If Donald Trump wants to be president, he should not listen to those who say he should run a “law and order” campaign. Making crime; or law enforcement, the center of the GOP presidential campaign is a recipe for certain defeat in 2016.
Yes it is true that some crime rates are increasing and some Americans; particularly those over 50 who remember the violent years of the 1970s and 80s, are worried. Despite that there are several good reasons why Trump should avoid the issue and ignore those; like The American Conservative’s managing editor Robert VerBruggen, who want a Nixonesque law and order campaign.
The reasons law and order would be toxic for Trump in 2016 are as follows:
- There are episodes from the Donald’s past that would make him look like a hypocrite and perhaps a fraud on the issue. Foremost are the alleged business dealings with reputed Mafia figures in the 1980s and Trump University. To be a successful law and order candidate, one has to be squeaky clean. Trump is many things but he is far from that.
- Law and order is Hillary’s strongest issue. She has been harping on it for months under the cover of gun control. There’s a reason why Hillary has been emphasizing gun control for months; the issue allows her to be tough on crime without being seen as hostile to African Americans, whose votes she needs. Another Reason for Clinton’s anti-gun crusade is to distract voters particularly soccer moms; Hillary’s core constituency, from the lousy economy. Strangely enough; Hillary agrees with VerBruggen’s belief that it is time for a law and order campaign, for she is already running one.
- Law and order will put off the kinds of voters Trump needs. If he wants to win the White House, Donald will have to attract at least some support from nonwhites and younger Americans. Those are the two groups most likely to be put off by a “police are wonderful” get tough on crime campaign. Recent events show that there is widespread suspicion; and in some cases outright hostility, towards police and law and order rhetoric among people of color and those under 40. An emphasis on law and order will drive away any of those voters who might be receptive to the rest of Trump’s message.
- Donald already has the support of those most likely to be swayed by law and order rhetoric. That is nervous older white people, who are Trump’s core constituency. To win in November, the Republicans will have to broaden their base.
- The law and order rhetoric will only reaffirm many Americans’ suspicion that Donald Trump is a racist. A wide swath of the electorate; including many whites, now view get on tough on crime messages as code for racism. Such words from Trump’s mouth will convince those voters that he is a bigot.
- A law and order campaign will only distract Trump from his only potent issue: the economy. Donald’s whole success is based on popular dissatisfaction with the economy, and the way it is going. Were he to stop talking about economic issues; particularly trade, much of Donald’s support would evaporate.
- The economy is also the one issue, where voters seem to give Donald the benefit of the doubt. In a CNN/ORC poll taken from June 16 to 19, 51% of voters believed Trump could “handle the economy” better than Hillary. The same survey found only 43% of voters thought Clinton would “handle the economy” better than Trump. To win Trump needs a laser like focus on the economy because it’s all he really has.
- The Trump could “handle the economy” better than Hillary because a large segment of the American people blame Hillary; and her husband Bill, for their economic woes. Making the campaign about the economy puts Clinton on the defensive. The numbers quoted above indicate voters are skeptical of her on that issue.
The question we need to ask is will Trump stick to what has worked; or get led astray by the cultural conservatives, who want a return to the 1950s. It’s too early to tell; he harped on “law and order” in his July 21, 2016, acceptance speech, yet the recent tweets and stump speeches seem to be drifting back to the economic message.
What is certain is that a law and order campaign will not work in 2016; something that Donald’s buddy New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, learned in the primaries. This election is about the economy; and little else, as Hillary might discover.
 See Just What Were Donald Trump’s Ties to the Mob by David Cay Johnston in the May 22, 2016 issue of Politico for a good overview of the mafia allegations. http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/05/donald-trump-2016-mob-organized-crime-213910