Donald Trump needs a kitchen cabinet. While the canny billionaire has run an incredible campaign virtually by himself, he has alienated almost as many Republicans as he has attracted. If he really wants to become president, he needs to convince educated, well-informed voters that he is more than a provocative TV impresario running the highest-rated reality show ever created.
Trump has won 37 percent of the votes cast so far in the GOP primaries. In last Tuesday’s exit polls, 39 percent of Republican voters said they would consider a third-party candidate if the real estate magnate and Hillary Clinton were their party’s standard-bearers. Worse, some 44 percent of people who didn’t vote for Trump said they would sit out the November election if he were the candidate. That’s not good news for Trump or the GOP.
It’s also not good news for the country. Four more years of Obama’s wrong-headed liberal agenda will crush the spirit that has made this the greatest country in the world. That is not an exaggeration, or a slogan. The complex rules re-regulating gender equality, paid leave, hiring practices, benefits and so forth are stifling entrepreneurs in this country. The most worrisome data point of all: more businesses are going under in the U.S. than are being created, for the first time in thirty-five years. Enough is enough.
Trump supporters respond that Hillary, too, is unpopular; her “unfavorables” are a net negative 13 percent, according to RealClearPolitics. Trump, though, is in the hole by 28 points. His approval ratings have dropped for months as more people tired of his insults and recklessness. Hillary, too, has seen her approval ratings swoon. A year ago, the public was about split on the former Secretary of State. Primaries are not kind.
To move the needle and have a shot against Hillary in the general election, Trump has to broaden his appeal and bolster his credibility. Instead of talking to himself on foreign policy, as he claims he does, Trump needs to surround himself with credible advisors – maybe former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice or SAIS head Vali Nasr, for instance – who could help the mogul gear up for the inevitably tough debates with Hillary. On the economy, why not invite the counsel of Steve Forbes or Larry Kudlow? How about Arthur Brooks, head of the American Enterprise Institute? People now on the fence might think if those folks are willing to work with him, maybe I can too.
This is not a new idea. Andrew Jackson famously had his kitchen cabinet; more than a century later, Ronald Reagan had one too. Reagan had a close group of advisors who helped elect him governor of California and then president, who raised money for his campaigns and advised him on selecting his cabinet. They were long-time friends like Justin Dart, CEO of Dart & Kraft and Alfred Bloomingdale, the department store magnate. They were mostly self-made business leaders, trusted pals who shared his vision for the country.
The window is closing for Trump, as ever-greater numbers of right-leaning thought leaders join the Stop-Trump movement. Some 50 members of the “Republican national security community” recently wrote a letter saying that though they disagreed on many issues, they were “united in our opposition to a Donald Trump presidency.” That’s a strong stance. After 8 years in the wilderness, many of those folks would likely open a vein to win a White House gig.
They are not alone. Scores of right-wing and moderate politicians and commentators, including the entire National Review staff, have similarly come out against Trump. None of this has impressed Trump supporters, who decry all critics as part of the heinous “establishment” and who are convinced that Trump has a secret sauce that will overcome polls and opposition.
That confidence could be shaken in the weeks ahead. As money and backers flock to Senator Ted Cruz, the most likely bulwark against a Trump nomination, the billionaire’s performance may falter. Tomorrow’s contests in Utah and Arizona could prove pivotal. Former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney has urged Utah voters to support Cruz, in order to block Trump from acquiring the 1,237 delegates needed to secure the nomination. In addition, Utah Senator Mike Lee is campaigning with Cruz. Polls show the Texas senator well in the lead, with 53 percent of respondents in a recent survey. Trump is in third place. If Cruz wins over half the caucus votes, he will take all the state’s 40 delegates.
Arizona also votes tomorrow, and it too is a winner-take-all state, with 58 delegates at stake. Recent polling shows Trump leading by an average of 13 points, but that advantage could narrow. The well-organized Cruz ground team has sometimes closed the gap meaningfully in the last days of a primary battle. Also, most polling was done before Senator Marco Rubio pulled out. If a majority of his backers falls in behind Cruz, we could see an upset.
Tuesday’s results could push Trump to rethink his inevitability. If so, he would do well to consider adding more substance to his fragile campaign, and broadening his appeal. It may turn out that the real estate mogul’s biggest weakness is his inability to take advice. If so, this column will surely not reach his desk.