If there is a re-match between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, a substantial number of independents may just sit this election out.
While Trump is loved by many in his party, moderates and those who identify as Independents are less enthused. There is just too much drama and unethical and allegedly illegal conduct by the former president. To win the general election, should Trump be the nominee, he must convince centrists to hold their nose and pull the lever for him even though they have many misgivings.
He Has the Republican Base Under Control
An NBC News poll at the end of April found that nearly 70 percent of Republicans have favorable feelings for Trump. That’s good news for the former president as he looks to win the nomination, but it may not mean success in the general. Large majorities of Americans who are not Republicans do not want Trump to run at all.
But Donald Trump Is Still Not Likable to Many Americans
Moreover, a Quinnipiac University survey in April showed Biden was edging Trump 49 to 45 percent. When it comes to general favorability, Biden has better likability scores compared to Trump. A recent ABC News/Ipsos poll concluded that Biden’s approval is up nearly 10-points over Trump. Biden had a 34 percent favorability rating among Americans compared to just 25 percent who have a favorable opinion of Trump.
The former president also scored poorly with Independents. In a PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll, only 28 percent of Independents want Trump to run again.
You Mean He Is Going On CNN?
These numbers must alarm the former president. His team is trying something new in this campaign. Trump has agreed to conduct a townhall with CNN on May 10. Yes, we know how much he hates the left-leaning network, so this is a surprise, but Trump knows he needs to reach out to different voters. Trump also has a love-hate relationship with Fox News and may try and curry favor with other legacy media outlets to make his case to moderates.
Moderates May Think Donald Trump Is a Criminal
But what selling points does he have to attract Independents to his cause?
The legal woes are mounting. He has been charged with 34 felony counts for allegedly falsifying business records in a hush money scheme. He is the target of an ugly defamation case from a woman that he allegedly raped in the mid-1990s. Other investigations such as his actions (and inactions) leading up to and during the January 6 insurrection could result in at least one indictment. He has the classified documents problem and then there is the possibility a criminal grand jury could hear evidence that he tried to over-turn the 2020 election results in Georgia.
Independents are a notoriously fickle bunch who are difficult to predict. The Republican National Committee recently did a post-mortem for the 2022 midterm elections in which the GOP underperformed. The investigation found that Independents broke toward the Democrats in the days leading up to the election.
Most of this was probably because of poor candidates who were seen as extreme, especially in the senate races. Election deniers were on the ballot. Ultra-right views on abortion were dismissed by moderates and the RNC found that abortion was the main culprit for Republican losses. The Democrats reminded Independents that the MAGA faithful supportive of Trump were too radical and a threat to Democracy.
Elections are about the future and Trump will have to show that he can attract moderates to his cause without spinning grievances about 2020. Messages that could resonate would be reducing inflation, trimming the deficit and debt, and securing the border. Abortion will likely still be a problem for Trump as he is responsible for the conservative Supreme Court. Trump is aware of his lack of moderate support. Swing states such as Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Arizona will be difficult to win without Independents coming to his rescue. He must hope that they see Biden as a failed president and that centrists will give Trump another shot at the White House.
One aspect of the 2020 campaign that turned off many Independents was the first presidential debate. This reminded moderates of all the things they dislike about Trump. He was mean, and to be frank, acted like a jerk by constantly interrupting Biden. That was the worst debate performance I have ever seen.
Donald Trump needs to placate moderate doubters that he can be a more humane and compassionate person before they vote for him. Maybe that is not his nature, but it will take a behavioral course correction for Independents to give him another shot at the White House.
Author Expertise and Experience: Serving as 19FortyFive’s Defense and National Security Editor, Dr. Brent M. Eastwood is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science and Foreign Policy/ International Relations.