The general election polling is pretty clear. Donald Trump cannot beat Hillary Clinton.
The same polling data that Trumpkins argue should cause the GOP to hand their leader the nomination foretells disaster in the general election. Yet they argue against the data.
So let me take a counterpoint view. If you’ve seen the zombie movie World War Z, there’s a critical scene where an Israeli (if you haven’t seen it, this is a spoiler) Mossad agent, Jurgen Warmbrunn, says his job is to take the counterpoint view. When everyone else believed that zombies could not take over the earth, Warmbrunn took the position that it could happen, and if it did, what could they do. (Ironically, they built a huge, beautiful wall, and it didn’t do them any good when the zombies climbed over it.)
Donald Trump is not running a political campaign. Politics, positions, policy–they have little to nothing to do with Trump’s campaign for president. This has been the key to his success. He’s running a social campaign at a much lower level than mere politics. It’s as if everyone else is vying for control of a subway train, and Trump is controlling the rails–he could not care less about the train, because it goes where the rails take it.
Truth, lies: These are all the same, all tools of the trade for Trump. His goal is to make you feel good.
Trump wants you to feel good about yourself, about America, about everything in your life, and because he’s the one making you feel good, you’ll feel good about him. It’s a vaguely popular-kid-in-school, first love, almost sexual kind of feeling good. It’s an addictive feeling of power and love and acceptance. Many people would call it a cult, and indeed cults are built on this.
But Trump’s cult has the advantage of openly declaring (without saying it) that he’s a cult. He breaks down the fourth wall and says come in, believe, feel good, and if you don’t, he’ll pillory you with insults and put downs. Sticks and stones, because those make the ones inside feel good.
So how does this apply to the general election? How would Trump beat Hillary?
Scott Adams, (the “Dilbert” cartoonist) whose “persuasion” blog I’ve followed since July, has correctly called the entire race regarding Trump. He believes Trump will beat Hillary, and it will have nothing to do with politics. Adams wrote that Trump’s “kill shot” on Hillary is one word: stamina.
Donald Trump has been saying lots of bad things about Hillary Clinton for months, but the one that will stick is “stamina.” I’ll tell you why.
The best Trump kill shots have the following qualities.
1. Fresh word that is not generally used in politics
2. Relates to the physicality of the subject (so you are always reminded)
Clinton has already experienced some coughing fits on the campaign trail. And her voice often sounds hoarse, which is to be expected when you give speeches every day. Neither of those things mean much. But add the Internet rumors that Clinton has some lingering brain issues from a concussion, plus her long bathroom break during that one debate, and some rumors that she has trouble with balance, and there you go. That’s enough circumstantial “evidence” to convict her of being unhealthy.
The so-called evidence in this case is probably a mix of true facts that might not matter too much plus rumors and speculation. If you looked at any one piece of “evidence” on its own, it would mean nothing. But put it all together and you have…confirmation bias.
Trump has used confirmation bias throughout his campaign. People think illegal immigrants are rapists, murderers, and leeches on American society. It doesn’t matter that data shows most of them aren’t (although they should not be here illegally and should not receive free benefits for it). Trump says they are, and one incident proves his point, then people use confirmation bias to carry it forward.
Trump says Muslims hate us. It doesn’t matter what the data shows, or how we should solve the very real problem of radical Islam. It’s a slam dunk for Trump.
Trump says Ted Cruz is “lyin’ Ted.” Cruz called Rubio a liar, and Cruz’s campaign did some things that had to be walked back. People think politicians are liars, therefore confirmation bias wins.
Trump will say Hillary lacks stamina.
And that is why “stamina” is such a well-engineered kill shot. Between now and November, the odds of Clinton having another coughing fit, losing her balance, forgetting something, or having some other health issue is nearly 100%. Trump has primed his “stamina” kill shot to get stronger as time goes by. Confirmation bias will keep adding “evidence” to his suggestion even if that evidence is imaginary.
Some folks reminded me that Trump has been using the stamina kill shot for months with no real effect. But stamina is a sleeper word. It gets reactivated every time the real world triggers it in your brain. And the real world is certain to deliver.
The counterpoint view is that most people are open to manipulation if you make them feel good about themselves. Conservative principles don’t make people feel good–the results of applying them make people feel good. It’s a lot easier to sell ice cream and make the claim that you can lose weight eating it than it is to tell people they need to work out daily. But they’ll truly feel better after working out then they will after eating a sundae every day.
Trump very well could beat Hillary, but not using politics. Hillary will sell herself on all the free stuff, feel-good, I’m-entitled, my-body-my-rights, social justice crap that liberals use to cow people into betraying their own futures for a candy bar and a free phone. Trump will touch them at a deeper level and make Hillary seem like an old witch about to fall into the grave.
By the time Trump is done with Hillary, she’ll look like the Crypt Keeper to the average voter.
Adams thinks Trump could win in a landslide. I don’t think he will. In fact, I’m not sure he has enough support to take the GOP nomination. But we need to consider the possibility that Trump’s supporters arguing against the political data may say something about the usefulness of political data.
Trump is not a politician, and he doesn’t care about politics or policy. He’s a showman and he wants America to feel good about themselves, but mostly about himself.
America may have become so self-centered and indulgent that such a man could actually manipulate his way into the White House. Maybe the answer to Trump isn’t showing that he lies (his supporters certainly know he lies) or that he insults (his supporters don’t care, they think it’s funny) or that he flirts with advocating violence. Maybe the answer to Trump is showing Americans that their self-respect is more important than feeling good.