To win in November, Donald Trump must modify his image — particularly with women. But how he does so is extremely important. Here's why:
The U.S. electorate is so fed up with politicians' shape-shifting ways that if Trump openly backpedals on his image, he risks being seen as just another untrustworthy backslider.
This election cycle that's a very bad place to be — as several of his vanquished primary foes can tell you. Whatever changes Trump makes, rest assured he will deny he's making them. It's what he has to do.
In closed-door meetings with GOP leaders, however, Trump has reportedly promised to soften his image and rhetoric. It's fine to do that behind the scenes. But I predict his public persona will continue to be that of a politically incorrect guy.
It's been resonating tremendously well with voters — why change it?
Trump does face a gender gap with women. To mitigate that, his surrogates will have to play a key role. What's said about you is often more valuable than what you say about yourself.
The more Trump can get other people to speak for him — particularly testimonials from women — the better off he'll be.
Democrats, of course, will try to scare voters by representing his views as dangerous or too extreme. But Trump only needs to compare and contrast some of his bolder proposals to the status quo.
"I suggest building a wall and some people say that's nutty," he might say. "But which is nuttier: building a wall and asking Mexico pay for it? Or having illegal aliens as 65 percent of the patients admitted to some hospitals — and asking taxpaying citizens to pay for it? Which is nuttier? You choose."
Now that the primary fracas is behind him, Trump will have more opportunities to appear presidential. That's an attribute every candidate tries to cultivate, some more successfully than others.
Trump has begun to appoint high profile people, including former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, to commissions and task forces to advise him. That's smart because it makes him appear more willing to listen to others, and to lead by consensus. It could also give cover to modify his policies if he needs to.
Let's be honest: Many people see Donald Trump as a bit of a bully. But if lower middle-class workers — the old Reagan Democrats — come to think of him as their bully, Trump can win this election.
The Clinton machine will sound the alarm, warning voters that President Donald Trump's finger hovering over the nuclear button is a scary proposition. It's the same tactic they tried against then-Sen. Barack Obama in 2008.
Hillary is saddled with her own suspect record: Benghazi, the failed Russian reset, and her home-brew email server, to name only a few issues. So on this attack, her surrogates may lead the charge.
But here again, politics is a comparative exercise. "If you don't feel as safe as you did eight years ago," Trump might say, "Maybe we need to shake things up a bit. And I think I'm the guy to do it."
With few exceptions, an image can always be fixed. Look at Robert Downey Jr. He suffered several run-ins with the law and multiple relapses prior to achieving sobriety. Today, he is a triumphant success and he did it without alienating his fans.
Trump doesn't need an extreme makeover. With his celebrity status in the age of social media, he now possesses the loudest megaphone in the history of politics.
That's the problem when you're up against Donald Trump. You're competing against the Michael Jordan of media.
He's a master at generating headlines.
Michael Levine, PR agent to the stars, is one of the world's leading publicists. Over the course of his career he's represented 58 Oscar winners, and 34 Grammy Award winners.
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