By Amy Chozick and Patrick Healy
In the days after Donald J. Trump vanquished his Republican rivals in South Carolina and Nevada, prominent Democrats supporting Hillary Clinton arranged a series of meetings and conference calls to tackle a question many never thought they would ask: How do we defeat Mr. Trump in a general election?
Several Democrats argued that Mrs. Clinton, should she be her party’s nominee, would easily beat Mr. Trump. They were confident that his incendiary remarks about immigrants, women and Muslims would make him unacceptable to many Americans. They had faith that the growing electoral power of black, Hispanic and female voters would deliver a Clinton landslide if he were the Republican nominee.
That strategy is beginning to take shape, with groups that support Mrs. Clinton preparing to script and test ads that would portray Mr. Trump as a misogynist and an enemy to the working class whose brash temper would put the nation and the world in grave danger. The plan is for those themes to be amplified later by two prominent surrogates: To fight Mr. Trump’s ability to sway the news cycle, Mr. Clinton would not hold back on the stump, and President Obama has told allies he would gleefully portray Mr. Trump as incapable of handling the duties of the Oval Office.
Democrats say they risk losing the presidency if they fail to take Mr. Trump seriously, much as Republicans have done in the primary campaign.
“He’s formidable, he understands voters’ anxieties, and he will be ruthless against Hillary Clinton,” said Gov. Dannel P. Malloy of Connecticut. “I’ve gone from denial — ‘I can’t believe anyone would listen to this guy’ — to admiration, in the sense that he’s figured out how to capture everyone’s angst, to real worry.”
During the first Republican debate last summer, Mrs. Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, shushed a room full of people at the campaign’s Brooklyn headquarters when Mr. Trump started to speak, almost giddily captivated by the wildness of his remarks. “Shh, I’ve got to get me some Trump,” he said.
Now, Mr. Mook and his colleagues regard Mr. Trump as a wily, determined and indefatigable opponent who seems to be speaking to broad economic anxieties among Americans and to the widely held belief that traditional politicians are incapable of addressing those problems. Publicly, the Clinton operation is letting the Republicans slug it out. But privately, it and other Democrats are poring over polling data to understand the roots of Mr. Trump’s populist appeal and building up troves of opposition research on his business career.
“The case against Trump will be prosecuted on two levels,” said Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster and Mrs. Clinton’s chief strategist in 2008. “The first is temperament,” and whether he is suited to be commander in chief, Mr. Garin said, echoing conversations that have dominated Democratic circles recently. The second “will be based on whether he can really be relied on as a champion for anyone but himself.”
Read the rest here.