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Trump reveals plan to ride new ‘angry voter coalition’ to the White House

It's okay to be confused or overwhelmed by all the things Donald Trump says and all the interviews he gives on TV. But the likely Republican presidential nominee's phone interview this morning on CNBC's Squawk Box included at least two big revelations about how Trump is forming his general election strategy.

The first part of it is not going to be much of a departure from what we've seen so far in the primary campaign. When asked by Squawk anchor Joe Kernen whether he would "tack right or left" for the contest against presumptive Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton, Trump responded that he will do neither and stay on the course that is right for the country. Now that's not really different than what any presumptive nominee would say, but in Trump's case it means more because he has been successfully targeting something other than the traditional Right/Left American voter divide all along.

In short, he's been creating a new coalition of angry voters, crossing ideological and party lines, creating historic Republican primary turnout and propelling himself to historic victories in the process. Creating new coalitions and allegiances is essential for almost anyone to win the White House in an otherwise polarized America. Barack Obama changed the election math in 2008 by inducing record turnout and support from blacks and younger voters, who had historically been among the lowest voter turnout segments of the population.

Richard Nixon won the presidency narrowly in 1968 by convincing enough southern white male voters to leave the Democrats and spurn "Dixiecrat" George Wallace and vote Republican for the first time. By 1972, Nixon had solidified that new coalition of southern whites and more affluent traditional Republicans in the Northeast and coastal states to win a historic landslide re-election. Bill Clinton won the White House in 1992 by attracting just enough of those southern white voters back to the Democratic fold by taking more conservative stands on issues like the death penalty and even gun control compared to his Democratic presidential nominee predecessors.

Now, based on what he articulated more clearly than ever on CNBC this morning, Trump is attempting to create a base of support among middle class and lower middle class voters from all geographic segments of the country. He even made a very clear appeal to supporters of Bernie Sanders by insisting to the Squawk anchors that the Democratic nomination process was rigged against the Vermont senator much the way he says the GOP nomination process was rigged against him. All other things being equal in the usual GOP/Democrat divide, it could work. Some of those Sanders voters might even flip to Trump if things get nastier between them and Clinton supporters in the coming weeks.

But here's the thing: all other things are not equal, at least for now. A lot of the traditional GOP voting base has not changed its mind about Trump yet and might not ever do so. No matter how many new voters Trump brings into the fold, he cannot win if he also loses 20 percent or even 10 percent of the Republican base in crucial states like North Carolina, Indiana, Missouri, and the biggest GOP state of them all, Texas. And while the "angry voter" trend is definitely the most powerful force in this 2016 election, no one should forget that a significant amount of those newly motivated angry voters are angry at Mr. Trump. The fact is that while the Republicans do indeed need to form a new type of coalition to beat the Democrats in this election, Trump brings with him too many negatives to pull off a net Electoral College gain. Hillary Clinton and her supporters don't need to sweat this part of the Trump roadmap, even though it has the right idea.





But another part of Trump's Squawkbox interview is decidedly bad news for the Clinton team and Mrs. Clinton personally. Trump made a very cogent case for attacking Clinton based on her State Department email scandal. If Trump continues to focus on the email scandal, it may not be enough to propel him to the White House in the race against Clinton. But one thing Trump can do is turn a story some people are talking about into a story everyone is talking about and keep them talking about it for a long time. That's terrible news for the Clinton campaign, because so far its best defense against the email scandal has been the fact that about half the voting public has shown no interest in or much knowledge about the affair at all.

Trump can change that. Thanks to social media and other factors, Trump captures the attention of a lot more people than the insider Washington Beltway press and even the conservative FOX News/talk radio universe. If the Clinton email scandal becomes an enduring top story, instead of the backburner story it's been for more than a year, everything changes. Once the email story becomes something the transcends the usual partisan channels, it becomes impossible to brush it off. And mainstream media attention will bring to the entire nation's attention the disturbing facts in the case that the decidedly right wing media has already uncovered on its own.




In what promises to be a nasty general election season, accusations of crimes committed and double standards applied in this email case are likely to be a steady feature.

General election strategies are always interesting to pick through, analyze, and criticize. The problem is, the public rarely knows what those strategies are until after Election Day. Thanks to Trump's interview on Squawkbox today, we have a rare insight into a national election plan. Let's see if it works.

Commentary by Jake Novak, supervising producer of "Power Lunch." Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.

For more insight from CNBC contributors, follow @CNBCopinion on Twitter.