A combination of unforced errors and the increasing strength of the Clinton campaign made last week the worst for Donald Trump since he became the presumptive Republican nominee after his win in Indiana a month ago. Scott Adams described last week as a tie, an assessment I agree with, if only because the anti-Trump forces also displayed their usual incompetence and certain environmental indicators came out that would favor Trump in the general election.
Donald Trump vs. The Media, Round 1491597358573878375
The week began on generally good terms for Donald Trump. He had a press conference and grilled the media for its attacks on him regarding the money he raised for veterans when he skipped the Fox News debate in January. The media attempted to claim the high ground by throwing heat on him for only distributing the bulk of the funds (around $4.5 million) when questioned, but Trump demonstrated masterful frame control once again and dominated the space of the discussion in his own way by visibly fighting the media, calling them “dishonest.” This is a classic Trump strategy, but it always works.
It works especially against the media because it is one of the most distrusted institutions in America, having an approval rating lower than even Congress. In such an atmosphere, casting the media as an out-group to the “veteran” or larger “American” in-group will always work, and that’s what Trump did. Only the media got rankled. Everyone else celebrated last Monday’s press conference.
The Federal Judge
I said last week that Donald Trump’s attack on the federal judge overseeing the Trump University lawsuit, an attack that seemed to be based on that judge’s Mexican heritage, was a mistake. Last week, the media didn’t pay much attention to it, but this week, Donald Trump made the rare mistake of throwing good money after bad.
He gave the Trump University case more attention, which he is vulnerable on because it allows his opponents to frame him as a conman. This is something which is a vulnerability to persuasive marketing types like Trump since, in a classic Scott Adams fashion, the brain can easily visualize it, and then confirmation bias does the rest. While this line of attack didn’t work in the primaries, the general election’s audience is far different, and it might be more effective.
But worse, Donald Trump doubled down on the “Mexican heritage” angle, even when there were other avenues of attack available, such as the law firm involved in the suit having monetary connections to the Clintons and the judge’s affiliation with La Raza (the optics of the name alone make it vulnerable, aside from its other activities). Instead of using those angles of attack, he primarily kept with the “Mexican heritage” angle. This is toxic.
Donald Trump’s infamous remarks before served a purpose in dominating space. His talk about illegal Mexican immigrants being “rapists” and a ban on Muslim immigration “until our representatives can figure out what the hell is going on” could be framed as challenges to politically correct orthodoxy in service of the safety and security of the American people. In other words, there were tangible benefits. This line of attack however, has no tangible benefit to anyone in the electorate.
Combine that with the specific attack on an ethnicity, and the poison potion is complete. It was viscerally ugly and it served no purpose. He made it even worse by saying that a Muslim judge would also be biased against him. Worse still, it drew attention away from things Donald Trump could ordinarily be strong on, such as calling Hillary Clinton out on her foreign policy failures and the left’s approval of violence (more on that below).
Result: Defeat (potentially a decisive one)
Hillary Clinton Ups Her Game
I’ve been saying for a long time now, first in Stumped and then on these weekly debriefs, that Donald Trump’s biggest weakness in this election cycle is that he’s scary to a lot of people. If there’s one thing that can cause Trump to lose, it’s that he’s scary. No matter how much someone might want change (or anything else), they won’t vote for someone they’re afraid of, and as Scott Adams remarked, fear generally trumps (no pun intended) opportunity in the stack of human emotional priorities. Do most people follow their fears or do they push through them in pursuit of new possibilities? We all know the answer to that question.
Abandoning her string of incompetence for the past few weeks, Hillary Clinton began to get a clue. On Thursday, she made what was billed as a major foreign policy address. In truth, it was a long attack against Donald Trump and the danger he represented. The most memorable part of the speech was the warning of Donald Trump getting his hands on the nuclear codes and how he could “start a war if someone gets under his very thin skin.”
“Thin skin,” Scott Adams remarked, is a good linguistic kill shot. It fits all the parameters of what we’ve seen Donald Trump use. First, it’s anchored in easily perceptible reality. It is easy to think of Donald Trump as being thin-skinned. Confirmation bias does the rest, and Donald Trump will have enough such instances to remind you of the branding, which in turn, reinforces the fear factor.
At some point, probably sooner rather than later, I expect Donald Trump to agree and amplify. He’ll say he can be thin-skinned sometimes because it’s hard to stay composed when he sees all the incompetence, corruption, and stupidity of the political class that Hillary Clinton personifies. One vulnerability of “thin-skinned” is that it’s ambiguous enough to reframe into a positive, whereas something like “lyin'” or “crooked” cannot be reframed. If Jeb were smarter, he could have reframed “low energy,” but he was the worst persuader of the campaign.
