Cokie Roberts and Steven V. Roberts

Trump's Strategy Revealed

CLEVELAND -- Two topics getting a lot of attention here this week won't matter much in the fall. One is the Republican platform; the other is Donald Trump's choice of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate.

Platforms are generally forgotten as soon as they are adopted. As for vice presidents, studies consistently show they make little difference. In polling records for the last seven elections compiled by The Wall Street Journal, between 60 and 75 percent of all voters say the veep didn't affect their vote.

Still, platforms and VPs reflect choices and priorities, and they contain useful information and important clues about how candidates will campaign and govern. What groups will they appeal to? Using what arguments? And what constituencies will they write off?

The Republican platform and vice presidential pick both point strongly in the same direction -- to the extreme right. This is not a ticket that will try to win over doubters, late deciders, moderates or swing voters. It aims to excite and mobilize the conservative base of the Republican Party, not convert new supporters.

There's an old adage that politics is about addition, not subtraction. You have to start with your base but then add to it, especially in a close national election. But the Trump strategy seems to be one of consolidation, not addition -- and remember, that's basically the plan Trump followed during the primaries. The voters who decided early, the True Believers, went heavily for Trump.

That worked in the primaries, where winning 41 percent of a small voter pool was more than enough to give Trump the nomination. General elections are very different -- with far larger and more diverse electorates. Which is why Trump's strategy leaves many Democratic operatives both puzzled and gleeful.

"For Trump to get elected, he's got to expand the group of people he's talking to and attracting," Steve Elmendorf, a Clinton backer, told The New York Times. "A different choice by Trump (for vice president) might have changed the electoral calculation for her. But with Pence, Trump will still be losing among women, blacks and Hispanics."

One key word is women. A huge gender gap threatens to engulf the campaign. In the latest Washington Post/ABC poll, Trump led with male voters by 8 points, but Clinton held a 14-point lead among women. Moreover, an astounding 77 percent of women hold an unfavorable view of Trump, with 65 percent viewing him in a "strongly unfavorable" way.

Of course plenty of women love Trump. But on balance the policies on display here in Cleveland are not going to expand his appeal to women -- who made up 53 percent of the electorate four years ago.

One delegate from Colorado proudly proclaimed that the GOP had passed "the most conservative platform" in its history, and that rightward tilt certainly played well in the convention hall, but it will be a burden in the fall. Take just one issue -- same-sex marriage.

The GOP platform favors a constitutional amendment overturning the Supreme Court case that legalized gay marriage and proclaims that children should be raised by "a mother and a father."

That policy tries to deny an unstoppable historical tide. It makes Republicans look both intolerant and out of touch. According to a Pew Research survey, 55 percent of Americans now favor gay marriage, with only 37 percent against, and the favorable number goes up to 58 percent among women.

That's the politics of exclusion, not inclusion. That's subtraction, not addition.

The choice of Gov. Pence strongly reinforces that strategy. His best-known act during four years as governor was to promote an anti-gay ordinance so extreme that he was forced to accept significant changes under heavy pressure.

He signed one of the toughest anti-abortion laws in the country, adding to his political problems with Indiana women, who give him only a 41 percent approval rating. As a result, he was locked in a tight re-election race before he was picked for VP and might well have lost.

As a member of Congress for 12 years, Pence allied himself closely with the tea party and its most extreme strategies -- closing the government to deny funding for Planned Parenthood and organizing coups against party leaders because they were not pure or rigid enough.

So party platforms and vice presidents don't mean much. Except when they do. And this year they reveal the strategy Trump is following: Appeal strongly to the party base, divide and polarize the country -- and hope that will be enough.

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