All signs are that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are headed for smashing victories today in multiple primaries across the country that could very well put both on a clear path to the nominations of their respective parties. Which means it isn’t too early for Democrats to start seriously pondering how to handle Trump in the general election.
Today’s New York Times delivers the most comprehensive report yet on the evolving Dem strategy. It’s worth dividing the Dem approach into two categories: First, there are the attacks that are designed to tear Trump down in the eyes of core Dem constituencies (minorities, single women) and groups of gettable swing voters (suburbanites and college educated whites). This will rely heavily on attacking Trump’s temperament as unfit for the presidency and deeply dangerous on a global scale; highlighting Trump’s virulent xenophobia and degrading comments about immigrants, women, and Muslims; and his murky business dealings, which will be pressed into service to paint Trump as a scam artist who has fleeced working people.
You might call those the low-hanging-fruit attacks on Trump — the gimmes. After all, it’s easy to conclude Trump is a deeply toxic figure who would drive up turnout among core Dem groups in a huge way and dramatically alienate and frighten certain swing voters. That’s very likely to happen.
The second aspect of the thinking about Trump is, to my mind, more interesting and potentially very important. It is rooted in an effort to understand the actual sources of Trump’s appeal, which he has retained in spite of all of his visibly despicable character traits:
[Campaign manager Robby] Mook and his colleagues regard Mr. Trump as a wily, determined and indefatigable opponent who seems to be speaking to broad economic anxieties among Americans and to the widely held belief that traditional politicians are incapable of addressing those problems. Publicly, the Clinton operation is letting the Republicans slug it out. But privately, it and other Democrats are poring over polling data to understand the roots of Mr. Trump’s populist appeal….
Mrs. Clinton’s uneven performance with male voters so far, especially white men, could create an opening for Mr. Trump to attract Democrats and independents who are socially and culturally moderate and open to his call for a strong military, fearless foreign policy and businessman’s approach to the economy. Those voters could give him an edge in places like North Carolina, which Mr. Obama won in 2008. But Clinton advisers also worry about Ohio, Florida and Democratic-leaning states in presidential elections that Mr. Trump has vowed to contest, like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
This is welcome news for those who don’t relish the idea of a Trump presidency. Initial reports suggested that Democrats were mostly planning to re-purpose the 2012 attacks on Mitt Romney, as a predatory capitalist, against Trump. But such an attack arguably would not be reckoning with the important differences between Romney and Trump, as well as the true sources of Trumpism’s success. Romney was running (mostly) as an economic technocrat who would spur a faster recovery where Obama failed, in hopes of winning a referendum on the incumbent’s sluggish economy. So Dems had to use Romney’s business career to viscerally undermine the notion that his approach to the economy — a call for “getting government out of the way” that Dems branded as “you’re on your own economics” — would actually help struggling Americans.
So yes, the Dems are definitely taking the notion of running against Trump in the general very seriously. What I'm afraid of is Democrats starting to run against Obama and the people of color that make up the majority of the Democratic party in order to get angry Trumpbros to vote for them. To her credit, Hillary has done a much better job of running with Obama than against him, Bernie not so much.
We'll see where all this settles out, but at least for now I'm operating on "running against Trump in November".