Like you, I’ve watched with amusement as the Democrats, frothing with a still-waxing derangement, have stumbled into tar pit after tar pit. There certainly has been a lot of movement in the race since the last update, right? And yet, that movement probably improved Trump’s chances, because the Democratic Party is that inept.
This article contains…
- A look at the state of the Democratic Party.
- A look at Trump’s strategic position.
- An assessment of Trump’s success in fulfilling his campaign promises.
The Democratic Royal Rumble continues and last-minute entrants are disappointing!
I once again recommend this article for some of the terms I’ll be using. Politics and professional wrestling are basically the same art form. Namely, the craft is about projecting a persona and making it popular (called “getting over”) with certain fans, often by ripping opponents on the microphone in talking (“promo”) battles.
Last time, Elizabeth Warren looked poised to win the Democratic Royal Rumble. She had come back from her 1/1024 self-immolation and overcame her own awkward persona to become the fan favorite.
And then she released her Medicare for all plan. At the time, I said this:
Warren rolling out her Medicare for all plan was the biggest persuasion mistake of her campaign. It might sink her.
It gave opponents A TON of targets to attack and undercut the optimistic energy of the idea. She went from selling benefits to selling features. #ThursdayThoughts
— J.M. Carpenter (@Duke_Libertas) November 7, 2019
Sure enough, in the month since, her polls sunk everywhere. One of the first persuasion lessons you learn is to sell benefits, not features. People don’t buy a drill because of its cool, state of the art motor. They buy it because of the holes it can drill for them.
Notice that during his campaign, Donald Trump never said how he was going to do it, just that he was going to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it. Talking about how would have been a mistake. That would have been going from selling benefits to selling features. Since people wanted the benefit, he left enough room for them to imagine the features that would make it work. Vagueness appeals to people’s fantasies.
That’s what Warren was doing in the summer. She was bringing aspirational energy to the healthcare debate, posing as a person who would fight for the downtrodden. This exchange with John Delaney was the best example of her gimmick:
Medicare for all was her signature campaign promise. She would fight the evil corporations jacking up prices and make sure everyone got healthcare. Medicare for all was bold and she would fight for it. What’s the point of running if you won’t fight?
Cutting promos like that get you over with the leftist base and it was working. Although she had plateaued by the fall, she was still in a good position. Then she released the plan and suddenly, it looked as unworkable as her opponents accused it of being. Confirmation bias now worked against her. Now instead of going on offense, she was playing defense. Vagueness is also useful for persuasion because it minimizes the targets for opponents to attack. Now, there were plenty of things to attack. As if awakening from a stupor, her support cratered.
In addition to flailing on her signature campaign promise, Warren’s personal brand, it turns out, indeed wasn’t strong enough to keep from falling prey to a dynamic I outlined in Stumped’s sixth chapter:
It’s likely that lesser-recognized brands do not benefit as much from repetition in advertising as more familiar brands do. In fact, they may even be hurt by such repetition over time. This could explain to a large degree why Trump was not what most media figures and academics, including me, thought he was at first. Almost everyone thought he was the “summer flameout” insurgent candidate, the type that quickly rises to the top of the polls but then craters a relatively short time later. These insurgents – the Michelle Bachmanns and Herman Cains of the world, were unfamiliar brands, and the “bump” they received from their advertising brought them up initially. Yet, because they were unfamiliar brands, their ad repetition proved less effective and then counterproductive over the long term, as viewers experienced “wearout,” began to formulate counterarguments against them, and perceived their ad tactics negatively.
I thought this might happen in the last episode of this series and indeed, it looks like it has.
Elizabeth Warren isn’t out yet, but she’s on the ground and trying to get back up. With “wearout” in place and the cornerstone of her campaign undercut, her chances suddenly look grim.
But Warren’s fall leaves the Democrats in a pickle and I now have to retract an earlier prediction I made. I can now no longer definitively say that Joe Biden won’t be the nominee. He’s old, tired, lacking in basic lucidity, and has no real offer to the electorate, but he does have an established brand that won’t lose effectiveness due to advertising repetition, just because everyone knows who he is.
I thought that another Democratic candidate would get over enough to nullify this, to the point where Joe Biden’s manifest weaknesses would reach a point that disqualified him in comparison. But the field is so weak that no one has been able to actually get over.
Pete Buttigieg surged in the wake of Warren’s fall, but even more than her, he’s a flavor of the month. He has no support outside the affluent urban enclaves of the super woke (and the super white). And yes, despite all politically correct pretensions to the contrary, his homosexuality does make him a problem with black voters.
