Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump must reinvent himself and the party must heal itself at next week’s Republican National Convention to win in November, political and academic experts said.
The difficulty of achieving those goals is compounded by Trump’s surprising success with Republican voters as an outsider to the establishment as he prepares to become the GOP standard-bearer on Thursday night in Cleveland.
That leaves Trump and the GOP with several essential goals, the experts said. Here are five things to watch for next week:
1. Trump must unify a fractured GOP.
Some challengers and their supporters appear to have been unsuccessful in their attempt to free delegates from the obligation to vote for Trump, who won nearly three times as many delegates as the runner-up, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, in primaries and caucuses, and allow them to vote their consciences.
Trump’s task is to unite Republicans as well as attract independents and Democrats to win in November.
“The convention can serve as a reset button for Donald Trump, and it would be a very important reset,” said Susan Del Percio, a Republican strategist and national political commentator. “It provides everyone a chance to come together behind him.”
Professor Brooks D. Simpson of Arizona State University, a political scientist who has studied national conventions, said Trump “has to transition from being the outsider challenger to the establishment to being the candidate that is supported by the rank-and-file as well as substantial Republican leaders.”
Trump may have to abandon his attacks against the party establishment, which helped him win enough delegates to become the presumptive nominee.
“I think what he shouldn’t do, and is still doing, is bad-mouthing people in the party who still aren’t on board,” said Professor Helmut Norpoth, a political scientist at Stony Brook University. “He can’t seem to help it, for anyone not kowtowing to him.”
2. Trump must be presidential.
Trump used his TV reality show skills to amass a following in the primaries by ad-libbing his speeches and energizing crowds, but now he needs to carry himself as a statesman who can safely and effectively lead the free world, the experts said.
“Usually conventions try to be as dull as possible, and let the candidates steal the show at the end,” said Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford). “What we know about Donald Trump is that every day can be an adventure . . . this could be four days of fireworks.”
But appearing presidential in prime time is essential, said King, a veteran congressman who has attended all but one GOP convention since 1984.
“I think it’s more important for him than probably any other candidate I can think of because this is the first time the country has seen him in a semi-government role,” King said.
Trump “goes back and forth,” Norpoth noted. “He sometimes sounds more presidential, but then he goes back on that. It’s hard to figure out sometimes what he’s thinking.”
“Some Republicans say they want to shake things up . . . but are worried about him as a president,” Norpoth said.
“He needs to shut off his Twitter account,” Simpson said.
3. Trump will have to deliver an acceptance speech unlike any he’s made so far.
Trump will have to stick to a speech on the TelePrompTer that includes details and a vision for the country with new ideas that isn’t just opposing the status quo of the Obama administration and Clinton’s proposals, the experts said.
“Does Donald Trump play to the crowd or use the TelePrompTer, which is a big challenge for him?” Del Percio said. “He has to have a very good and thoughtful speech and at least hint that we Republicans must be able to agree to disagree. He’s got to let the primaries go. He’s got to let nonendorsements go.”
The “acceptance speech is critical,” said Simpson of Arizona State. “If we see the Donald Trump we have seen in other situations, many people are now going to seriously tune it out. If we see a Trump that acts presidential, that will calm some fears . . . but he’s not good at playing to the TelePrompTer.”
“I would say the most important thing is what he says to the battleground states,” Norpoth said. That means going beyond a white backlash core to reach college-educated whites, African-Americans and Latinos. “He’s got to broaden his reach.”
4. Pence will have to mend fences, build bridges.
On Friday, Trump announced his running mate will be Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who will have to help bring the party’s establishment closer to Trump, who campaigned as an outsider, the experts said. Pence also will seek to bolster support for Trump among social conservatives and evangelicals.
Pence is also the point man for Trump to reach out to what Norpoth said is the need to win Midwestern battleground states.
“In selecting Gov. Pence as his running mate, Donald Trump is showing his respect for the Republican Party as well as his growth as a candidate,” Del Percio said. “A year ago Mr. Trump wanted to go it alone, today he realizes that he needs a partner that understands the process and who has the relationships in Washington to get things done.”
“I think it’s good for the party, for Donald Trump’s rapport with the party, but I think it’s a missed opportunity,” Norpoth said. “At this point in the campaign, what a presidential candidate should be doing is looking ahead to the election. I think he has to assume that, one way or another, Republicans supporting someone like Pence are in the fold already or will come around. They really don’t have a place to go and won’t go to Hillary.”
5. Trump needs a focused attack on Clinton.
“The thing he has that most unifies the party is Hillary Clinton, so that is what they have to come out of this with,” Del Percio said.
The convention provides a global stage for fresh attacks on Clinton after the FBI this month reported she was “extremely careless” in her use of a private server to handle confidential emails as secretary of state, yet recommended no prosecution. That provides Trump with tools to bash Clinton as well as President Barack Obama, another top target of Republicans.
“That’s his best strategy. That is the unifying strategy,” Norpoth said.
Here is the planned schedule of events for the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland at Quicken Loans Arena, where Donald Trump is the presumptive presidential nominee.
1 p.m. Convention opens.
5:30 p.m. Tuesday session begins. Generally the roll call of states, in which Trump’s name would officially be placed into nomination, is held during this session.
7 p.m. Wednesday session begins. The vice presidential nominee generally speaks on Wednesday night.
7:30 p.m. Thursday session begins. Usually the nominee closes out the convention, so you can expect Trump to speak on this night.
Confirmed speakers throughout the week include Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who is a delegate; former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani; Trump’s vanquished primary rival Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas; Dr. Ben Carson, another former rival; former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee; and House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who will discuss the House Republican agenda and party unity. Nonpoliticians, including former underwear model Antonio Sabàto Jr., are also to appear, according to multiple reports.