Sunday, September 20, 2015

Deconstructing the Trump Voter

There’s arguably no greater mystery in the land of punditry than Donald Trump’s continued dominance in the polls, both nationally and in early primary states.

Political analysts on the right and left are befuddled as to how a man who had a public feud with Rosie O’Donnell replete with sophomoric insult swinging is the Republican frontrunner in an election that most Republicans and many neutral analysts believe is eminently winnable for the GOP. 

It’s inexplicable. Except it isn’t.  

Donald Trump has been on every side of every issue for most of his public life. He has supported single payer healthcare (a far more radical version of ObamaCare) and most incredibly, he has publicly praised Hillary Clinton AND given her money. Hillary Clinton. The presumptive Democrat nominee and the most prominent Republican villain.

Yet, he’s leading in the polls.

Every time we predict his demise, he emerges unscathed or even stronger. Surely his shameful smear of John McCain’s heroism would sink his campaign. Didn’t happen. Well how about his terrible first debate performance? Actually, a plurality (not a majority) of GOP voters said he was the winner. Ok, surely, his attack on respected and well liked Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly would be his Waterloo? Yeah, no. He was still far ahead in the polls.

Poll numbers are beginning to trickle in post second debate. We won’t know for sure if he remains untouchable or if it’s the beginning of the end for Trump—a beginning pretty much everyone thought would commence a long time ago—until next week.    

Trump appears to be impervious to the pitfalls that have traditionally destroyed campaigns.  In fact, campaigns have been sunk by missteps and gaffes far less egregious than Trump’s. In 1980, Ted Kennedy never recovered after he couldn’t articulate why he wants to be president. A messaging blunder to be sure, but infinitely less cringe worthy than Donald Trump retweeting a vile Megyn Kelly insult. Or any of his other antics for that matter.

As counterintuitive as Trump’s rise is, it does have a rationale. An excellent CNN documentary, "Evocateur," about 80's bellicose political TV host Morton Downey Jr. indirectly elucidates the Trump appeal.

As a brilliant businessman and self-promoter (he is unquestionably both, his Atlantic City bankruptcies not withstanding) Trump gets the niche entertainment formula. He understands that the quickest path to celebrity is not to make everyone like you, but to carve out a niche of people who love you. This is the classic branding strategy that Trump excels at.

Trump's niche is bold, unapologetic populism. Never back down, never show hesitation or reflection. Tell it like it is, never apologize, and above everything else, be entertaining or really funny.

It's the Morton Downey Jr. brand, and that brand has a big fan base.

Howard Stern and all the other shock jocks are the disk jockey versions of Morton Downey Jr. Not in terms of political leanings (conservatives and liberals listen to Stern), but in terms of here's the truth as I see it, and here's why anyone who disagrees with me is wrong and stupid.

Stern was the first disk jockey to embody the Morton brand. Trump is the first famous politician to embody the Morton brand.

The other aspect of Trump’s appeal is his “Make America great again” campaign theme. As any political consultant will tell you, a strong campaign theme is key to winning elections. As a branding guru, Trump understand that, and so he’s running with a theme that resonates with a significant bloc of the GOP base that thinks Obama has precipitated America’s decline.

His brashness, political incorrectness, cockiness, and even crassness are all refreshing qualities to voters who have come to resent and even hate the tedious predictability of the political class. Coupled with the inherent attractiveness of his underlying theme, Trump is able to maintain a passionate and loyal base of support that doesn’t care about any of the things that his detractors point to as proof of Trump’s un-presidential demeanor or utter lack of principled  conviction.

And then there’s the three-pronged message that buttresses his goal to “make America great again”: immigration, trade, and bravado. Trump promises to build a wall and have Mexico pay for it, renegotiate current free trade deals, and force his will on friends and enemies alike. In other words, he is going to solve the immigration problem (something that a significant portion of the GOP base cares about deeply), end free trade deals that Trump alleges are hurting the American worker (this was a major theme in both the Ross Perot and Pat Buchanan populist campaigns, and many conservatives don’t buy the mainstream conservative argument that free trade is good), and act like a tough guy winner doing these things the whole time.