This leaves a scenario where Joe Biden might just stumble his way into the nomination because of the field’s weakness and reflexive brand recognition rather than his own virtues. He’s basically the McDonald’s of left wing politics. It doesn’t excite you, but you know it, and it isn’t going anywhere.
And he was back at it again this past week, this time insulting a voter.
Yes, the possibility is open for this weak, boring, doddering fool to run against the Republicans’ charismatic force of nature. I’m suddenly reminded of Jon Moxley vs. Michael Nakazawa on AEW Dynamite last month.
As Scott Adams said a few weeks ago, you might as well not even have an election if Joe Biden gets the nomination. But can anyone prevent him from limping through?
Bernie Sanders is still hanging in there, despite his recent trip to the hospital. That’s another example of the power of a brand. Bernie has a durable one because everyone remembers him from 2016, where his message got over huge. He’s also lucid and that matters. He’s still in a good position. He’d be a much more formidable opponent for Trump than Biden, that’s for sure. As of December 2019, I slightly favor him to be the nominee.
Nevertheless, the Party establishment still hates him, and Elizabeth Warren is still eating into the support he needs to conquer Biden. One or the other of them must be eliminated to make that possible, and Biden might still limp through. Or, even worse, all three might limp on and ensure a hung Democratic convention, contested between two old socialists and one old fool that doesn’t look like he knows where he is.
This reality having become apparent, some Democrats sitting on the sidelines decided they needed to get involved, becoming last minute entrants into the Rumble to see if they just might be able to save this thing from disaster. Most notably, Michael Bloomberg got in.
He has infinite money, which he’s using to effect, but I don’t think his brand is strong enough to make the most of the spending. Where he is known, Bloomberg has the dubious quality of being hated by crucial voting blocks in either party across the country.
- Rural and working class white voters hate him because he’s a gun grabber and micromanager with his soda bans.
- Black and Hispanic voters hate him because of stop and frisk.
- The white woke “intelligentsia” hates him because of the same reason and because he’s not woke enough.
That leaves his constituency as hedge fund guys and defense contractors – not nearly enough to win.
If Michael Bloomberg is the #30 entrant in the Democrats’ Royal Rumble, he’s basically Rey Mysterio in 2014 or Roman Reigns in 2017 and getting the same reaction.
But is Bloomberg really the last entrant? Will Hillary get in and hope the third time’s the charm? After all, the Clinton Foundation is running short of funds, she’s suddenly a “favorite” now, and she was cheated the last time, right?! It wouldn’t make much of a difference. Just watch what happens to her if she’s stupid enough to get involved again.
Would the Democrats get a savior in Michelle Obama? Doubtful, but time will tell.
As of now, the weakest, most pathetic field I’ve ever seen has only gotten weaker and more pathetic throughout the autumn.
Trump’s position is strengthening
To make matters even worse for the Democrats, Trump’s already strong position is getting stronger, despite “impeachment” hysteria.
To look at that position, we have to look at the fundamentals that actually determine elections, not polls (particularly this far out) and certainly not hysterical news cycles. Those fundamentals are outlined toward the end of Stumped.
1. Pendulum: The candidate benefiting from the pendulum effect, the reaction against the previous regime, will usually win.
The first thing we should do is determine whether or not there is a pendulum, and if so, how strong that pendulum is, against President Trump. The pendulum sets the marketplace, determining in large part what audiences the candidates can persuade and what they need to sell to them.
Once more, Alan Lichtman’s “Keys to the White House” system is the most useful way of determining the existence or strength of a pendulum. The keys system has successfully predicted elections for decades, including 2016, so it has some weight.
There are 13 of these “keys.” If five or less are false, the incumbent party is expected to retain the White House. If six or more are false, the challenger is expected to win.
1. Party Mandate: After the midterm elections, the incumbent party holds more seats in the U.S. House of Representatives than after the previous midterm elections.
2. Contest: There is no serious contest for the incumbent party nomination.
True. A “serious contest” entails an insurgent candidate getting a third of the delegates to the incumbent party’s convention. Good luck getting this with Donald Trump having 95% approval within the Republican Party.
3. Incumbency: The incumbent party candidate is the sitting president.
True. No amount of “muh impeachment” hysteria is going to change this.
4. Third party: There is no significant third party or independent campaign.
True. “Significant” means that a third party gets 5% of the vote. So far, no sign of this.
