Trump Being Trump: General Election Style (Week 22)

Week 22 was a clear win for Hillary Clinton, but not for the reasons you might initially expect.

Pre-Suasion

Hillary Clinton’s campaign started the week off strong by seeding things about Donald Trump, including the lies that he would supposedly tell, in the 24 hours before the first debate last Monday. The plea for Lester Holt to “fact check” was also strong. All of this was supposed to add confirmation bias to Donald Trump lying during the debate itself, a clear flip of the script to Hillary Clinton being untrustworthy.

This actually didn’t work out so well in the end, but it showed that I may have been too quick to call the departure of Robert Cialdini (“Godzilla”), because this looked very much like a tactic that came from his new book Pre-Suasion, though I haven’t read it yet so I can’t know for sure. This attempt to dominate space was seen again during the debate itself, with far more reaching consequences.

Result (for Trump): Neutral

The Main Event

The highlight of last week was what we’ve all been waiting for for months, the first debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. I ventured down to the Lower East Side to catch the action, which felt more like a fight night than a debate heading into the festivities. The atmosphere was truly high energy. I was also on Japanese television (they had a crew filming down there) before and after, so I hope to find that video and post it here.

Donald Trump started the debate off strong, but Hillary Clinton had a stronger frame than normal. Her consultation with people like Tony Schwartz (co-author of The Art of the Deal), several psychologists, and presumably Robert Cialdini, paid off. Though I went into some detail in Stumped on Donald Trump’s normally iron frame, it tends to get weak when talking about his past, particularly his business record, and he let many opportunities slip by, instead giving into her frame on his past and keeping the focus on it.

Instead of attacking glaring openings such as her unsecured private email server (particularly when the subject of cyber security came up), the Clinton Foundation, emphasizing the criminality of her email scandal compared to his taxes, etc., and even missing a chance to flip the script on specifics by saying an “intelligence surge” is just a vague slogan, he focused on his business and taxes, not shifting the focus to the things he should have been focusing on.

You’ll note that I said that he would need to shift the focus to the things he wanted to focus on to win the debate, and he didn’t do that for the most part. But I also said that Hillary Clinton needed to bait him into looking unhinged, and she failed to do that also. While people humorously remarked that Donald Trump drank a lot of water and snorted a lot (more on that later), one thing you couldn’t call him was crazy or seriously uninformed. Therefore, Hillary Clinton didn’t get the knockout blows she needed to decisively win.

But she did use a bit of Pre-Suasion to win the aftermath.

First Debate Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Lester Holt

Result (for Trump): Minor Defeat

The Latest Pet Victim

…Is a former Miss Universe named Alicia Machado. Hillary Clinton seeded her name in the debate and the next day Donald Trump took the bait, magnifying it. The media quickly pounced. Despite this woman having a shady past, which included hilarious denials that a sex tape she made wasn’t actually a sex tape, and more seriously, she purportedly threatened to kill a judge, and may have even been fast-tracked to citizenship by Hillary Clinton (unconfirmed by me at this point), she was championed by the media, and Donald Trump’s “early morning tweets” (not unusual, but could be spun to look bad here) reflected negatively on his temperament, according to Hillary Clinton.

The “Machado controversy” might actually have more utility than you think. It sucked up all the attention in the room from worse things that came out, such as with his foundation, his continued walk into the “stop and frisk” maze (which the media could have feasibly added more “racist” confirmation bias to), and that bullshit story that came out about Cuba written by a “journalist” that looked at kiddie porn. It also seems likely that the hilariously badly-named “Correct the Record” SuperPAC illegally coordinated with the Clinton Campaign in pushing the story.

The risk for all of this is that it’s yet one more piece to the illusory puzzle that Donald Trump is “sexist” or a “bully” or “unhinged,” where people start to imagine him doing this kind of thing with foreign leaders, and at precisely the wrong time. So this was a defeat, but it arguably allowed him to lose the week in the least bad way.

Result (for Trump): Defeat

Immunity, Immunity, Immunity

More in the never-ending Hillary Clinton email scandal came out last week as Jim Comey testified before Congress. It was revealed that many of her people received immunity even after lying to the FBI.

Drip drip.

Result (for Trump): Victory

Fat Shaming Left

While Donald Trump took a lot of heat last week for “fat shaming” the pet victim Miss Universe, Claire McCaskill was fat shaming Donald Trump!

Just more of that brand reversal in process.

Result (for Trump): Victory

Rigged Microphone

Remember when Donald Trump took a lot of heat for his haggard audio in the debate? Remember when some people thought something was wrong and were accused of being conspiracy theorists afterward?

Well, as the week began to close, the Commission on Presidential Debates confirmed that there were problems with Donald Trump’s audio. This immediately confirmed his “rigged system” linguistic kill shot.

