Trump Being Trump: General Election Style (Week 12)

This wasn’t a week of things that were entirely unexpected. The pageantry of the Republican National Convention was the grand display that took all attention, but what happened at that convention was nevertheless significant, if not surprising. Other developments outside the conventions also took place, including one nuclear bombshell that could shift the equation even more than the Republican National Convention itself.

The Art of the Non-Deal?

The week actually began with Tony Schwartz, The Art of the Deal’s ghostwriter, coming out strongly against Donald Trump and saying “he could end civilization.” Obviously he’s using some of the tactics he wrote about which he now claims to disavow. This had the potential to be very damaging, because as Schwartz himself made note of, there is a direct line from the book to now. The Art of the Deal is one of the foundations of Donald Trump’s personal brand, a crucial plank of the power of his campaign.

But the timing was off because all attention would be focused on the Republican National Convention, so the damage was very, very minimal. This does potentially give Hillary Clinton a new persuasion play to make and to get out of the box she’s in, but she’s incompetent so I don’t expect her to use it.

Result: Defeat

Republican National Convention, Night 1

Donald Trump displayed his knack for branding throughout the Republican National Convention. The theme of the first night was “Make America Safe Again.” The major issues were the recent attacks on law enforcement and Islamic terrorism. Highlights of the night included two veterans involved in the Benghazi incident, Sheriff David Clarke, Rudy Giuliani, and Marcus Luttrell (my favorite speaker of the evening, though I may be biased).

Another highlight of the night came from one of the mothers who lost her son in the Benghazi attack, who damned Hillary Clinton in the most stark, personal terms at the convention. She said, tearfully, that Hillary Clinton should be in prison. That was a powerful moment, although prone to charges of being shameless and exploitative.

The night’s headliner was Melania Trump, who was praised for the speech that she gave at the time, but it was quickly revealed that part of the speech plagiarized Michelle Obama’s own highly-praised speech in 2008. The media was quick to latch onto it to create as much of a scandal as possible.

Other than the Benghazi talk, there was no real big breakthrough or knockout blow of the night, in my opinion. Everyone knew Donald Trump and his camp were “pro-police” and “very strong” on Islamic terrorism. The plagiarism “scandal” was something only the media cared about. There were attempts by the media and some rogue delegates to create dissent against Donald Trump, showing some “walkouts,” but nothing truly disruptive occurred that would move the needle.

Night 1 Result: Neutral

Republican National Convention, Night 2

The night began with some desperation by the delegation from Alaska to delay the inevitable, but Donald Trump was formally nominated for President of the United States.

The theme of the second night was “Make America Work Again,” which would ostensibly talk about the economy and jobs, a subject which voters trust Donald Trump on more than Hillary Clinton. However, this night was mostly devoted to hammering Hillary Clinton, and the chants of “lock her up!” really took off.

Aside from the bashing of Hillary Clinton in general, two speakers really stood out on night 2. Obviously, those speakers were Chris Christie and the star of the night, Donald Trump Jr.

Since Chris Christie was a federal prosecutor before becoming governor, he laid out the case against her in a more concise, focused, and better fashion than any other speaker.

Donald Trump Junior’s speech was more uplifting – the positives of his father and the positives of his upbringing, the values his father instilled in him, and what he’d do for the country.

Donald Trump Junior’s speech was brilliant because to many, it painted his father in a more positive picture than he could have done himself, making the case for his father as President and relating it back to himself, a visual and easily sensible success story. That’s very important. You’ll see why later.

The attacks on Hillary Clinton were effective and Donald Trump Junior’s speech was a clear home run.

Night 2 Result: Victory

Republican National Convention, Night 3

This was the roller coaster night. It was marked by Ted Cruz’s speech to the delegation, which spellbound the audience for over twenty minutes, hitting all the right notes and elements of rhetoric. He then created anticipation of “would he or wouldn’t he?” When he used the phrase “vote your conscience,” the game was revealing itself…but Ted Cruz went on, creating anticipation, keeping the question alive. And when it became apparent that it wouldn’t happen – that he wouldn’t endorse Donald Trump, a chorus of boos erupted, and Trump himself appeared to ensure control of the crowd.