5. Short term economy: The economy is not in recession during the election campaign.
6. Long term economy: Real per capita economic growth during the term equals or exceeds mean growth during the previous two terms.
True. I wonder where all that “muh yield curve/recession” talk went since last time?
7. Policy change: The incumbent administration affects major changes in national policy.
True according to Lichtman, the originator of the model.
8. Social unrest: There is no sustained social unrest during the term.
9. Scandal: The incumbent administration is untainted by major scandal.
To be conservative, and to avoid arrogance as best as possible, I’ve updated this post to take account of Lichtman subsequently saying this key is now triggered due to impeachment. I think Lichtman might be overstating the results of his own theory here due to his emotional connection to this (he wrote a book arguing for impeachment long before this latest “scandal”). I’ll also point out that his prediction assumed that Trump would take big damage in a Senate impeachment trial, which appears like it won’t be the case. As such, I still don’t think this will turn any votes against the president, and my original thoughts are retained as to the reasons why.
It was my error to assume that the cretins in Washington wouldn’t try to manufacture another “scandal” after the Russia hoax fell flat. After all, they see the same data I do. They know the Democratic field is awful. They know that historical, economic, and social indicators all point to an easy victory for President Trump. And because they hate him so much, they can’t allow that to happen without a dirty trick or two.
If they could manufacture one hoax, why not two?
Days after my September update came out, we heard about a “whistleblower” who had damning information about the president from a phone call with Ukraine, pertaining to investigating Joe Biden. My antennae were tripped. I knew enough about persuasion and the hoax apparatus to have spotted something fishy.
Then we found out that the “whistleblower” didn’t have first hand knowledge.
Then we found out that the guidelines for a “whistleblower” complaint were conveniently altered to allow hearsay, which this was.
Then we found out that the “whistleblower” had contact with Pencil Neck Adam Schiff’s staff.
This moved to a full blown “impeachment” hearing fast, though. It finally gave the Democrats the pretext they needed to do what they’ve wanted to do all along. After Mueller failed so spectacularly, they weren’t going to wait around this time. As soon as Nancy Pelosi announced an “inquiry,” this was a foregone conclusion. The rest was just a Soviet show trial.
But show trials are done for a reason. They’re used as a propaganda device, meant to persuade. Having had the initial shock of the revelation, Democrats needed to consolidate support for impeachment among persuadable voters quickly.
But the hearings in November were boring and Republicans destroyed the “witnesses,” who proved to be a bunch of incoherent, sneering bureaucrats. In the Rhetoric, Aristotle says that you need to be aware of both your own and your audience’s characters and how the latter sees themselves to be successful at the craft.
Americans hate bureaucrats, especially sniveling, condescending, and incompetent ones. We saw all of that in the hearings. The result was that the Soviet show trial backfired. It was a show of corruption and incompetence. None of the Democrats’ “bombshells” exploded. They were firing duds. The November-December show trials were about as effective as Liv Morgan was against Asuka.
The whole saga has been one incompetent debacle after another, sprinkled with a healthy dose of naked corruption. That’s one hell of a fatal combination, and after the Russia hoax, the Republicans in Washington and the wider public weren’t in a buying mood. The result was that support for impeachment cratered during the time when Democrats needed it to spike, as the wider American public, and most importantly, independent and swing state voters, saw the sham for what it is.
The Democrats’ hearings went so badly that they couldn’t even channel attention to, and therefore increase the importance, of one concept without it being destroyed. First it was the confusing term “quid pro quo.” When that was successfully counterattacked, it was “bribery.” That didn’t last long. The end result is that the final “articles of impeachment” are so obviously ad-hoc and meaningless that no one will be able to fill in the vague blanks but the Democrats’ own base. Everyone else sees a party stumbling to cobble together an excuse for their predetermined outcome.
Democrats will impeach Donald Trump – they have no choice. They’ve invested too heavily. To not impeach would be to lose the support of their rabid, insane base. But you can tell, just by watching Nancy Pelosi’s stiff, defensive body language, and snappy behavior, just how little confidence she has. But she’s lost control of her party. She is Speaker in Name Only. She has to ride the tiger or get eaten. She’ll survive, but many of her colleagues won’t, as her fragile majority is now threatened.
My biggest fear now is that the Senate Republicans won’t use this opportunity to turn the tables by calling cretins like Schiff and the “whitsleblower” (reputedly Brennan goon Eric Ciaramella) as witnesses in the trial. Why permit the Democrats to crow about how the GOP is protecting the president at all costs instead of exposing their wrongdoing even further? I guess swamp rats will protect their own and the GOP’s pussified nature is only slowly evaporating.
