With 23 weeks until Election Day, Donald Trump — the unlikeliest, most unconventional nominee of a major party in modern times — faces two challenges.
The first is to rally the 30 percent of the GOP faithful who remain at least reluctant to rally to his banner; the second is to lower his unfavorable ratings among the general electorate. (Gallup’s numbers from last week led the polling giant to remark that “Trump has a significantly more negative image than has been the norm for his party’s nominees at this point in recent campaigns,” and that the “relative lack of enthusiasm for Trump among his own party may not be his biggest challenge to winning the presidency — twice as many Americans overall have an unfavorable (60 percent) as a favorable (34 percent) opinion of him.”).
I have written elsewhere on the steps Trump could take to reduce the 30 percent of GOP holdouts to a hard core 5 percent of dead-enders whose principles prevent them from ever voting for Trump. (Honorable folk, but from the perspective of a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine in harm’s way, someone is going to be commander in chief, and citizens, it seems to me, owe them the better of the two realistic choices and best efforts to deliver that better choice.)
But what about the general electorate, the independents and lightly committed Democrats who view Trump with eyebrows arched and who, however quietly they sit seething with disgust at Clinton cronyism, haven’t been persuaded they can trust Trump with their kids’ and grandkids’ futures?
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This is the “Trump’s too dangerous, too unstable” tune that the former secretary of state began to play last week. Like Disney’s “It’s A Small World,” it is a melody almost impossible to exile once introduced into the head. Trump needs to move quickly and with more than rally rhetoric to dispel the idea that he is a ticking time bomb of international confrontation over minor matters, a walking, talking insult machine that will escalate every diplomatic tiff into a triple overtime, knockdown, drag-out combat situation.
The path out of this dilemma is for Trump to unveil the Trump Team, starting with the vice presidential selection but not ending there. Put Sen. Tom Cotton on the ticket and let the young, cool Arkansas Harvard lawyer turned Army Ranger turned congressman and then senator methodically destroy the pretensions of the frat boys on the Obama National Security Council and Clinton foreign policy team. (“Former van drivers,” “chumps,” “failed novelists and campaign flaks” who had never faced anything more dangerous than a shoving match after beer pong battles, Cotton told me about the kids club at the White House last week after its mouthpiece Josh Earnest called Cotton a liar.) Cotton brings seriousness, steadiness and the unflappability one would expect from a platoon leader in Baghdad during the Surge as Cotton was. He is the perfect balance to Trump on the ticket.
Add to Cotton the names of former Sens. Jim Talent for defense, Jon Kyl for state and Joe Lieberman for head of all intelligence agencies, and suddenly Trump doesn’t seem so unpredictable, except in his campaign tactics. Yes, Chris Christie as attorney general as well. Overnight Trump would be bringing the adults back to help him run America’s recovery of leadership in the world.
Trump can quiet much of the conservative angst with specificity about his replacement for Justice Antonin Scalia (not achieved via an expanding and contracting Slinky list of possible nominees) and by the release of tax returns from either 2015 or 2014 — an audit is no excuse for not releasing them — but the center of America’s electorate needs more to smother Hillary’s obvious and continuing assault on Trump’s temperament.
No one has ever before released the names of the Cabinet prior to the election. Donald Trump thrives on “firsts,” however, and would rightly blow off objections that such announcements run afoul of statutes prohibiting the promising of office in exchange for campaign support (Inapplicable to such declarations, period). A weekly announcement of yet another team member of the Trump administration not only garners headlines and news cycles, it comforts the center, and smooths what is otherwise an incredibly bumpy road to the White House.
Obliging Hillary Clinton to mumble in response to such announcements given the bare cupboard of Democratic national security expertise (the “Ben Rhodes effect” of running off all the grown ups) and to try to pivot from her failures as secretary of state — in Egypt, Libya, Syria, with the “Russian Reset” as well as the failure to extend the Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq, which led to losing the peace in that country (and of course the massive intelligence breach that was and remains her server) — would be a wonderful political meltdown to behold.
Trump has famously declared himself a counter-puncher. Last week Hillary threw the first of many roundhouses challenging Trump’s temperament. Time to counter-punch on the most important subject of protecting the country. Hard. And fast. And again and again.
This column was originally posted on WashingtonExaminer.com.