How effective would such a reframe be? Only time will tell. If Donald Trump gets too unhinged, as he did with the judge last week, even a reframe might not work, as there will be very visible reasons for people to fear him.
In Stumped’s 6th chapter, I mentioned the importance of familiarity in the building of trust and the effectiveness of advertisements. One of the reasons Donald Trump proved to be so resilient was because everyone knew him. Yet…there is a loophole that Hillary Clinton has (predictably) signified that she will exploit in the general election.
While we all know who Donald Trump is, we don’t know who he is in terms of governing. This means he is unfamiliar in that context. Most people don’t like Hillary Clinton, but everyone knows what she’s going to do. We all know that a Hillary Clinton presidency will basically be more of the same.
But most people don’t like the same either, as the success of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders shows. In such an atmosphere, people are far less risk-averse (mentioned by Scott Adams and the subject matter of Stumped’s 10th chapter).
My belief is that people won’t want more of the same, and to make matters worse, there’s much to be afraid of in regards to Hillary Clinton, and Donald Trump will certainly make the most of this, as we’ll see immediately below.
But, because she upped her game this week to finally signify that she’ll fight with both hands instead of just none, we’re going to label this a…
Result: Decisive Defeat
Maybe I’m being too generous with her.
The San Jose “Protests”
In her “foreign policy speech,” Hillary Clinton played the fear factor to the hilt, and it was a great play. Yet, there is one flaw in this, and if Donald Trump hadn’t thrown good money after bad last week, he would have immediately seized on it.
If you look closely, you’ll notice that Hillary Clinton is appealing to an abstract fear.
What if he gets access to the nuclear codes? What if he starts a war? What if? What if? What if?
But Hillary Clinton is vulnerable to the fear factor as well, in concrete terms.
Remember, there has never been a war she hasn’t liked. She voted for Iraq. She was a key architect of Libya. She was all for arming the “Syrian rebels.”
And last week, she was only tepid in condemning violent attacks on Trump supporters in San Jose. We all saw: the woman getting egged, the man getting sucker punched, another man getting hit with a heavy object and bleeding from the head afterward, cars being jumped on, American flags being burned, and all at the hands of “protesters” flying the Mexican flag.
This wasn’t a protest. This was, as Mike Cernovich remarked, an invading army, an occupying force putting the native people at their mercy.
Donald Trump didn’t need to do anything (even though he should have done more instead of going after the judge). The images spoke for themselves.
These are all concrete fears, and the attacks in San Jose were even worse optics than Hillary’s warmongering. This didn’t happen half a world a way. It happened in our own country on our own streets against our own people. Predictably, behavior that would ordinarily be called “victim blaming” ensued. The police stood down. San Jose’s mayor said that Trump was responsible for agitating the “protesters” and had to take responsibility for it. Obama took a while to condemn it. Hillary Clinton only made a very tepid condemnation.
But wait a minute, I thought a refusal to strongly disavow something means you support that something? The left made these rules, will it not apply them to its own side (rhetorical question)?
This is going to continue (since these people are Year Zero radicals, and I remarked last year in the manuscript of Year Zero that the SJW Year Zero revolutionaries were going to start getting more violent), and it will get progressively worse for Hillary Clinton’s campaign. It may very well, in conjunction with her shady history, allow Donald Trump to possess a stronger fear card than Hillary Clinton to complete the winning hand. People are afraid of Trump, but Trump can make them even more afraid of Hillary Clinton, and these attacks are the best way to do it.
Result: Decisive Victory
Jobs, Jobs, Jobs
Donald Trump’s biggest strength in the polls has been on the economy, and a bad economy cuts hard against the party currently in the White House. This was a big theme in the 12th chapter of Stumped, which traces the history of all presidential elections with a sales and persuasion angle.
Last week saw the release of May’s jobs report. Only 38,000 new jobs were added, a sharp downturn from April, where 160,000 were added, which in turn was down from earlier months.
If this trend of job slowdown continues through the election, it will be a decisive edge for Donald Trump as the candidate of the challenging party, regardless of anything else. Combine that atmosphere with his sales skills and personal brand of being the businessman who knows how to create jobs, and you have a perfect storm.
The Little Cuck That Can’t
The very dim Bill Kristol attempted to recruit a pundit that no one had ever heard of named David French to run for president and take states away from Trump and Clinton. The only response can be the following.
David French quickly said he wasn’t running, ending his 15 minutes of fame.
Result: Bill Kristol is still dumb
This week will be very pivotal, as Hillary Clinton will wrap up the Democratic nomination. How will Bernie Sanders respond? Will he endorse her or will he continue on to the convention? More importantly, how will his supporters start to respond?
Whatever the outcome, the strategic map is going to shift, one way or the other.
If you liked this analysis, you’ll like Stumped, which I’m basing it on. Read it to get a complete model for predicting political events and becoming more persuasive.