James Woods is that rare thing in Hollywood: A supporter of Donald Trump. And on Sunday, Woods perfectly encapsulated the message that could get Trump reelected.
He tweeted this (in part):
“Donald Trump is a rough individual. He is vain, insensitive and raw. But he loves America more than any President in my lifetime.”
Trump retweeted that assessment; “I think that is a great compliment,” he wrote. “Thank you James!”
It’s, of course, not a great compliment. If someone called you “vain, insensitive and raw,” would you be flattered?
But Woods’ tweet is 100% right when it comes to how Trump can win again in November.
The simple truth is that Trump was not (in 2016) and is not now someone who a majority of Americans say they like or admire. Consider these numbers from the 2016 exit poll:
1) Less than 4 in 10 voters in 2016 said they had a favorable opinion of Trump
2) Just 1 in 3 thought Trump was honest and trustworthy
3) Only 35% said that Trump had the right temperament to be president
How did Trump win? Because people may not have liked him but they wanted radical change in Washington and believed that he could bring it about. Four in 10 voters said that the most important quality in a candidate was one that “can bring change,” among that group, Trump beat Clinton 82% to 14%.
The message Woods is offering up for Trump in 2020 is simply a variation on that original theme. And it goes something like this: Yeah, he’s a jerk. And no, I wouldn’t want him have him over for dinner. But when it comes to actually getting stuff done for America, there’s no one better.
Now, to buy Woods’ message at all, you have to believe that Trump has actually achieved results for American during his first term. His backers would point to tax cuts, a re-orienting of America’s role in the world community, changes in trade policy and the overhauling of the federal judiciary. His detractors would suggest that all of those decisions have actually done more harm than good.
The real question, though, is not what people who already support Trump or already hate Trump think of the “he’s a jerk but he’s an effective jerk” message. What really matters is whether voters who remain undecided on whether or not to give Trump a second term think of it.
Woods’ case was easier to make three months ago, when unemployment was low, the stock market was soaring and Trump could credibly take credit for all of it. Now, because of the massive effects of the coronavirus – and the shutdowns used to deal with its spread – that economic case is significantly weakened.
More from CNN Politics on coronavirus polling
But it is still a fact that the only real path for Trump to a second term – and I continue to believe that path is quite narrow – is through a message that doesn’t try to make people like Trump but rather forces them to acknowledge that he is getting things done.
Trump is, quite simply, not likeable. He says and does things on an almost-daily basis that even many of his supporters think are over the line of acceptable conduct for a president or, really, for anyone.
Nothing will change that. Or certainly nothing that he can do between now and November. The only way he wins is to make the case that may not be your idea of what a president should look and act like but that he is someone who knows how to make change in Washington. (He also likely needs to disqualify Joe Biden, which his campaign is already working very hard to do.)
If that works, it would represent a fundamental change in the way in which we elect presidents. Conventional wisdom has long dictated that people vote for someone they’d want to have a beer with. Aside from his most unquestioning acolytes, it’s hard to imagine most people would want to have a beer with Trump.
But will they vote for him anyway? They did once. And Woods (and Trump) have to hope they will vote for “their jerk” once more.