RNC chair to Trump: Let’s have “diversity on the ballot”

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Donald Trump needs at least a degree of diversity on the GOP’s presidential ticket, RNC chair Reince Priebus told Hugh Hewitt this morning, but what kind of diversity? Hugh points out the issues Republicans have with millennials and argues that the running-mate choice has to have some impact on younger voters. Priebus agrees, and assures Hugh that Team Trump has a firm grasp on the GOP’s needs:

Trump “also understands that we’ve got to have a real seasoned veteran,” Priebus said, agreeing with radio host Hugh Hewitt in an interview that “there has to be a degree of diversity on the ballot.”

“Now whether it be diversity of age or whether it be diversity of gender or ethnic background, somehow or another, diversity is important in some respects,” Priebus said.

He also remarked that the “vetting process is far more detailed, and I know that there’s more involved in that vetting process than I think is being reported right now,” Priebus said in an interview with radio host Hugh Hewitt.

Given the distance between Donald Trump and the traditional track of Republican candidates, practically any choice would show some “degree of diversity.” The question, as it is in most cycles, is whether a running-mate choice really matters at all. To this day, numerous Republicans claim they only voted for John McCain in 2008 because of Sarah Palin, but there is anecdotal evidence that other voters chose the opposite on the same basis, too — and in any case, the GOP lost 4 million votes from 2004.

There is very little evidence that the choice of running mate has any significant impact, as voters base there choice on the top slot rather than the bottom. That should be even more true in this election, with both party’s nominees being almost universally known. Trump especially has the kind of outsize persona that’s almost certain to marginalize whomever he names as his running mate, regardless of “diversity.” Besides, with Trump the problem is less his own demographic identity and more the statements that he has made over the past year. The voters who take offense over those statements are not likely to be mollified by a VP choice, and it’s possible that Trump’s supporters might lose some enthusiasm if they see a particular choice as pandering in that regard.

One can understand why Priebus would be worried about diversity, though. In the real world, the GOP has a growing problem:

As recently as the 2000 election, won by Republican George W. Bush, 81 percent of voters were white, 10 percent black and just seven percent Hispanic.

By 2012, when President Obama won his second term, the white vote-share was down 9 points, to 72 percent. Blacks cast 13 percent of the total ballots and Hispanics 10 percent.

Some experts believe the white vote-share could drop below 70 percent in November.

“The America electorate as a whole is increasingly diverse, and I think you will see increases not only in the numbers of Hispanic and black voters, but among Asian voters as well. And you’ll see the lowest share of the white Anglo vote,” said Fernand Amandi of Bendixen & Amandi, a consulting firm that specializes in work with the Hispanic community.

Such numbers could create hurdles for Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee.

The non-white share of the vote could drop this year, as Obama’s GOTV machine (and his own organizing genius) will be on the sidelines, but that would only be a brief respite. It would take a sustained ground fight by the Republican nominee to maximize the potential even in that model of the general-election electorate, and Trump has already signaled that he’s not interested in that kind of campaign. The AP’s Bill Barrow reports that campaign veterans wonder why:

Buzz Jacobs, who was on the losing end of Obama’s success in 2008 as an aide to GOP nominee John McCain, said Trump oversimplifies the president’s victories.

“We lost in large part because Obama’s ability to use data was so much better than ours,” Jacobs said.

According to South Carolina’s Republican chairman, Matt Moore: “Elections to a great degree are won on … that last 1 or 2 percent that shows up or stays home. That group on either edge turns out because of data and digital. That’s a known fact.”

Republicans and Democrats with experience running campaigns question why Trump would give up a chance to reinforce with data his ubiquitous presence on television and inarguable success with large-scale rallies — a platform of personality that Clinton has yet to match.

Bird, whose consulting firm now works for the Clinton campaign, said Trump is giving himself a false choice.

“At a big picture level, sure, Barack Obama got the votes — his bio, his policies, his ability to communicate,” Bird said. “But we wanted to do everything we could to get him and get his message to the right people.”

The false choice is that it’s either/or. Candidates can hold big rallies while operating ground-up, peer-to-peer models of campaigns. In fact, Obama did exactly that in both 2008 and 2012, while Republicans relied on the top-down, national-messaging model in both elections, as I discuss in my book Going Red. Priebus and others want to use the running-mate selection as a shortcut to the tough work of campaigning in diverse communities, more out of necessity than choice with Trump, but there’s very little evidence to believe it will work. That’s exactly why Priebus built the Republican Leadership Initiative into a network that would allow the candidate to conduct that kind of bottom-up campaign in the first place.

Trump’s supporters claim that Trump doesn’t need any of that, and argue that he’ll turn out enough voters in his base to swamp out Hillary Clinton in the end. If that’s the case, then the running mate choice is irrelevant (as it usually is anyway), but at least thus far we’re not seeing evidence of a Trump boom in the general election polling data. Even if it works, though, it’s another four years lost on the kind of sustained effort on outreach that Republicans and conservatives have to do in order to stay competitive in a changing electorate.

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