First Debate Donald Trump rigged microphone

Result (for Trump): Victory

Leaky, Leaky

At the end of the week, audio was leaked of Hillary Clinton at a private fundraiser during the primaries last March. She went on saying that Bernie Sanders was offering false promises to “children of the recession who lived in their parents’ basements” and who were “baristas.” You can hear the entire audio below, as well as my message to Bernie Sanders:

Unfortunately, he failed the test I put forth here, so I lost all my remaining respect for him. The media spin was in force, and I suppose it’s true that nothing she said need be inherently insulting by themselves, but her dismissive, patronizing tone, and the fact that I have never heard “living in their parents’ basement” uttered in any other context but an insult (and neither, probably, has anyone else), will add confirmation bias to Hillary Clinton as hating the people she wants to lead. Whether it’s “deplorables,” “basement dwellers,” “baristas,”or something else, Hillary Clinton consistently tends to seem to belittle her opponents, meaning anyone that doesn’t think she’s the greatest. Scott Adams often remarks that Donald Trump “only insults people that are in the cage fight with him.” This is mostly, but not always, true. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, has consistently attacked her opponents’ supporters, or at least belittled them.

Hillary Clinton canceled upcoming campaign events with Bernie Sanders.

She also said on the audio that she really isn’t the “progressive” she constantly claims to be in public, but “occupies ground in the center-left to center-right.” This will only add confirmation bias to “progressives'” already high suspicions of Hillary Clinton.

Although muted by the media, this story may have a disproportionate impact in reducing turnout for Hillary Clinton, which is already seen as likely to be significantly lower than when Barack Obama ran (surprised, I am not, since I mentioned this at the start of the year in Stumped.).

Result (for Trump): Victory (potentially decisive)

The Taxes Awaken

To close out the week, Carlos Slim’s Blog (formally known as The New York Times) published what it hoped would be a “bombshell.” The first October surprise came when Donald Trump’s 1995 tax returns were published by the blog after apparently being leaked from Trump Tower. It showed around $900 million in losses, which may have allowed Donald Trump to carry that over and avoid paying any taxes for 18 years. The media tried to claim this was a “bombshell.” Scott Adams described it as a “self-kill shot.” Mike Cernovich thinks Donald Trump leaked his own returns.

Although this story does have the emotional impact that “he didn’t pay any taxes!”, I’ll explain why it’s a total dud (indeed, at the start of week 23 it already seems to have passed) and will help Donald Trump:

  1. The tax returns (or rather, what was leaked of them) didn’t show anything illegal or even unethical. No scamming. No connections to Russia. No lack of charitable contributions. No “he’s not as rich as he says.” This dispels the focus on all of these things in favor of the narrower “he didn’t pay any taxes!” line of attack.
  2. Despite its moral posturing, Carlos Slim’s Blog paid no taxes just a few years ago.
  3. Everyone wants to pay as little tax as possible, including hysterical “journalists” that preach about how evil it is at the same time. Donald Trump not paying any relates to you directly.
  4. As Scott Adams remarked, “every experienced businessperson just sided with Trump on taxes.” The loss carry over that legally made him not liable for taxes is there for a reason – most businesses lose money in their first few years of operation. If that wasn’t part of the tax code, far fewer business would start, or even be able to start, which means millions of fewer jobs. It also shields millions of businesses from bankruptcy and laying off all their employees.
  5. As Mike Cernovich remarked, 1995 was the year that America started to roar back from the relatively harsh early 90’s recession that tanked many people, not just Trump. Donald Trump’s comeback story of the 90’s was thus related to America’s.

Now any future tax return released by Donald Trump has an anchor. I predicted months ago that Donald Trump might release his tax returns late in the game to drive headlines and dispel lingering doubts. This seems like the first step in that process. He also opened the door at the debate, stating he “would ignore the advice of his lawyers and release them” if Hillary Clinton released her emails. Ignore the latter. Focus on the former.

The Democrats just killed their own “but why won’t he release his returns?!” line of attack. Now there’s something to focus on, and there’s nothing bad in it.

Result (for Trump): Victory

Hillary Clinton still won the week, and Donald Trump needs to avoid making errors because he can less afford them. The pattern in this election seems to be that the candidates grow cold or hot at the end of one month and beginning of the next, and then coast to win the month in total. Donald Trump will need to break that pattern and win the month of October to win this World Series, 4 games to 2, otherwise, Hillary could coast in the one-week sudden death round of November’s game 7.

Tomorrow is the Vice Presidential debate. I predict that the smooth-talking, cool-headed Mike Pence will contrast well against the henpecked, yapping beta male that is Tim Kaine, who may just exhaust and belittle himself by trying too hard to get a snappy remark in. We’ll see.

In the meantime, you should read Stumped because you also want to learn how to contrast yourself with yapping betas.