to his supporters, encouraging violence, and his reckless approach to policy, suggesting his finger on the nuclear button is a catastrophe in the making. But I think of Hillary Clinton as a white-gloved version of Trump, more genteel and more glib, but ultimately just as risky. She might not press the nuclear button herself, but I could see her implementing a foreign policy that would lead to destruction of a different variety.

So, unless things change, I’ll be writing in a name for president on the ballot this November. Perhaps Carly Fiorina, who’d been my early favorite. Or Marco Rubio, who I gravitated to after Fiorina dropped out. In fact, my current fantasy is that Trump damages Clinton in the campaign so much that a third party candidate, someone both Republicans and Democrats could support, ends up triumphing and the republic is saved.

What would it take for things to change enough for me to support Trump? Here are five things Trump would have to do to get me to give him a second look and possibly even a vote:

  1. He would have to fire some staff and push away some supporters. Corey Lewandowski is one. Roger Stone another. I’m sure readers could make other suggestions, as well. If Trump let these people go, it would signal to me he’s not interested in thuggish tactics or conspiracy-theory rhetoric, that he’s not a shallow thinker.
  2. He would have to hire some serious, respectable advisers and actually listen to them. I don’t have a problem with any candidate who offers policy ideas that are beyond the norm. I’m all for creative thinkers, and I believe our country needs creative, imaginative ideas desperately at the moment. But those ideas have to be backed with plans on how to achieve good results. Making America great again is a slogan every candidate, left or right, can agree to. It signifies to the average American you want their lives to be great again. But how are you going to achieve that through tax policy, economic policy, bureaucratic reform, entitlement reform, foreign policy? Serious advisers would help chart that course for Trump, and if I saw that happening, with good, conservative policies as the result, I’d take a second look at him. The question is: What serious advisers would risk aligning with him now?
  3. He would have to drop the inflammatory rhetoric. Really drop it. Not just for an hour or a day. He’d have to stop saying things like he wants to ban all Muslims from entering the country, that immigrants are rapists, and all the other broad-stroke generalizations he uses to heat up crowds. He can, and should, talk about the risks involved in accepting too many refugees who are inadequately vetted for security reasons. He can, and should, talk about tightening security policy so that criminals cannot immigrate here and are deported when they do. He can, and should, talk about making effective trade deals. But he doesn’t need to do this by appealing to the worse devils of people’s natures. If I see him appealing to voters’ “better angels,” I’ll give him a second look.
  4. He would have to rebrand himself as a happy warrior in the Reagan mold. Trump has succeeded so far in this campaign because of his brilliant approach to branding. That’s why nothing thrown at him seems to stick. He has built a brand (successful, tough businessman) that is as impervious to criticism as that of any celebrity. Remember, even when Michael Jackson was accused of pedophilia, his music remained popular; similarly, think of any celebrity who’s suffered humiliation or accusations and how their popularity remains untouched. This has been Trump’s key to success, too — successfully branding himself…and those who oppose him. “Little Marco,” “Lyin’ Ted,” and now “Crooked Hillary” are his brands for his opponents, quick ideas that stay in voters’ minds. He seems to know how to choose the one idea with many connotations that stays with his adversaries. When he called Rubio “Little Marco,” he was telegraphing to voters that he believed Rubio had small ideas, while Trump had big ones, that Rubio couldn’t come close to Trump’s stature in ideas or business acumen. It wasn’t really about height. The same was true of “Lyin’ Ted” — no one probably thought of Cruz as an actual liar, but they might have nodded their heads to the notion of him as prevaricator or maybe even a little sleazy. Trump is brilliant at choosing just the right soubriquet for his opponents. “Crooked Hillary” will probably stick, as well (to the delight of all of us who dislike her). I’d like to see Trump turn that brand brilliance around and start rebranding himself, moving from the tough, foul-mouth brawler to the happy, serious warrior. And this leads me to the fifth change I’d have to see before considering voting for him:
  5. He would have to give Twitter a rest. Or at least modulate his Tweets so they stop sounding as if an insecure sixth-grader wrote them (apologies to sixth-graders everywhere). I’m not saying he’d have to stop Tweeting altogether. Just as with his branding, he’s used social media brilliantly to get earned media and more followers. But maybe he doesn’t have to respond to every criticism with a Tweeted insult? Or maybe he could start using his Tweets to point followers to real policy (see Points 2 and 3).

So, those are the five things Trump would have to do to get me to give him a second look and possibly even a vote. I’m not holding my breath.

Libby Sternberg is a novelist.