I remarked to my mother a few weeks (a month or so?) ago, that Donald Trump is “The Republican Candidate for the Low Information Voter.” In retrospect I believe I’ve underestimated him. Trump is something even more insidious than that. Donald Trump represents, I now believe, two distinct phenomena in the modern Republican Party, neither of which seem like good developments no matter how you look at it-at least, assuming you come at it from a perspective that cares even a bit about either the Republican Party or the Lockean political tradition in America (I care increasingly more about the latter than the former). The first, I do not wish to dwell on here, except to make a quip of it: Donald Trump is, for some on the American Right, their “Then Let Me Be Evil” moment. The second is more interesting, and disturbing. Dilbert comic creator Scott Adams, who seems to be a bit of Trump fan, has highlighted what I want to note specifically:
Now review Trump’s empty sentence: We need to take America back.
From whom? Notice the intentional lack of detail? In this case, the lack of detail is the powerful part of the sentence.
The media’s political filter automatically goes to immigration, and that interpretation is probably somewhat right. The problem is that it is only 10% of the explanation. The other 90% is what is happening in voters’ heads when they get an open-ended suggestion that someone has somehow stolen the country.
Who did this awful thing???
Is it the top one-percenters who stole all the country’s money?
Is it the liberals?
Is it the politically-correct people?
Is it the immigrants who are taking jobs?
Is it the wrong-headed people in general?
Is it the minorities? The women?
Is it just our reputation in the world that we lost?
Was it our former greatness we lost?
See how the open-ended suggestion works? Every voter is free to fill in the topic of their own greatest fear. Your brain is a movie that creates your personal history, and when the movie finds a gap, your imagination fills it in. It happens automatically and bypasses rational thought. As with the salesperson who has already made the sale, Trump says nothing you can dislike while giving you the freedom to fill in the blanks in the way that influences you the most.
Frighteningly true. But doesn’t this pattern sound eerily familiar? It should. This was the exact implicit strategy behind the “Hope and Change” campaign of Obama in 2008. Adams doesn’t point this out, and I’m not sure he’s even realized it (probably hasn’t?) but the Obama strategy was pretty much exactly to say things that allowed people to impute to Obama all their own grievances and preferred solutions, to imagine that what he meant by change was changing the things they felt needed changing. To fill in the blanks in the way that influences them the most while saying nothing they can dislike.
As it turns out the average Republican voter has nothing to be smug about over the libtards and low-fo voters after all. Trump is the Republican Obama, and Republicans are as effectively duped as everyone else. Doubt me? There’s some disturbing proof.
As noted by Hotair’s Allahpundit, polling proves that the mere imprimatur of Trump is all that it would take to turn a sizeable portion of the Republican electorate on to the non-existent merits of socialist medical care-among rather a lot else. In this respect Trump is like Obama in yet another way. For Trump’s supporters, his positions and policies, what he is actually after are unimportant, in much the same way it isn’t important what Indiana Jones is after in Raiders or Temple of Doom. For Trump’s supporters he is the protagonist, the hero of the great epic of our time, and it’s more important that he’s fighting the “bad guys” and winning than it is what he’s actually fighting for. To criticize Trump, even from the perspective of one who disdains “The Establishment” is to be, in the eyes of his supporters, part and parcel thereof. And why, exactly? Well, because The Establishment is also against Trump. Well I suspect the Republican Establishment-The “Washington Cartel” to borrow the phraseology of Senator Ted Cruz-is opposed to many people. That the enemy of thine enemy is ipso facto thy friend is in fact a very dangerous fallacy.
I want to say something else, though, too. There is something to be said for having this effective of a political entrepreneur on the Right. Donald Trump is not on the Right, but nevermind that. If Donald Trump is the only person who has learned anything from the Obama strategy, then the shame is on the rest of us, not on him. Sure he’s a clownish buffoon, and worse than that, a Leftist, but rather than play “ain’t it awful” about the stupidity of the American electorate imagine what other Republicans might have accomplished if they’d realized what he has-how to manipulate people. Oh, sure I can hear some of you thinking, it’s morally wrong to manipulate people. And I agree. But morality is not a suicide pact. Some on the Right should at least consider the idea rather than ride the moral high ground straight to abysmal depths-if you’ll excuse the mixed metaphor. And here’s the problem I have with some of the smartest observers on the Right: they have either been taken in by Trump completely (See Ann Coulter, who, in 2011, seemed to recognize Trump as, at least, a political non-starter on par with Newt Gingrich) or they reserve for him such a degree of vitriol-combined unfortunately with an understandable singlemindedness that nevertheless recalls Churchill’s definition of a fanatic-as one scarcely sees from even them for all but the most contemptible of Democrats (See, for example, in an otherwise good column by Jonah Goldberg, the er, colorful suggestive that Trump has a reversed digestive tract, almost anything written lately by Kevin D Williamson (even though again, these are usually quite good), or George Will’s virtual paean to open borders which makes essentially zero effort to disguise basically calling Trump a Nazi-a piece of essentially no redeeming value whatsoever, from the Elder Statesman of Libertarian Conservatism no less). To me this seems the entirely wrong approach to dealing with the Trump phenomenon, but I sadly admit to not knowing the right way. The more unhinged Trump’s opponents on the Right sound, the more desperately the flail to bring their friends and fellow travelers back to sanity, the more they raise suspicion in the eyes of Trump supporters, and the less they listen. Again, the right way to deal with this I do not know.
On an un-Trump related note, kind of, but giving you more reason to be pessimistic: I don’t think the Republicans are going to win this next election. Not just that there’s an out-sized chance they won’t deserve to (though there is, since if ever there was someone who deserves to join the esteemed ranks of failed Presidential Candidates it is Jeb Bush) but that the prediction markets seem to be fairly confident that the odds favor the Democrats at this point, and they have been confident and consistent on the degree to which this is true for some time. Why exactly? If I had to guess it looks like the markets believe the Republicans are more likely to nominate a candidate with poor chances of winning than they are someone with good chances of winning. I say that because there are candidates individually that the markets think could, if nominated, win (unfortunately, Jeb Bush is, in fact, one of them, which suggests a good mantra for the Republican Establishment: vote for the least conservative candidate who can win-but on the other hand, Rand Paul’s odds of winning on the slim chance he is nominated are also better than not, which suggests he is, in fact, the Most Conservative Candidate Who Can Win). What candidate who can’t win might they think the Republicans likely to nominate?