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Thu, Oct. 17

The Trump pivot and Bernie's choice (Guest Column)

The results of the Indiana primary settled the question of whether Donald J. Trump could secure the Republican presidential nomination. Anti-Trump Republicans are left to ponder whether they can stomach the prospect of supporting a man many of them despise and whose candidacy, they believe, presages disaster for the party's political fortunes now and for the foreseeable future. If there's one thing we've learned this year, however, is that what once seemed impossible is now quite real.

For Trump, the time has come to focus his fire not on his fellow Republicans but on his probable Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. Can he redirect the anger his opponents displayed toward his candidacy to target the Democrat so many of them hate with a consuming passion? Moreover, can Trump now manage the transition he has long promised he'd be able to make - that to becoming someone who looks and acts "presidential," a thoughtful person who appeals to voters' hopes while exercising personal restraint when it comes to engaging in less appealing vitriolic personal attacks?

That will be hard. Part of Trump's personal appeal among his supporters is that he taps into and expresses their crude anger and vivid resentments born of a deep frustration with the America they see. In attempting to broaden his support, he risks alienating the very people who made him what he is: the nominee of the Republican Party. A responsible, "presidential" Donald Trump is not the man who those supporters wanted as their leader.

Nor will it be an easy task to unify Republicans behind a Trump candidacy, at least with the enthusiasm and energy necessary for success in a general election. So-called outsiders have captured nominations before despite resistance from the party establishment, as the bases of Barry Goldwater and Jimmy Carter remind us. But the passions, anger and hatred displayed during the last several months will be hard to overcome, and Trump, unlike Goldwater and Carter, cannot lay claim to having been an active member of the party whose nomination he is about to claim.

It may well be that Trump's greatest ally in broadening his support is Bernie Sanders. The Vermont senator can't quite give up his crowds yet, and he continues, in a slightly more temperate way, to assail his rival for the Democratic nomination. Sanders asserts that he will do all he can to defeat Donald Trump ... but more Hillary-bashing only helps Trump and complicates the efforts of the former secretary of state to turn her attention to her presumptive opponent in the general election. Like Trump, Sanders portrays himself as a virtuous, principled outsider who won't compromise on matters of right and wrong as he sees them. Unless he sets aside his crusade, however, Sanders' love of the spotlight, cheers and applause can only damage Clinton's chances of defeating Trump.

Bernie, you have a choice to make. Good luck.

Presidential historian Brooks D. Simpson is ASU Foundation Professor of History at Arizona State University, where he teaches at Barrett, The Honors College.

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