Delegitimizing an impediment vs. disagreeing with an opponent. It is stronger to delegitimize.
After all, if a candidate disagrees he says an opponent is wrong, but tacitly acknowledges the opponent is worthy of argument. When a candidate delegitimizes he says an opponent isn't even worthy of contest.
Donald Trump has been a master of manipulating the media into covering him and one of his tactics has been the asymmetry of his campaign, making him new, fresh, interesting, newsworthy, and a ratings magnet. He doesn't fight his opponent square on. He hits back harder than he is hit, an example of the proverbial bringing of a gun to a knife fight. But his primary tactic is a counterpunch of delegitimization, which makes the opponent's claim irrelevant or untrustworthy rather than wrong. It undermines the source of the argument, not the argument itself.
|Fox plays along: Did Hawaii conspire with baby Obama 50 years ago??|
The tactic was there at the beginning of this election cycle: Trump's unwavering insistence that Obama was born in Kenya and a secret Muslim, that Hawaii records were faked, that there were questions and doubts, always a suggestion deceit and coverup. Or at least that it was a serious open question and not disproven. The idea persists as a kind of running joke that served Fox News and Republican politicians well, GOP voters encouraged to have lingering doubts, so about half of them do, even today, question whether Obama wasn't, maybe, actually born in Kenya and smuggled to America, a fake American and illegitimate president. Trump was delegitimizing Obama--an easy target in Fox/GOP circles.
Trump's trademark attacks on Mexicans at his announcement speech--and then Muslims after the Paris shootings--which were big boosts to his campaign. He didn't analyze their role in America; he stigmatized their role, putting voice to the widespread suspicions and resentments and fears of many America voters over legal and illegal immigration. They aren't here for the reason they say, to work. They are coming here illegitimately--to rape, to do criminal acts, to collect benefits, and to do jihad against Americans.
The debate format, in which candidates stand at identical lecterns in formal combat are supposedly the great equalizer, but Trump's tactics created great ratings, great theater, and a clear example of the Trump tactic. Trump didn't debate issues; he positioned himself as the strong leader and poll winner among losers, people who had no business being on the stage with him. Look at Bush, clear there over on the edge of the stage ready to tip off the end, Trump needled. Trump showed contempt, not decorum or pretense of respect. Trump openly demeaned "low energy" Bush, laughable 'zero' Graham, too-ugly-to-elect Fiorina, and then later in the campaign "Little Marco" and "Lying Ted". He branded them illegitimate in the names he persisted in using, and openly called them mere puppets of the special interest money they raised, in contrast to his largely self-funded campaign.
|Low Energy Jeb|
His name calling and demeaning schoolboy-type taunts were not a bug--they are a feature. It is intentional. He attacks the source of their argument, not the argument. He delegitimizes.
It is going on right now. Trump had better success in getting GOP votes than he has had in winning support of stalwart GOP activists, the kinds of people whose year after year support for GOP candidates make them plausible delegates to the convention. It is time consuming and expensive to be a delegate, for either political party. (I know. I am looking into running to be a national convention delegate myself. It involves multiple meetings, trips to local, regional and state conventions, elections at every level, then a trip to the national convention and getting hotel rooms in an overbooked region. time, money, and hassles.)
Party activists have long history of support for party candidates and Trump has openly attacked those people. Indeed, Trump had attacked them in the Trump way: demeaning and delegitimizing them. McCain, he said, wasn't a hero, he was a mere victim, a victim of getting shot down and captured as contrasted with real hero who succeeded in fulfilling his mission. Romney, he said, was a stuffed shirt who blew an easy election to win. Trump doesn't disagree, he demeans, and he demeaned people who party activists had worked for.
And now Trump is delegitimizing the delegate selection process because those party stalwarts are unlikely to support a candidate who condemns party stalwarts. He is calling their selection by their peers "rigged". Trump says the system is "corrupt". He wrote--actually, obviously had written for him--a Wall Street Journal op-ed where someone using language that sounded nothing whatever like Trump complained about the dishonest delegate process in Colorado. Trump's ghost writer said:
|Trump: The election is being stolen. Ugly photo.|
"I, for one, am not interested in defending a system that for decades has served the interest of political parties at the expense of the people. Members of the club—the consultants, the pollsters, the politicians, the pundits and the special interests—grow rich and powerful while the American people grow poorer and more isolated. . . . The only antidote to decades of ruinous rule by a small handful of elites is a bold infusion of popular will."
|The system is corrupt. Another ugly photo.|
In speeches and on TV he uses plainer talk, complaining RNC chief Reince Preibus should be "ashamed of himself", that Cruz is playing "dirty tricks", and, repeatedly that the system is "corrupt." As with the caucuses in Iowa, the election is being "stolen", this time in Colorado.
Does the tactic of delegitimization work? Apparently. He knocked others out of the race. But delegitimization has blowback consequences. It makes enemies and it makes Trump look like a schoolboy bully because he is using traditional schoolboy bully tactics, which is "unpresidential" even though they work. The tactic is being used against Trump by Cruz who says he is a fake Republican.
It is also used by the anti-Trump press which has pulled out all the stops in using ugly freeze-frame lip-sneering photos of Trump to characterize him as crazy or maddened, and therefore illegitimate and implausible for one with a finger on the nuclear codes. This subject requires an entire post on its own. Watch this space tomorrow.