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The insincerity of the Trump pivot

Image credit: I threw a guitar at him (Flickr: Creative Commons)

As Republican nominee Donald J. Trump edges closer to election day, much has been publicised about his own so-called ‘pivot’. As Trump has won the majority support of the Republican base, he now has to win the majority support of a more diverse American voting demographic in the general election. Since winning the Republican nomination, Trump's fiery, populist, anti-establishment rhetoric—built on a platform of core issues of anti-immigration, isolationism and appearing vigilant against the threat of Islamic extremism—has failed to gain widespread support across the nationwide political landscape. Trump has consistently trailed his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in a majority of national general election polls.

Recently many have speculated that Trump’s campaign would pivot towards a more moderate, centrist form of traditional Republicanism, or at least soften its antagonistic, aggressive and resolute image. It’s now evident that Trump is attempting to soften his image towards minority group voting blocs, with whom he polls poorly as he's accused of spouting racist and xenophobic attitudes. Trump polls extremely poorly amongst African-Americans: a recent poll showed that only 7% of African-American voters nationwide viewed him favourably. In an attempt to gain favour with the African-American voting demographic, Trump recently campaigned within these communities by meeting with African-American community and church leaders, as well as visiting church congregations in Detroit—the US city containing the greatest African-American population.

Trump has also attempted to make up for his poor polling amongst Latino voters. Conventional wisdom states that for a Republican candidate to secure victory, he or she must win at least 40% of the Latino vote. A recent poll shows that Trump is favourable amongst only 19% of Latino voters and that if the election were held today, Clinton would win 70% of the Latino vote. In an effort to improve these abysmal numbers, Trump has attempted to soften his position on immigration. He recently travelled to Mexico to meet with President Peña Nieto in what was believed to be an attempt to make up for damage made through his insulting remarks about Mexican immigrants and plan to build a wall between the US and Mexico. Trump appeared cooperative and passive during his campaigning in Mexico, with many believing this was the beginning of his immigration pivot. Nevertheless, upon arriving at a campaign speech in Phoenix, Arizona following the trip, he reverted back to his hostile, hardline stance on immigration.

It was this reversal of sentiment that demonstrates why a so-called ‘pivot’ by Trump is both insincere and a fool’s errand for those that are looking for it. Trump has built a grassroots movement by fear mongering about and alienating minority groups in America. As such, it would be naïve to believe he has had a genuine change of heart, or that it would be bought by the majority of minority group voters. The insincerity of his minority outreach shines through in the way he demonises other minority groups, particularly Muslim Americans, in campaigning to appeal to historically alienated minority groups in the US. The balancing act of ensuring the continued support of his grassroots, populist base of largely white, low-to-middle class males with low levels of education, whilst also appealing to minority groups and moderate Republicans, appears an insurmountable challenge for Trump.

Trump is already struggling to gain the support of white college-educated voters, seen as essential to gaining victory in this election, who are ideologically at the opposite end of the spectrum to his grassroots base. It’s unlikely that Trump will be able to compromise his populist, anti-establishment and nationalist values without disappointing his constituents, or pivot far enough to gain the support of election-winning voting blocs with whom he has been unfavourable.

As Trump’s minority outreach is unlikely to swing a large portion of the Latino, African-American and even LGBT vote, his attempts to pivot towards these groups can in fact be viewed as an attempt to appeal to the white, moderate Republican voting bloc. Much of this demographic is college educated and have previously felt uncomfortable supporting Trump as the Republican candidate due to his unapologetically xenophobic rhetoric. Trump is attempting to shift the perception that he's intolerant and bigoted to gain the support of traditional Republican voter base. As such, Trump is merely using minority groups as a pawn in order to sway the support of both far and centre-right white voters; to enjoy the support of the establishment and anti-establishment whilst showing no genuine political conviction to uplift the state of minority groups in Trump’s America.

Matthew Holding is the United States Fellow for Young Australians in International Affairs.

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