Push for GOP de­fec­tors to lit­tle ef­fect

Clinton team aim­ing to lure Repub­li­cans wary of nom­i­nee

Baltimore Sun - - ELECTION 2016 - By Evan Halper and Chris Mege­rian

“Once you iden­tify with that ide­o­log­i­cal tribe, it is dif­fi­cult to break the al­le­giance.”

WASH­ING­TON — The re­bukes of Don­ald Trump from the holy or­der of the GOP are as re­lent­less as they are bru­tal, ex­tend­ing from the party’s liv­ing ex-pres­i­dents to the descen­dants of Ron­ald Rea­gan — and Repub­li­can vot­ers al­most al­ways re­spond to them the same way. With a shrug. Even in this un­usual race, GOP vot­ers are fol­low­ing their usual pat­tern of co­a­lesc­ing around their nom­i­nee. As they do, the giddy chat­ter has qui­eted among Democrats who once buzzed about a pos­si­ble Hil­lary Clinton land­slide aided by dis­af­fected Repub­li­cans.

In a race in which party loy­alty is be­ing tested more than ever be­fore, it is hold­ing its own.

Nev­er­the­less, the Clinton cam­paign is con­tin­u­ing to in­vest big in lur­ing Repub­li­can con­verts.

Ev­ery week seems to bring a new Clinton ad cam­paign with GOP dis­avowals of their own nom­i­nee or a roll­out of another note­wor­thy en­dorse­ment from a con­ser­va­tive big shot. The mes­sages to Repub­li­can vot­ers span from warn­ings of the de­struc­tion Trump would wreak to re­as­sur­ances that vot­ing against him is not dis­loyal.

A new ra­dio cam­paign fea­tures life­long Repub­li­can vot­ers talk­ing about their de­ci­sion to vote against Trump. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, in his role as sur­ro­gate in chief, even speaks ad­mir­ingly of the GOP as he rea­sons that the path to pre­serv­ing it is re­ject­ing the nom­i­nee.

If the Clinton cam­paign can’t or­ches­trate a mass de­fec­tion, it will set­tle for a tiny sub­ver­sion. Even that Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Hil­lary Clinton says she’s “thrilled” at the amount of Repub­li­can sup­port she’s got­ten. could be enough to tip the bal­ance her way in some key swing states.

“When you’re in a close race, par­tic­u­larly in some bat­tle­ground states, you’re def­i­nitely play­ing on the mar­gins,” Clinton cam­paign strate­gist Joel Be­nen­son said. The cam­paign is pur­su­ing wa­ver­ing Repub­li­cans re­lent­lessly, typ­i­cally with the help of con­ser­va­tives who have al­ready crossed the line. “It’s about let­ting folks who have a his­tory of vot­ing Repub­li­can know that you’re not alone,” Be­nen­son said.

Col­lege-ed­u­cated women are tar­geted the most. Trump’s his­tory of de­mean­ing com­ments to­ward women and his loose talk about nu­clear weapons and other na­tional se­cu­rity threats are among the rea­sons they’re hedg­ing. A mailer Democrats sent to sub­ur­ban Repub­li­can women in Iowa, for ex­am­ple, f ea­tures t he Trump quotes “slobs,” “dogs” and “fat pigs” printed on pa­per dolls. “His words make us feel worth­less,” it says.

“We see a lot of Repub­li­can-lean­ing in­de­pen­dent women and Repub­li­can women who are very both­ered by Don­ald Trump’s rhetoric,” said Clinton cam­paign man­ager Robby Mook.

Re­cent polls show col­lege-ed­u­cated whites are back­ing Clinton af­ter decades of sup­port­ing GOP can­di­dates.

But vot­ers in some states may be more re­cep­tive than in oth­ers. In Ohio and Pennsylvania, the push doesn’t seem to be do­ing much. In some polls, Trump en­joys more loy­alty from his party’s vot­ers in those states than Clinton does with hers.

