Friday, December 11, 2015

The Trump Formula

My observation from watching candidate events up close is that there is exactly one driver in the Republican primary:  Donald Trump.

Republicans will go in one of two directions: Trump or Trump-in-code.   It is not that Cruz, Rubio, Christie, et al. are trying to be Trump--and they most certainly consider themselves different from and better than Trump--but in fact they are responding to the same big theme that is permeating the thinking of audiences.

Trump is on to it and expresses it most clearly: contempt.   Contempt for the current president, contempt for government leadership of both parties, contempt for weakness in every institution that has let American get taken advantage of.

Trump does not consider himself a bully.   He considers current leadership weak patsies, people whose political correctness and false-equivalence orientation makes them blind to foreign dangers (Muslims and Putin), to bad trade deals (Japan, Mexico, China), and to foreign interlopers who steal resources from us (low skill immigrants.)   

He is mad as hell and he isn't going to take it anymore.   The audiences love this.  All audiences love this, including audiences for Cruz, Rubio, Fiorina, Christie, Bush, and so on, and the people now considered as potential frontrunners for the replacement to Trump if he falters are Cruz and Rubio and possibly Christie, who are the candidates whose applause lines are most similar to Trumps.

There are some tiny policy differences between Trump and the others, and the candidates are attempting to make these into big deals, matter of substance.   So Cruz attacks Rubio for being 2% more welcoming to immigrants than he is, and acts like it is a big deal.  Both sound alike except to close students of the issue: close the border, reduce immigration significantly, make it much harder to become a citizen, assimilate.   The tone is the same: get very tough--but smart--on immigration.   Trump, too, says he is tough, but smart, on immigration, but tougher and smarter because he is, after all, Trump.

And Rubio attacks Cruz on security, saying that Cruz is a bit more worried than Rubio is on privacy, and again close students of the issue can make a distinction.  But the tone is the same: we are in a war--an outright war!-- with dangerous Muslims, and it is scary and we need to take action.  Trump, too, says we are in a war with dangerous Muslims, and Trump is tougher and stronger because he openly adopts the premise that all Muslims are dangerous until proven otherwise.

Trump versus almost-Trump.

The words that rouse up Republican audiences are words and tone of contempt.  Again, Trump is blunt while the others are less blunt in words but as strong or stronger in tone.  Trump is conversational in saying that it is common sense that Muslims cannot be trusted.  Cruz or Rubio get their applause when they say blander words--something like:  
    "America IS special, here by the grace of God a beacon of liberty, and as president
     I will DEMAND no less than complete and total victory over ISIS to assure that
     sharia law and foreign values never dim the light of our EXCEPTIONAL country,
     founded by men of UNAPOLOGETIC Christian faith."

Try reading the above sentence aloud, in a firm voice, stressing multiple words.   If you practice it three or four times, so you really have it down then you, too, are ready to be a candidate for president and can reliably get standing ovations in New Hampshire. 

So look closely at what is actually said from a policy point of view: we are at war with ISIS which represents a perverted form of Islam and that we will fight to remove the threat.   This is exactly what our current policy is.   But what is different is the tone, arousal of anger and contempt at our current policymakers and an overt reminder of American identity as unapologetically Christian and unique and special:  our team.  

The words "special" ,"demand", "grace of God", "sharia law", "foreign values", "exceptional", "unapologetic", and "Christian" are all well understood signals, rich with meaning and importance, heard clearly by the audience.  The words affirm US.  The words wave the flag of people like US.  The words say it isn't about being fair-minded or multicultural or a citizen of the world.  In fact, they express contempt for the people with those attitudes because they aren't fighting for US.

This is very powerful.  It is what audiences want to hear and what they applaud for.

Trump says it flat out and plainly.  The other-than-Trumps do it with angry tone and patriotic generalities, like with the quotation above.   But not with policy.   The actual Middle East policy proposals of the Republican candidates are essentially to do what Obama is doing.

Trump or sort-of-Trump is a powerful alternative to Hillary Clinton.  Democrats need to understand this and counter it.    Obama is stuck being who he is, but Hillary has room to get in front of this.


Thad Guyer said...

This blog post really captures, in an unvarnished way, what is animating Trump and "other-than-Trump" support. Unfortunately, your politically correct views, while representative of our party's softness on domestic Islamic terror, is part of the problem, not part of the solution. I disagree that ISIS is a "perverted form of Islam" because in fact it is mainstream devout Sunni Islam (Saudi Arabia beheaded more people this year than ISIS), but I would offer the friendly amendment that it is not American Muslim mainstream. On international Islamic terrorism, Trump's message is the same as Hillary, which is to defeat or kill approximately 50,000 young men and women who fight for the Islamic State in the name of Islam, an estimated 6,000 of whom are from Europe and the US. Trump and Hillary also have the same policy quantitatively of largely not allowing much more Muslim migration. The EU and UN consider both Obama's 10,000 Syrians and Hillary's 65,000 Syrians to be an affront to human rights in the face of some 3 million Syrian refugees, especially given that Germany alone has taken in over 300,000 this year, not to mention another 350,000 from American war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a percentage of the whole, there is little quantitative difference between 0 and 10,000 to 65,000. So the entire host of candidates from both parties agree American is not receptive to any meaningful Muslim immigration. Where Trump and Hillary differ is rhetorically, since Trump, as you say, is a straight talker and says we don't trust or want more Muslims, and calls the enemy by name-- the Islamic State and Islamic terrorism. By stark and politically ludicrous contrast, Hillary will not say the words "Islamic State", only ISIS, and will not name our enemy in Syria, Iraq, Europe and America as "Islamic terrorism". Trump and the Republicans (and even New York Times and Washington Post) name an enemy that 75% of Americans name as the enemy, but Hillary refuses to do so because she worries she will offend her core very liberal "inclusion" constituency, notwithstanding that she and Obama, in fact, do not advocate any significant additional inclusion of Muslim immigrants in American society. So Hillary concedes leadership to Trump. You are wrong, in my opinion, when you suggest that Trump's rally fans, most of whom attend his exciting road show only by YouTube, include only Republicans. I believe that at least 40% of Democrats like hearing his message sound-clips, although they cannot possibly admit it to peers or pollsters. That, of course, is how Reagan won in a landslide when polls almost up to election day said he would lose-- Democrats who liked hearing his law and order, anti-welfare, anti-Ayatolla and Muslim radicals, anti-political correctness straight talk. Reagan, a former Democrat like Trump, was denounced as a fascist and Naxi just as Trump (and as you say Cruz and "other-than-Trump" Republican} is being denounced now, and this shrill labeling by us liberals and our media accomplished exactly one thing-- silencing "Reagan Democrats" until they got in the voting booths. Ted Kennedy sounded the alarm and said Carter was going to be slaughtered by Reagan, but the power of incumbency within a primary is almost absolute. Hillary is effectively an incumbent, not at all like Bill Clinton as an outsider, and she has no credible opposition. But her incumbency is similar to Carter's, and I expect her, and us, to suffer a similar fate on election day, unless she gets on board with Trump and an America that wants tough talk, as an indica of leadership, against domestic Islamic extremism.

Joy Olson said...

really well done blog site Peter!