I’ll tell you what Ted Cruz was thinking from a persuasion standpoint. His gambit was to show up and do something ballsy, and he certainly did that. Should Donald Trump lose in November, he’ll be able to say, “see? I told you, and unlike people like Jeb Bush or John Kasich, I actually had the balls to show up at his own convention and take a stand against this destructive force in our party.” In the shifting weight of emotional priorities, that has the potential to be powerful after a loss, as people look for scapegoats when in distress.

On the other hand, Ted Cruz pissed off a lot of people. Even establishment figures in the party, like Peter King, who were very hesitant to embrace Donald Trump, were livid. The GOP establishment never liked Ted Cruz anyway. His antics and his “prickly personality,” in the words of Roger Stone, pissed them off for years. Ted Cruz’s tactic is a double-edged sword because while people look for scapegoats in times of loss, he might well be one such scapegoat should Donald Trump lose, as a symbol of disunity in the party.

So if Ted Cruz believes he’d be the sure heir-apparent to Donald Trump should the king be toppled from his throne, there are many things standing in the way. As things look at the moment, it seems likely that he blew himself up and that his career is over. He has made himself toxic and made his own supporters deride him for narcissism.

Of course, expect new developments.

Other highlights of night three were far more favorable. Eric Trump delivered another excellent speech in favor of his father. While it wasn’t as good as the one Donald Trump Jr. gave (his delivery wasn’t as good), Eric Trump hit good points of contrast between his own charity and the Clinton Foundation, and the ending of his speech was among the best I’ve ever seen, creating a passionate call to action which truly displayed the love he has for his father.

And then came Mike Pence, who’s stayed relatively low-key since he was announced as Donald Trump’s running mate. That changed, and he did exactly what he needed to do, delivering a heartfelt speech that introduced people to him in the best possible way, serving as a great contrast to Donald Trump’s brash style. Mike Pence is a warm figure, one that soothes fears. He’s quickly proving himself very formidable.

Night three was raucous, but the speeches of Mike Pence, Eric Trump, and Newt Gingrich (who did a decent job of plausibly covering up for Ted Cruz’s shenanigans) erased what damage Ted Cruz had done. The important thing was that Eric Trump was another “great Trump moment,” and Mike Pence introduced himself to the nation flawlessly.

Night 3 Result: Victory

Republican National Convention, Night 4

There were only two moments that were memorable on this night.

Ivanka Trump introduced her father, trying to give him much-needed credibility among women. She talked about his hiring practices, how he treated her growing up, and what he’d do for women. The inversion of the frame of the “wage gap” – that being a woman isn’t the thing causing wage disparities, but motherhood is, and that Donald Trump would reform labor laws to ensure that mothers would get better career benefits, was very interesting. Much as I am viscerally prone to detest any inkling of feminism, I recognize the political astuteness of Ivanka’s reframe. It’s a complete inversion of the leftist frame, and the Republican counterattack is truly stark and revolutionary for the party.

Ivanka’s speech was good and necessary and she shined in the important ways, but now I actually think it could have been handled better. Namely, she was up there essentially introducing her father. That guaranteed that her own speech would be overshadowed. It wasn’t a standalone moment like Don Jr. and Eric’s speeches were. For the best impact, she should have done it earlier in the night, where it could more easily have stood on its own. Nonetheless, she did shine.

Donald Trump’s speech itself was complicated.

My initial thought as it was unfolding was that the content was generally good, but it was also derailed by long-winded anecdotes that went 20 minutes too long without saying anything new or hitting new emotional notes. At that point I was ready to give the speech a 3/10. But he picked it up later on, and it was better-received than I expected it to be (indeed, he’s gotten a significant boost in the polls after the convention, which is normal, but matters anyway since it shows he hasn’t reached a ceiling).

Overall, I give it a 7/10.

Why don’t I give it any better?

First and foremost was his nonverbal vocal cues. That’s the most important thing when you talk, not the words that leave your mouth, and it’s clear that Donald Trump’s delivery with a teleprompter still needs major work. As I remarked before, his voice tone by itself is off-putting to a lot of people who would otherwise support him. I thought he would take a softer tone, but he didn’t. The energy was unmistakably high, at least.

