The Republican Party begins a national convention this week with its fate tied to a candidate who was startlingly successful in the primaries yet is one of the most polarizing political figures in recent history.
Party stalwarts, including its last presidential nominee, shun him. Major donors withhold their money. Some loyalists will skip the convention. And still Donald Trump resists efforts to rein in his divisive instincts.
Normally, all this would guarantee victory for the expected Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton. But the former first lady has problems of her own. In Florida, her lead over Mr. Trump has vanished, according to the latest survey. Nationally, a recent poll found that only 37 percent of voters consider her honest and trustworthy. Mr. Trump does somewhat better, enough to suggest that the race for the White House will be close.
Not since 1968 have political conventions been held in a time of so much national division and tension. That raises the stakes for both party nominees, especially for Mr. Trump, who has created disarray in his own party. His failure to grasp the cost of the divisions he has exploited leaves little hope that he can actually unite the country — if that is even his goal.
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The selection of Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana for VP is a good move. He brings seriousness to the ticket, but seriousness should begin at the top, with Mr. Trump.
So what does he have to do if he and his party can have a chance of victory in November?
▪ Eliminate the angry rhetoric. He’s gone way overboard. Demonizing his opponents was a successful primary tactic, but now he can afford to be magnanimous. His often thoughtless words have narrowed the party’s political appeal by alienating Hispanics, women and gays, among others. This is not what the country expects from a presidential nominee.
▪ Explain how his solutions will actually solve America’s problems. He deserves credit for acknowledging middle class frustrations over the economy, as well as the fears about Islamic extremism. But simply repeating that he’ll “make America great again” won’t make it so. And the simplistic appeal to nativist and racist sentiment that worked for him in the primaries is unlikely to attract the kind of voters he needs to win in November. A wholesale ban on Muslim immigrants — one of his worst ideas — will play into the hands of America’s enemies.
▪ Develop a better grasp of policy. His idea that NATO allies need to make a bigger investment in their own defense is a good start insofar as a policy discussion. But on a wide array of other important issues, many voters think he’s just faking it. Mouthing slogans is easy. Formulating effective policy is hard.
▪ Make an effort to conform to party principles on those issues that have made the GOP the political ally of Main Street, such as international trade. His protectionist rhetoric insults the party’s tradition of free trade.
▪ Most important, Mr. Trump must show that he’s capable of uniting the country at a time of enormous social, racial and political division — and that he wants to bring us together, not divide us. That’s going to be a hard climb for a candidate whose rhetoric has been so offensive.
He must reassure doubters that he is not the dangerous buffoon he often puts on display. There are signs that Mr. Trump gets this — his speech after the Dallas tragedy contained understanding and compassion. Let’s see more of that, Mr. Trump, and less of the vitriol.