But either way, not only have Democrats failed to turn “muh Ukraine!” into a scandal, they look like they’ve created a scandal on themselves, as their frothing grows worse and their connection to reality more fragile. This isn’t going to move any votes against Trump in the election, and in the worst case for the Democrats, could move votes against them.
Alan Lichtman said an impeachment would trigger the scandal key, but with respect to him, this has just been so corrupt and incompetent that it won’t. The fact that the public moved against the Democrats at the height of their impeachment power proved it.
Maybe some new revelation could come out that changes everything, but I’m not betting on it.
The bigger question now is what the next hoax will be in the attempt to create a new “scandal?” You know we’ll get one.
10. Foreign/military failure: The incumbent administration suffers no major failure in foreign or military affairs.
True. So far, so good.
11. Foreign/military success: The incumbent administration achieves a major success in foreign or military affairs.
True. Quietly, amidst the impeachment mass hysteria, one of the few keys that Trump was lacking fell into line. To pretend like they’re doing something other than enacting their visceral Trump hatred, Democrats will pass the USMCA trade agreement, replacing NAFTA. That should be big enough to count, given how big of a campaign promise that was (more later).
Still no movement on North Korea, though, and I’m skeptical of a China trade deal (the goal might be not to get one, and to induce decoupling, which would qualify). Either way, USMCA should count.
12. Incumbent charisma: The incumbent party candidate is charismatic or a national hero.
False. Again, Lichtman’s definition, not mine. I won’t tell him how to define his own model.
13. Challenger charisma: The challenging party candidate is not charismatic or a national hero.
True. None of these dorks have the needed charisma to get this key. That’s clear now.
Conclusion: No pendulum. In fact, Trump’s position has gotten stronger since September with the addition of the foreign policy success key.
The other Stumped persuasion factors
There are eight other persuasion factors. Let’s now take a look at how the president compares to the Democratic field.
2. Recognition of the irrational: Humans are usually not acting as rational, self-interested agents, but can be influenced by many, often completely irrational factors. Visceral cues are far more potent than rational ones.
Elizabeth Warren proved she doesn’t understand this by releasing the Medicare for all plan. Bernie Sanders is the only one that looks like he could be a remote threat on this front right now. A technocrat like Bloomberg doesn’t live in this world. Biden doesn’t look like he can recognize anything.
3. Tribal leadership: Humans are tribal animals that organize themselves in teams and in/out-groups. In such a structure, the strongest tribal leader, the one who inspires feelings in supporters that they’d want to follow him into battle, will usually have the most alluring leadership appeal. This is a factor closely related to masculinity. Thus, the candidate that can telegraph this strong, often masculine leadership ability will usually win.
Trump stomps everybody on this. There’s really no contest. It’s like comparing a molehill to Mount Olympus. This is important. It was one of the reasons why Boris Johnson crushed everybody in the recent UK election:
In a certain way, the win of Boris, with his uber-masculine persona compared to a Marxist gardener, or a Guardian- and Jezebel-designed feminist, was something that Britain almost forgot exists. People still like leaders. And leaders should lead. It was a harkening back to 1980s-style conservatism, a focus on Reagan-Thatcher messaging of free trade, with a sublime Gordon Gekko aggression, but a promise to look after the working class left out by globalization.
4. Spatial dominance: Problems arise that people seek answers to, and communications are the key to power. The candidate that dominates the most space on the issues people want solved and the communicational space upon which they are intermediated with will usually win.
Hilariously, the Democrats’ impeachment hysteria has aided Trump’s already strong advantage in this area. Just as he would like, he’s making himself the center of the Democratic Party’s thoughts, and they have to react to him in turn, rather than try to get their own personas and messages over. This is the basis of Stumped’s second chapter. They’re playing right into his hands.
And by the time they stop, and try to focus attention on their own messages (and thus elevate their importance), they may be too late.
5. Frame control: The candidate who has the strongest offense and the stronger frame to impose his will and deflect criticism will usually win.
Good luck to any of these candidates trying to match Trump in this.
6. Charisma: The more charismatic candidate, naturally or otherwise, will usually win.
Trump might not be charismatic according to Lichtman’s keys due to his divisive nature, but this lot is a charisma void spanning a billion light years.
7. Social proof: The candidate with the strongest social proof will usually win.
No one is even in the same universe as Trump is right now. We’ll see what happens.
