Karl Rove fears slump in general election turnout with Trump as nominee
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Karl Rove, a longtime critic of Republican presidential front-runner Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpAssange meets U.S. congressman, vows to prove Russia did not leak him documents A history lesson on the Confederacy for President Trump GOP senator: Trump hasn't 'changed much' since campaign MORE, said late Wednesday that voters could stay home in November if the businessman becomes his party's nominee but doesn’t change his strategy for the general election fight.

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The GOP operative spoke with Democratic counterpart David Plouffe, who worked on President Obama’s campaigns, at an event held by technology company SAP at the Newseum. For much of the panel, the questions were framed around a hypothetical situation in which Trump and Democratic front-runner Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonAssange meets U.S. congressman, vows to prove Russia did not leak him documents High-ranking FBI official leaves Russia probe OPINION | Steve Bannon is Trump's indispensable man — don't sacrifice him to the critics MORE had become the nominees.

During a discussion about the role of data in campaigns, Rove said that if Trump doesn’t “change his understanding of the voter he’s talking to” once the primaries are over, he could be in for trouble.

While general election turnout had been on the rise for several election years, the percentage of registered voters who turned out to vote in the 2012 general election dropped significantly.

“I would not be surprised again to see it drop again this time,” said Rove, who helped run sophisticated presidential campaigns for former President George W. Bush and served in his administration.

“We’re going to have a much larger group of people, and I don’t know what [amount] it is, who look at both of these candidates and see two flawed people and say, 'I’m trying to decide between two not-great choices,' ” he said, of Trump and Clinton, “and therefore, they’re going to find it more difficult to make a decision and stay with a decision.”

Rove has frequently criticized Trump's campaign. He wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed earlier this year that the GOP would lose the White House, the Senate and many of its House seats if Trump is the Republican nominee.

Trump still has a ways to go before becoming the GOP nominee, though a path is clearing. The real estate mogul has a total of 673 delegates following Tuesday’s most recent primaries. It takes 1,237 to win the nomination.

Clinton, meanwhile, is inching closer to wrapping up the nomination on the Democratic side, despite various gaffes and controversies, such as a federal investigation into the use of a private email server during her time as secretary of State.

“Right now [Trump] is talking to Republican primary voter,” Rove continued, “and —particularly in this election — [that] is going to be different than the general election swing voter.”

Reports of Trump’s unwillingness to shell out the cash for sophisticated voter data modeling — which helped both Bush and Obama take the White House — have led some to question whether he can carry his momentum from the primary into the general election should he secure the GOP nomination.

“General elections have a different set of voters and the role of analytics and modeling” is much more important, said Plouffe, who also said the Obama campaign had “modeled everybody in America.”

“Everybody had a score. And we made every decision based on those predictive models and how they moved,” he said.

“General elections aren’t so much about momentum; this is about trench warfare,” Plouffe said.

While Trump has been successful in the most primary contests so far this election season — and GOP voter turnout has surged — Rove lamented that Trump had yet to receive support from at least half the voters in any state so far, saying that the increase in voters flocking to the polls shouldn’t be attributed to the New York billionaire.

“We’ve never had a nominee who took so long to get to a point where they actually took 50 percent in any given contest,” he said.