But the sit­u­a­tion is dif­fer­ent in Michigan and New Hamp­shire, where polls pub­lished in the last week show Clinton’s lead buoyed by weak­en­ing sup­port for Trump among Repub­li­cans. In Florida and North Caroli- na, where the race has been close to a dead heat, a Quin­nip­iac poll shows Clinton ad­vanc­ing as Repub­li­cans fail to line up be­hind Trump in the same num­bers Democrats are lin­ing up be­hind her.

“I am thrilled at the amount of Repub­li­can voter sup­port I’ve got­ten, I re­ally am,” Clinton said on her cam­paign plane re­cently.

Her cam­paign said it’s cre­at­ing a path­way for Repub­li­cans — some of whom may have viewed Clinton and her hus­band as po­lit­i­cal en­e­mies for decades — to cross the aisle. Oth­ers are du­bi­ous.

Any bump in the rate of Repub­li­can re­fuseniks this year is Trump’s own mak­ing, said Neil Ne­w­house, who was a poll­ster for for­mer GOP pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee and now promi­nent Trump critic Mitt Rom­ney. Those vot­ers still deeply dis­trust Clinton, he said, and will prob­a­bly cast bal­lots for Lib­er­tar­ian Gary John­son. Ne­w­house is unim­pressed by the Clinton mes­sag­ing ef­fort, which he sus­pects is re­puls­ing more Repub­li­cans than it is re­cruit­ing.

For all her mar­ket­ing to Repub­li­cans, Clinton has done lit­tle to pivot her agenda in their di­rec­tion. She has been un­apolo­getic about con­tin­u­ing Obama’s poli­cies, which con­ser­va­tives detest. She has vowed to nom­i­nate jus­tices who would put the Supreme Court un­der lib­eral con­trol for decades, fill­ing Repub­li­can vot­ers with dread. She would grow gov­ern­ment, ex­pand Oba­macare and cham­pion abor­tion rights.

“She hasn’t done much to throw con­ser­va­tives a bone,” said Charlie Sykes, a con­ser­va­tive talk ra­dio host in Wis­con­sin.

A vo­cal mem­ber of the “Never Trump” move­ment, Sykes finds him­self tan­gling with his lis­ten­ers con­stantly. “They are lin­ing up with their noses held to vote for him,” he said.

Sykes said he is still wait­ing for Clinton to reach out to Repub­li­cans with a “Sis­ter Soul­jah mo­ment” — a ref­er­ence to the time Bill Clinton im­pressed so­cial con­ser­va­tives with a provoca­tive re­mark be­fore Jesse Jack­son’s Rain­bow Coali­tion. In the 1992 in­ci­dent, Clinton re­pu­di­ated a hiphop artist’s take on blackon-white vi­o­lence.

Hil­lary Clinton is un­likely to de­liver such a mo­ment.

In­stead, she is tak­ing a far more cau­tious ap­proach, one that avoids of­fend­ing the pro­gres­sive vot­ers who were the back­bone of Obama’s elec­toral coali­tion and who ral­lied around her pri­mary op­po­nent, Vermont Sen. Bernie San­ders. But Clinton’s ef­fort to strad­dle her out­reach be­tween those starkly op­posed vot­ing blocs has cre­ated its own grief. Both have found the ap­proach want­ing at times.

The Clinton cam­paign, with its data-driven pol­i­tics aimed at avoid­ing un­nec­es­sary risk, sees lit­tle re­ward in a bolder ap­proach to­ward Repub­li­can re­cruit­ment. No mat­ter what Clinton — or Trump, for that mat­ter — does, few of those vot­ers are likely to de­fect.

“Peo­ple have re­ally cho­sen a side, and once you iden­tify with that ide­o­log­i­cal tribe, it is dif­fi­cult to break the al­le­giance,” Sykes said. “The ten­dency is to find some way to ra­tio­nal­ize that no mat­ter how aw­ful Trump is, Hil­lary is much worse.”

MEL EVANS/AP

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