Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Trump Karma

De-legitimizing Trump.  Karma is a Bitch.   Democrats are attempting to de-legitimize Trump.

Early last year this blog came to a realization about a very successful Trump tactic: de-legitimize your opponent.   It is harsher than merely disagreeing with them.  Instead, you attack their very standing to be in the arena.  You demean them personally.

Here is what I wrote back in April, 2016:

Click Here to read original post

Trump understood that the de-legitimization tactic was irresistible to the media.  Trump's name calling was great TV and brought great audiences.  Policy is slow and boring compared to branding.  Trump relentlessly labeled and accused: Lyin' Ted.  Low energy Jeb.  Little Marco. He performed in bright, bold colors.   And he didn't back down.

August, 2016, leading into the election
He stuck with the Obama birtherism story: he claimed there was real doubt about whether Obama was really an American citizen.  Questions remain, he said.  Investigators are shocked by what they are finding--but which he is keeping secret for now, he said. 

Delegitimization works.  It puts doubt into people's minds.  It creates a narrative that explains things which seem strange.  Obama speaks in careful measured tones about Islam: he must be foreign somehow so maybe there is something "off" about his birth certificate.

Now it is Trump's turn.   Democrats are attempting to delegitimize Donald Trump.

There is a method to the relentless questions regarding Trump and Russia.   This blog--and guest commenter Thad Guyer--have noted that this is an unpromising avenue on its facts.  People do not find Russians all that frightening.  The Donald Trump brand is to be an ultra-nationalist, not a appeaser.  This is an imperfect point of attack for Democrats.   Plus, there is no smoking gun and no actual evidence of criminality.

But de-legitimization does not require facts.  It requires a conspiratorial narrative.  That creates the opportunity for "questions" and "doubts".    The conspiratorial narrative is as follows:

    Trump is a bellicose nationalist.  He shoves Montenegro's Prime Minister, he spurns Angela Merkel, he scolds NATO, he insults Mexico, he challenges China.  He has a pattern. Except for one exception, Russia.  He is conciliatory with Russia.  Strange!

   Maybe Russians have some blackmail on Trump.
   Maybe Trump owes them a bunch of money.
   Maybe Trump got a phony bribe when he bought and sold a house to a Russian billionaire.
   Maybe Jared Kushner is Trump's bagman.
   Maybe Russian deals are why Trump wont release his taxes.
   Maybe there is something to that Russian prostitute-urination story.
   Maybe Trump's campaign actually did create a document that shows collusion with Russian hackers.
   Maybe Michael Flynn is just the tip of the iceberg and Flynn has secrets that may come out.
   Maybe there is a big reason why Trump pressured Comey and the intelligence agencies to drop the investigation and there is actually some devastating secret.
That was 2016, and the target was Obama
   Maybe the Sessions recusal, the Kushner investigation, the Special Investigator, the House and Senate investigations will all lead to something.

Questions are raised.  Maybe Trump isn't what he says he is?  

 Democrats are attempting to weaken him by raising the question that maybe he is a fake president, placed there by Russians, subject to blackmail and secretly serving Russia not Americans.

Denials.  They don't stop the questions.
Democrats are taking a grain of truth--that Trump is less anti-Russian than the previous bi-partisan foreign policy consensus--and giving a conspiratorial reason for it.

Of course, Trump protests and Fox News, which gave uncritical coverage to Trump's birtherism charge, acts indignant.  
Sean Hannity defends Trump and fights back, attempting to de-legitimize the media attacks.    There is a problem with denials: they don't solve the problem.  Of course, a guilty person would deny it.   Trump is simply doing what a guilty person would do, denying.  A person who colluded with a foreign enemy to steal an election would be expected to deny it, and that is exactly what Trump is doing--it is almost an admission of guilt.

Within the conservative media silo the Democratic effort here is backfiring completely.  No surprise.

The criticism, investigations, and "questions raised" simply feed the meme that Democrats and the "fake news" media is trying to destroy Trump with absolutely unfair, unsourced, questions and charges.   They consider it a completely cynical, dishonest attempt to de-legitimize Trump.

This is exactly the tactic that Trump used to birtherize Obama.   Trump insiders, including Jared Kushner, openly admit that Trump never actually believed the birtherism charge; it was just something Trump said to get attention and because gullible Republicans would buy it.  The fact that it is cynical, hypocritical, and based on mere speculation does not mean that it is not an effective tactic.   The tactic raises unanswerable questions about Trump''s motives.   Maybe he isn't trying to "shake things up" because he wants to drain the swamp.  Maybe he wants to shake things up because he has some secret debt to Russia.  (Maybe Obama was moderate in tone not because he thought moderation was necessary but because he is actually a secret Kenyan and Muslim.  Republicans bought this, then turned out on election day.)

There is no fixing this for Trump.   If Trump changes policy to Russia and does something that is plainly anti-Russia, there could be some obvious explanations:   1.  it is a cover story and diversion, since he is still in hock to the Russians. It is exactly what a guilty person would do.  2.  Trump is attempting to fight back against the blackmail or debt, and change the terms of the blackmail, just like any guilty person would do.   

This is the stronger issue for Democrats
There is a risk for Democrats:  They are not hitting Trump's real weakness.  Trump's hope is that the charge will feel desperate and irrelevant to America's swing voters.  Not wrong, irrelevant.

I consider Trump to be more vulnerable to a charge from the direction that he caved in to the conservative Republican agenda.   The Ryan agenda is unpopular, with trickle down economics, tax cuts for the wealthy, and benefits austerity.  Trump will lose votes with swing voters in swing states if he becomes conservative, not populist.   People inclined to dislike Trump will believe he is a pawn of Russians, but they are not swing voters.   Swing voters care about jobs and they distrust the mainstream media.  The Russia-collusion charge is at least as likely to feed the "fake news media" meme as it is the Trump-treason meme.   It could work--but backfire.

The better option is to let Trump govern and hang himself with his victories, not by his weakness.  A weak Trump has an excuse for inaction.  A strong Trump, who enacts unpopular policies, is the vulnerable one.


  1. Street fighters like it down and dirty. Trump ushered in a replacement of the "politics of personal destruction" with the "politics of delegitimization ab initio"-- i.e. unfitness at the start. This is another Trump normalization of the crude and previously unacceptable, and few credible politicians (and no "nice guys") can survive in that ring.

    Democrats may need to return to machine politics a la Chicago, with "bosses" in charge of candidate validation. Trump opened the sewers and asylums and Democrats are rushing in to join the nasty fray. We're in Trumpland now.

  2. Herbert RothschildJune 1, 2017 at 8:16 AM

    Your focus on popular perception and its electoral impact is always useful, but in regard to the question of ties to Russia, either by the Trump campaign or the Trump family enterprises or both, it's important for us to get to the substance. Thus, the special prosecutor's investigation must and will proceed. We don't know what it will reveal, and if there isn't a "smoking gun," then the Democrats may not get the electoral mileage out of it that they hope to. But really, Peter, it's not tolerable for a nation's citizenry not to know about its leader's foreign entanglements.


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