These are the traits that make Trump so appealing to a large enough faction of voters to make him the frontrunner in a preposterously crowded field. They don’t care that he is prone to personal insults, or that he’s not a principled conservative. They don’t even care that he donated money to Clinton and the Democrats. None of those weaknesses rank as high in terms of issues his supporters care about as Trump’s anti politically correct bravado, the impression that he’s not beholden to anyone, and his stance on immigration and trade.

Voters almost always choose imperfect candidates with whom they agree on some issues, disagree on others. What ultimately determines who you vote for is issue intensity: how much do you care about issue X compared to issue Y. For Trump voters, immigration is the central issue. So as long as he toes their line on immigration (build a wall, enforce the law) they’ll give him a pass on all his other positions, even if those positions directly violate conservative principles.

Donald Trump will not be the Republican nominee, but his sustained surge is explained by a combination of niche branding, a powerful campaign theme, skilled messaging, and personality.       


Thursday, August 6, 2015

On Jon Stewart

A mistake some conservatives make is trying to convince people that Jon Stewart isn't funny. 

First, if people think he is funny, you're not going to change their sense of humor by writing 800 unfunny words. 

Second, he is funny. 

The problem with Jon Stewart is that he's every bit as biased as the people he excoriates for bias, he oversimplifies complex issues as readily as the people he excoriates for oversimplifying complex issues, and he is every bit as intellectually shallow as the people he excoriates for intellectual shallowness. 

To his credit, Stewart does occasionally mock his political brethren, unlike Colbert who only mocks conservatives. Stewart is not as rabid of a partisan as Colbert is a compliment I would pay Stewart.

That, and he's legitimately funny. And seems like a good guy.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

John Kasich Is a Game Changer

John Kasich injects even more intrigue into the most fascinating primary in US history. He is a two term governor of a must-win state for Republicans who won reelection in a landslide. His political leadership spans decades.

He was instrumental in passing the 1986 Goldwater–Nichols act, which streamlined the military's chain of command, and despite fierce opposition by some in the military establishment (the act removed the chiefs of staff form the chain of command), the reorganization was vindicated 5 years later during the Gulf War. He was also the Chairman of the House Budget Committee that balanced the budget in the 90s.

Kasich is by far the most experienced candidate in the race, he is a conservative who appeals to centrists, and just as important, he is likable and does well on TV. His weaknesses include that many conservatives don't trust him because he expanded Ohio's Obamacare medicaid provision.

He is primarily going to peel mainstream conservative votes from Walker and Bush, which will help Cruz--whose base is exclusively tea party/movement conservative--by diluting the others' votes.

The fundamental strategic challenge for Kasich, Walker and Bush, is how to solidify the mainstream conservative bloc.

The fundamental strategic challenge for Rubio is how to form a winning coalition of mainstream conservatives and movement conservatives.

This is thrilling stuff.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Yes Iran, America is Better Than You

Iran's Vice President, a woman who was incidentally (not incidentally) the spokesman for the students holding American hostages in 1979, told ABC's Martha Radditz, in a calm and dispassionate tone, she resents the view harbored by some Americans that America's objectives are “superior” to Iran's objectives.

She suggested that the aura of American superiority shouldn’t underlie the talks. This was an indirect, but obvious, knock on the notion of American exceptionalism.

Fortunately for the purveyors of this much maligned notion, I'm here to offer a defense. It's not very nuanced, but it is angry, so everyone wins. Here it goes.

Seeing as how the government you represent, madam, (the government that uses you as a pawn to soften its image) is ruled by a cabal whose leader is awaiting the return of the twelfth Imam to usher in a glorious apocalypse, a cabal that controls all levers of government--with the media, the Parliament and the military under the Supreme Leader's direct control--a cabal that KILLS homosexuals, imprisons political dissidents, oppresses women, funds paramilitary organizations that brazenly and unapologetically violate every rule of war, and is a fucking police state, I think I'll go ahead and emphatically declare that America IS in fact on a higher moral ground.
That is not the same thing as saying the Iranian people are inferior to American people, which would be blatantly racist. But culture matters.

