Why Trump's real struggle is just beginning

Story highlights

  • Errol Louis: Recent bad news for Trump show that brash, profane, and unpredictable may not play in general election
  • Louis: Slipping in polls, Trump refuses to fund campaign competitively; after early wins, his real struggle is just beginning

Errol Louis is the host of "Inside City Hall," a nightly political show on NY1, a New York all-news channel. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)The recent run of bad news for Donald Trump show that the strategies, tone and tactics that he rode to the Republican nomination for president could be the very factors that block his chances of winning the White House.

In the primary, Trump succeeded by being brash, profane, unscripted and unpredictable, insulting anybody who opposed him and promising to reverse most of President Obama's economic and foreign policy positions, all while heaping personal insults on Obama along the way. He vowed to repeal Obamacare, promised to alter the terms of trade deals and called on the nation to ban all immigration of Muslims to the United States.
    The proposals -- and Trump's unscripted, combative style on the stump -- won millions of votes from Republican voters.
    But Trump's now learning -- the hard way -- that general election voters who skipped the primaries don't necessarily like his harsh and outrageous statements. In particular, Trump's attack on the federal judge hearing one of the fraud cases against Trump University, accusing Judge Gonzalo Curiel of being biased against him because "he's a Mexican," seems to have backfired, drawing condemnation from top Republicans and conservative activists.
    And attacking Obama these days isn't a smart political play: his approval ratings have been rising lately, suggesting that a significant number of voters won't respond to Trump's attacks, like his baseless, outrageous insinuation that the President somehow was involved in the horrific massacre in Orlando. Sen. John McCain made a similar comment Thursday, but quickly walked it back. Trump has stayed with the critique.
    Such antics may tickle Trump's conservative base, but it may already be causing his support to sag among less partisan voters. The latest ABC/Washington Post poll shows that 70% of U.S. adults have an unfavorable view of Trump, a 10-point jump since last month and a point less than the worst numbers Trump has seen since announcing for president. A recent Bloomberg poll had even worse news: 55% of voters said they would not vote for Trump under any circumstances.
    And the damage could spread to other GOP candidates: only 32% of voters have a favorable view of the Republican party, according to the Bloomberg poll, compared with 49% favorability for the Democrats.
    Trump's reaction to the bad news has been in keeping with advice in his best-selling book "The Art of the Deal": stay on the attack. But another of Trump's business rules -- control costs -- could make it hard to get his message out. As veteran Republican strategist Karl Rove has pointed out, Trump's insistence on budgeting $500 million for his race -- only a third of what Hillary Clinton and the Democrats hope to raise and spend -- will leave Trump badly outgunned on television, no matter how much "free" attention he gets from news programs.
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    Examining a hypothetical ad campaign in Tampa Florida, Rove says Clinton could easily reach 1 million viewers, compared with about 200,000 viewers Trump might get by appearing on top-rated cable shows.
    The combination of outrageous attacks on a popular President and refusing to spend big money to drive the message home means Trump is making an already difficult campaign even harder to win. While he has confounded critics, analysts and pundits before, the reality is that the 20 million votes he got in the primaries and caucuses will be dwarfed by the fall turnout, which could reach 140 million.
    The sour poll numbers this week are a wake up call to the billionaire that the easy part of the campaign is now behind him, and the real struggle now begins.