I also thought that Trump would take a more major tack toward dispelling identity politics and advertising “team America.” And he did do that, somewhat, with tellingly mentioning the LGBTQ community and how contradictory its interests are with increased immigration from the Islamic world. This was the first time a Republican presidential nominee ever claimed to stand for the interests of homosexuals, and given the chatter I’ve seen, it is working. Suddenly, a lot of homosexuals now say they feel like they’re included in the platform.

Donald Trump also mentioned by name the interests of the black and Latino communities with regards to trade and historically high immigration, and the crime in inner cities as well as how education options have been very lacking for those communities over the past few decades.

So it was there. I just think he could have spent more time on it, to come out very clearly, for a good period of time, about “succeeding together as Americans.” It was there, but I think he could have done more of it, in contrast to the long-winded anecdotes and fear trip he went on. It was at the moment he started talking about Mike Pence where he should have transitioned into “team America” and broad vision, in my opinion.

The “fact checkers” were out in force, and they once again prove how useless they are in terms of persuasion. For instance, Donald Trump went into the rise in crime in major cities over the past couple of years, saying it was a reversal of a decades-long trend of decline in crime. The “fact checkers” promptly focused on the word “trend” as some kind of rebuttal to the central truth (and emotional power) of the claim that crime has increased. They’re arguing definition of the word “trend,” and definition is the absolute lowest form of persuasion on Scott Adams’ persuasion hierarchy.

They did the same thing with the $800 billion trade deficit claim. Really, they said, it’s only $500 billion.

Is anyone going to change their calculation or decision-making over that? No, of course not.

Overall, the speech was decent, and the platform has wide crossover appeal, but Trump’s delivery and some unnecessarily long tangents and anecdotes made it fall short of something truly spectacular. This moment could have been a big strategic breakthrough (if he had done what was mentioned above), and in my opinion, it failed to deliver on that. The notes on that were there, but they just weren’t strung together to make a symphony.

Night 4 Result: Minor Victory

Convention Wrapup

Donald Trump Republican National Convention entrance Vince McMahon
Cool, but this wasn’t the big strategic breakthrough.

The big strategic breakthrough of the convention was Donald Trump’s children.

I’ll say it flatly, if Donald Trump had the ability to speak like his children, he would now be running unopposed.

Tiffany was flat, but Don Jr., Eric, and Ivanka were all sublime.

This goes back to something Scott Adams talked about – the phenomenon of the “fake because.”

I’m not sure why I hadn’t picked this up before, because I’ve known about this phenomenon before. Firstly, people crave to have a reason for doing something, even if it doesn’t make any logical sense at all. Then there’s the tactic of the “linguistic bind,” which leads the brain down the path of believing a sentence is true even if there’s no logical reason for doing so. For instance:

“The more you sit here, reading this passage, the more you begin to understand that you can’t go on any further in life without reading the amazing persuasion secrets you’ll find in Stumped.

Did you catch that?

Reading this passage has nothing to do with whether you need the persuasion secrets in Stumped in your life, but I’ve just made your brain think it seems credible that you do.

Now you combine this with the word “because” and you have something magic.

“Support Donald Trump for President because his kids are amazing and reflect well on him.”

Now you associate Donald Trump with his kids and give yourself “a reason why” to vote for him. It makes no logical sense, but your brain puts it together as such, and the “because” gives you a reason.

I suspect that many people were on the fence about Donald Trump because while they liked his offer, they didn’t have “a reason” to support him. His kids now give those people a reason. Look to see them more active on the trail. I also expect to see some kind of prime time sit down interview with him and his kids in a swing state like Pennsylvania. Recall that he sat down with his family prior to New York’s primary in April and he outperformed all his polls afterward. His kids were probably a big reason for that. Someone even mentioned there that he was voting for Trump after seeing his family when they sat down for a town hall.

Now there’s even talk among Republicans to run Don Jr. against Bill deBlasio for Mayor of New York City next year. Multiple stars were born.

Trump’s speech didn’t deliver to the extent that I thought it would, but his children did, and that will be the big breakthrough.

The other big breakthrough seems to be that Hillary Clinton’s support dropped after all the attacks against her, and if her support drops while Trump’s remains steady, that’s all he needs to do to win.

On the other hand, Hillary Clinton’s side is trying to make the “dark” linguistic kill shot stick. If it does wind up sticking, then Trump’s speech could be a long term failure. As always, we’ll have to wait and see. But the Republican National Convention was a victory as things stand now.