I am of Russian descent. Do I think Russian society is inferior to American society? Yes, without question. Does that make me a self-loathing Russian? Yes, without question. I mean no, no, it doesn’t. I got carried away with the "without question" idiom, it’s very catchy and powerful. What the hell was I talking about?? Culture! Culture matters. The Iranian people, God bless them, are enslaved by a 7th century dictatorship. Just like Russians have been enslaved by tyrants (some worse than others) since the beginning of time. So you better fucking believe that a free republic negotiating with a theocratic dictatorship has the moral high ground. Call it American exceptionalism, call it common sense, just don’t play the underdog card by implying that the US is a big bad bully and you’re just a meek, noble nation seeking a fair shake. Actually do that, because it’s apparently working.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

A Message to Teachers

The National Education Association (NEA), the largest and most powerful teachers union in the nation, is lobbying to make so-called ethnics studies classes mandatory for all public school students. 

Everyone who is not a blind idiot or even an idiot with excellent eyesight, understands that "ethnic studies" means the proliferation of radical leftist theories on race and culture, centering on such pseudo-intellectual themes as "white privilege" and "cultural appropriation."

My daughter is two and a half years old. So here's my message to teachers. 

Shortly after my daughter starts school, a great flood will subsume the Northeast--a flood of tears shed by teachers and their union bosses who attempt to indoctrinate my daughter.

I will review every homework assignment, every syllabus, and every test question. If I find any propaganda, I will watch Seinfeld for an hour and eat a protein rich snack before mobilizing an army of parents to descend on school grounds.

I will attend every PTA and school board meeting sporting an intimidating scowl.

At these meetings, I will be calm and rational or boorish and unhinged, as the situation warrants. 

Tears will be shed. This is my sacred vow. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Who Will Save Mexico?

Commenting on what El Chapo's "escape" reveals about Mexico, Don Winslow writes,

"Chapo has the power, connections and influence to get his rivals sent to purgatory in America while using that same leverage to keep himself in Mexico until he can "escape."

Unlike Don Winslow, I am not an expert on Mexican drug cartels, but I do have internet connection, so here's my take.

The elected leaders deny it, but it's likely that the current Mexican government has a peace treaty with the paramilitary drug cartels. The treaty is theoretically designed to keep the violence in check by restricting the cartels' sphere of operations, but of course as long as the cartels run by ruthless career criminals have power, they will continue to wreak havoc on Mexican society.
To wipe out the cartel's influence over the government, influence that pervades most Mexican institutions and perpetuates the country's shitty state of affairs, a leader with courage, intelligence, strategic savvy, and probably a ruthless streak would have to emerge.

Any presidential candidate running on the "I will crush these assholes" platform will be a target for assassination and will have mutiny/treachery in the ranks, akin to the politicians who took on the mafia in Sicily in the 80s. In that kind of environment, it's generally the most ruthless leader with autocratic leanings, perhaps a high ranking military officer, who emerges as the self-proclaimed people's champion.

Dictators generally seem to be best equipped to destroy these embedded paramilitary organizations for a variety of reasons. Mussolini shattering the Italian mafia is one example.

I'm picturing some asshole draped in medals even though it's not clear which war he fought in standing in front of 60 microphones surrounded by a dozen or so other assholes also draped in medals vowing to destroy the cartels and return Mexico to the people.

For those who think drug legalization in Mexico is the answer, keep in mind that these cartels will continue to exert power much like the American mob continued to thrive after prohibition ended (on a much smaller scale than the Mexican cartels obviously).

It's hard to envision a thriving Mexican society without the eradication of Mexico's version of the mafia from its institutions, driving the cartels to a permanent underground status. Yet an ambitious would-be-dictator might be more likely than a pro-democracy politician to successfully carry out the crusade.    

Saturday, July 4, 2015

The White Privilege Lie

My column in the American Thinker takes on the White Privilege lie and its destructive implications:

Of all the invectives launched against the United States by the resurgent American Left, the charge that in America, White Privilege reigns supreme is the most insidious and culturally ruinous.  Its intent is unambiguous: leftists perpetuate the White Privilege lie to smear America and its institutions as inherently racist, and therefore unworthy of adulation and in need of fundamental socioeconomic transformation...Read more