The problem with running a general election campaign against Donald Trump is that he is all over the place on the issues. He has made it a practice, whether by design or inadvertently I don’t know, of either speaking in broad generalities that could mean anything or reversing his previous stands and then reversing them yet again or suggesting that nothing is fixed and everything is open to negotiation. The only thing he seems to be consistent on is his claim that he can deliver on his promises, even as the promises themselves keep changing or are unclear.
This will make it hard for the Democratic nominee to pin a target on him. They can, and undoubtedly will, focus on his inconsistencies. They will highlight his statements that are contemptuous of women and minorities. But in the personality-based candidacy that is Trump, it seems unlikely that his supporters will care since they have stayed with him this far despite all this information being out there. The key question is whether he can win over those who may have not so far been paying much attention to the election. It may seem incredible to people like me who follow politics closely, but there are undoubtedly large numbers of voters who don’t start thinking about the election until after the conventions are over, if then, and at this time may have only a hazy idea of who the main contenders for the presidency are or what they stand for.
Trump has said things that deviate from Republican orthodoxy on trade policy, economic issues (he does not want to cut Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid, has shown little interest in cutting the debt or government spending, and has indicated support for universal health care coverage), is less hardline about social issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, and transgender issues, and is more isolationist on foreign policy. But his positions are written in sand and what he has said in the past may not be what he says tomorrow.
When it comes to the last issue, Trump has already criticized Hillary Clinton as a warmonger which means that if she were the eventual Democratic nominee, the Democratic party will be in the unusual position of having as their flag bearer the more war-friendly candidate. If Bernie Sanders is the Democratic nominee, it will be much harder for Trump to attack him from the left and so the choice will be much clearer.
If Clinton in the Democratic nominee in this election, we have the classic choice between the devil you know and the devil you don’t know. With Clinton we pretty much know what we are getting. She has a pro-war neoconservative foreign policy, is pro-Wall Street, pro-‘free trade’ (which really means supporting the free flow of capital across the globe by the transnational oligarchy), and anti-Palestinian rights. But she is also likely to champion the causes of women, abortion rights, and the LGBT community. With Trump, who knows what we will get?
It seems to me like Trump’s chance of success lies in persuading those who are undecided that they can see in the confused mess that is his message things that they agree with and are willing to gamble that this is what he will do.
In 2008, Barack had an appealing message of hope and change, even though it was largely phony and he turned out to be pretty much your standard-issue neoliberal Democrat, beholden to the big financial interests. People who propose a hopeful message of the future and promise big changes tend to have greater appeal than those who are incrementalist, especially during hard times. What has to be a source of worry to the Democratic party is that enough people may be willing to gamble on Trump turning out better than expected as opposed to the uninspiring predictability of Clinton.