Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s Super Tuesdays put them on a collision course this fall. Betting markets make Clinton the strong favorite, given Trump’s high unfavorables, his incendiary comments about minorities, and the fact that members of his own party seem eager to disavow him. But Trump’s strengths and grand strategy make him considerably more dangerous in a general election than people seem to think.
There are two pieces of conventional wisdom about Donald Trump that don't fit comfortably together. On the one hand, people seem to think Trump’s appeal transcends the issues and that he doesn’t really care about policy. On the other hand, he’s considered unelectable because of his policies, like building a Mexican wall and banning Muslim immigrants.
But here’s the problem: If Trump doesn’t care about policy and his appeal truly transcends issues, what’s stopping him from becoming a starkly different person in the general election, the same way he's morphed, with convenient timing, from a moderate businessman—supportive of Canadian health care, a friend of Democrats, an admirer of Hillary Clinton—to a nationalist demagogue?
Trump’s most famous skill is self-promotion through bloviation. But his most underrated skill is he is a terrific panderer. He will say anything he thinks people want to hear, but he'll say it in a way that makes his pandering look like an act of courage. The ingenious subtext of much of his messaging is: “Nobody wants to hear this hard truth, but here it is: you’re right!” As a businessman, he had no problem hiring illegal immigrants. But when he sniffed out illegal immigration as a hot-button topic, he promised mass deportations, the most beautiful wall in the Western Hemisphere, and a punitive financing scheme: Mexico pays! He trashed former klansman David Duke years ago. But when he suspected that some voters in Super Tuesday states might be sympathetic to white supremacy, he scolded CNN’s Jake Tapper for asking him to disavow somebody he’d never met.