Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift: Trump to morph from primary clown to gravitas candidate

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WASHINGTON — The formula for GOP presidential success used to be: tilt right for the nomination; tilt center for the general election. That was yesterday. Today it is: clown for the nomination; be a statesman for the general election. And Donald Trump is leading the way.

Trump is on the verge of wrapping up the nomination, having been willing to say anything as long as it brought him free headlines, and one-third of the Republican electorate ate it up. Of course, they only amount to one-third of the 27 percent of the population that register as Republicans. In other words, less than 10 percent of the overall electorate is about to nominate Trump as the Republican standard-bearer.

This is giving the other two-thirds of the party and much of the rest of the country — and the world, for that matter — apoplexy. But they are about to witness act two.

Once Trump is certain of the nomination, he is going to suddenly become reasonable, rational, and statesmanlike. Just as suddenly, Republicans and more than a few Independents are going to rethink and rationalize all the way to the voting booths. And by the end of the primary season in June, they will coalesce around their candidate, forgiving or forgetting his past behavior. Trump, himself, will proclaim it was all an act, a trick played upon the system and the power brokers who run it.

Trump the centrist will emerge.

It will not be difficult. He was a Democrat before he became a Republican. He was pro-choice before he became pro-life. He favored legalization of drugs before he became a drug-law advocate. He praised Hillary Clinton and President Obama before he denounced them. He supported universal health care before he opposed it, claiming Obamacare is a disastrous program he would replace with some unspecified plan. The list goes on, including conflicting views on taxes, military spending, and foreign policy.

In fact, no presidential nominee has ever given himself such latitude to smoothly make the transition from primary politics to general election politics. And when he combines this with a new-found reasonable demeanor, much of the public is going to put their votes where their memory isn’t.

Missing in all this is the threshold question. Most people have views and positions, but most people are not qualified to be president. Remember Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin? What mattered more than her views was her lack of qualifications to be one step away from the presidency. She simply did not meet the threshold criteria, and neither does Donald Trump. True, most presidents were not qualified to be presidents, but almost all of them came closer to the mark than Donald Trump.