Kain and Unable

As I expected, Hillary Clinton has chosen Virginia’s senator Tim Kaine as her running mate. What I said still applies. He’s boring, and my initial thought of him was that he’s a beta male. Scott Adams wrote about that:

Clinton will probably win the vote of women. Her problem is men. If you ask a man why he doesn’t like Hillary Clinton, he might say something about her policies and her history. But the persuasion filter says the real reason men don’t like Clinton is that they can’t stand listening to her. Her speaking style reminds men of every bad relationship they have ever had with a woman. We’re all irrational sexists on some level, and Clinton sounds to many male ears like a disgruntled ex-wife, or perhaps your mom who had a really bad day. That’s a problem if you need the male vote.

Now add Tim Kaine to the mix. In our irrational minds – where we compare everything to our personal experience – Kaine will play the part of the beta male husband whose wife can’t stop complaining about her terrible co-worker, Donald Trump. No guy wants to hear eight years of that. They get enough of it at home.

I’ve remarked about Hillary Clinton’s voice in Stumped and how it damages her, but something else came up. On their 60 Minutes interview, you’ll note that Tim Kaine was wearing a pin on his lapel…but it wasn’t the American flag pin that so many other politicians wear. It was a Hillary Clinton logo pin. I saw that and immediately thought “henpecked beta.” My mind instantly told me the story that instead of showing loyalty to his country, Tim Kaine was displaying loyalty to his overlord.

Hillary Clinton Tim Kaine 60 Minutes
Even the headline where I found this image began with the words “Tim Kaine doesn’t mind being the third wheel.”

I can already see this on the wall. The persuasion effectiveness of this ticket is heading toward a cliff as things stand. They need to find something new and better make it stick in August, and then do very well in the debates.

The results of course, are still up for debate, depending on how that all goes.

Not Dark?

Last week also saw numerous terrorist attacks, this time in Germany. First there was an attack on a train by an axe-wielding Afghan “refugee,” then came the shooting in Munich by an “Iranian-German” man that killed nine people, and then, to close out the week, a Syrian “asylum seeker” killed two people, including a pregnant woman, with a machete, and then a rejected fellow Syrian “asylum seeker” blew himself up, killing another. The shooting in Munich was particularly ironic because it came at the exact same time that Barack Obama lambasted Donald Trump for his “dark” speech.

These attacks, now seeming to occur almost every day, create a steady buildup of confirmation bias. They also turned the “dark” linguistic kill shot into a running gag because of their frequency (the gag was also helped by the media collusion to push the “dark” word). All of this favors Donald Trump over Hillary clinton

Again, I don’t want to use the word “victory” in association with these, but each attack prevents the recency effect from favoring Hillary Clinton and her stance on these issues. As these attacks continue to occur, Donald Trump will seem to represent reality – that’s why he was willing to be so outrageous last December by calling for a “Muslim ban.” That call was designed to dominate so much space that he would be the only game in town, anticipating that further incidents would occur that would make his call seem like the rational thing to do, and that’s what you’ve been seeing this year.

And as predicted, he’s already modifying his approach from religion-based to territory-based, even giving himself cover from “racist” by saying that France and Germany had a lot of problems that needed to be looked at too on his Meet the Press interview yesterday:

The DNC Leaks (and the 2016 Persuasion Equation)

Arguably, the biggest and most strategically significant story of the week, even more so than the Republican National Convention, was the leak of thousands of emails from the Democratic National Committee. The emails seemed to confirm what everyone knew anyway – that the mainstream media (including Chuck Todd seen above) is colluding with the DNC, that the DNC actively attempted to undermine Bernie Sanders’ campaign (which included angles of attack based on his religion or lack thereof), that the DNC tried to cover up Hillary Clinton’s relations with Wall Street and wanted “to keep people ignorant,” that Hillary Clinton’s superPACs have to pay people to support her, that the DNC tried to undermine Donald Trump with falsehoods (including with fake craigslist ads that tried to make him seem “misogynistic), that the DNC didn’t really care about its coalition of perpetually aggrieved minorities (one email referred to Hispanics as “taco bowls” and another basically dehumanized them and turned them into loyal consumers), and much more. I’ll leave you a few choice emails:

DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz got sacked yesterday. In a move which further highlights her stunning incompetence, Hillary Clinton named Schultz to an honorary senior post in her campaign, fully confirming Donald Trump’s “crooked Hillary” and “rigged system” linguistic kill shots. It’s even worse than that because my mom’s immediate reaction was that Schultz “had something” on Hillary, so she needed to be placated. That’s even more damning, and a sign that many other people perceive this, which is toxic for Hillary Clinton’s brand.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz wikileaks

More leaks are supposedly coming. The Democrats have tried to blame the Russians for the hack, saying that they wanted to influence the election. This is a smart persuasion play, especially in light of Trump’s recent NATO comments which rattled a lot of people. Shifting Donald Trump from “literally Hitler” to “a pawn of Putin” is smart, as unlike Hitler, “a pawn of Putin” is an entirely new angle, and it’s very effective. Let’s do some “persuasion math.” To illustrate, the equation we’ve seen thus far goes like this:


Hillary Clinton beats Adolf Hitler in an election, handily, so Hillary Clinton’s “side” (to quote Scott Adams) has been trying to warp the equation to Trump = Hitler.  However, Hillary Clinton loses to Donald Trump. All Donald Trump needs to do then, is make sure that Trump ≠ Hitler. He is well on his way to that, and “Trump = Hitler” is something he can continue to counter. Recall that I said Hillary Clinton is fast approaching the point of diminishing returns, if not there already, when it comes to making Trump more scary, but that Donald Trump can make himself seem less scary at leisure. This, in my opinion, was the major error in his speech, as I’m not entirely sure it did that to the best extent that it could have.

Regardless, if Trump ≠ Hitler, then Hillary would have to prove that Hillary Clinton ≠ Hillary Clinton, which is impossible.

Yet, there was no rule that ever said an element couldn’t be added to the equation, and Trump = Putin, or a pawn of Putin, is an entirely new play, and entirely brilliant. This tactic has been on my mind for a while prior to the DNC leak, and indeed, we’ve seen rumblings of it before, but we’re now starting to see it really bubble. If the equation becomes Trump = Putin or a pawn of Putin, Hillary probably wins (it depends on how much people really care about and are afraid of Russia). So the updated equation looks like this:


It’s an entirely new fear tactic, free of the cobwebs and snarky, eye-rolling dismissals that usually (and rightly) accompany the “everyone I don’t like is Hitler” tactic that both the left and the right have been fond of for decades.

However, Trump = Putin or a pawn of Putin is not going to fly with the DNC leaks, and I’ll tell you why.

  1. It looks like a desperate attempt to shift attention away from your own shenanigans and wrongdoing if you’re on the Democrat team. The fact that the media has been “caught colluding” with the DNC only makes this more apparent.
  2. Even if somehow the hacks were from Russia, they’d have nothing to use if the DNC elites weren’t corrupt in the first place, which confirms Donald Trump’s “rigged system” linguistic kill shot.
  3. Most damaging of all, if the Russians did hack the DNC servers, you tell yourself that they almost certainly hacked the private email server belonging to Hillary Clinton, which, by the authority of FBI Director Comey, was far less secure than the DNC servers or even a free email service like gmail. What does that mean? It means that Hillary Clinton endangered national security and more, you begin to think that the Russians probably have that blackmail file on her that Donald Trump said they had, which disqualifies her for office.

And the timing of the Wikileaks releases couldn’t be more damaging, heading right into the Democratic National Convention, and more are on the way.

But the most damning thing of all about the DNC leaks was the confirmation bias. Because of these improprieties, our brains are prone to think any accusation of impropriety from the DNC is now true.

This email, unlike the others, is actually fake, but as you can see, many people, even when I stated on the tweet itself that it was fake, thought that it was real. Even I thought it was real at first. It’s total confirmation bias because what the DNC did makes this fake email look plausibly real.

Now anything that looks slightly suspicious will confirm “Crooked Hillary and “rigged system,” even if completely untrue. For a candidate that close to 70% of Americans think is dishonest and untrustworthy, this is a disaster of the highest order.

Result: Decisive Victory

If you read this to the end, I’ll bet you liked this analysis, so read Stumped because you’re going to like it too.

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