8. Personal brand: The candidate with the strongest, better-known personal brand will usually win.
Only Biden has a brand as durable as Trump’s, so in that matchup, this factor might be a wash. Bernie’s brand is probably durable enough to ensure some support and repeat advertising effectiveness, but maybe not enough.
No other candidate is on that tier. Bloomberg wouldn’t be even if he made it to the line. Most people have probably heard of him, but probably not by enough to truly get behind him and not experience “wearout” in his messaging.
9. Best offer: The candidate with the strongest perceived offer to the most concerning issues of the time, the ones that people react to in the most visceral, rather than cerebral way, will usually win.
Elizabeth Warren didn’t go in on her message to break up big tech, at least not enough to raise its prominence. Bernie Sanders does have an offer that excites some people, but the fate of Jeremy Corbyn is definitely looming large. The parallels are there.
I still don’t know what the offers of anyone else are besides “hate Trump.”
Good luck using that to compete with the “Keep America Great” message.
How successfully did Trump fulfill his campaign promises?
Every incumbent president needs to campaign on how well he’s fulfilled his campaign promises. Since we’re now at the end of Trump’s third year in office, now’s the best time to gauge how successful Trump’s been.
Here are some of the major ones from 2016.
1. Make the economy great again. – A
Undoubtedly, this is Trump’s biggest accomplishment. Not only have jobs been created at a consistent pace, but more importantly, manufacturing ones have been, and real wages are actually going up for the first time in at least a decade. Workers on the lowest end of the pay scale are seeing their earnings rise faster than their counterparts on the highest end. People are saying they’re better off than they were four years ago. That’s always what an incumbent president wants to hear.
Crediting any president for the economy, good or bad, is at least questionable, but the perception is what matters.
2.Tax reform – A
The 2017 tax bill wasn’t as perfect as his supporters would have liked, but most people got a tax cut, and money from overseas was repatriated.
3. Trade – A
Trump promised in 2016 that he was going to rip up America’s terrible trade deals and restructure our trading relationships. From getting out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership to replacing NAFTA with the USMCA to finally hitting back at China, Trump is doing everything he promised.
4. Supreme Court – A
Trump promised to appoint two conservative textualists to the Court. Promises made, promises kept. Brett Kavanaugh became a symbol of defiance in the process. Trump has realigned the lower courts too, with him having now appointed 25% of the nation’s federal judges.
5. Energy independence – A
Trump lifted impediments to oil production and this year, for the first time in many decades, the United States exported more oil than it imported. We no longer need the oil from the Persian Gulf to remain secure. The dream is now reality.
6. “Build a wall and make Mexico pay for it.” – C
I was prepared to give Trump an F on this, his biggest campaign promise, at the beginning of the year, but since then, he’s fought tooth and nail to get some of it up. Right now, there are 89 miles constructed with 509 to be built. You can track the progress here. There’ve been some recent shenanigans with court injunctions, like always, but I expect Trump to win those battles and get more up by Election Day, by whatever means he can, so his grade may yet improve. Illegal immigration has plummeted by 70% from the year’s highs.
I think everyone understood that the “make Mexico pay for it” was just for fun, but now with USMCA, Trump can believably claim that he’s indeed gotten Mexico to pay for it, even though the factual basis of that is likely bullshit. The important thing is that it keeps the fantasy alive.
7. Foreign policy (non-trade) – C
This has been one of the disappointments of Trump’s presidency. ISIS has been obliterated and that’s big, but one of Trump’s major promises was that he would wind down these Middle Eastern wars and bring our troops home, focusing on our own priorities. So far, he hasn’t been able to do so. Eisenhower’s Military (and “Intelligence”) Industrial Complex has tried to stop him at every turn.
On other fronts, allies are paying more, but once again, the old assumptions Trump campaigned against have been reaffirmed, most noxiously the hysteria about Russia. All of that has prevented America from fully concentrating its resources against the real threat on the world stage – an expansionist China.
But Trump has also prevented new wars from breaking out and limited America’s involvement in Syria to the best of his ability. He’s also done more to confront China than any other president has. It’s long overdue.
Overall, the record is mixed, but it’s far better than Hillary’s would have been. She would have gotten us deeper into Syria and ignored the threat of China. That means we’re better off, foreign policy wise, for having chosen Trump.
8. “Repeal and replace Obamacare.” – F
We all remember this debacle. It was the principle reason why the Democrats took back the House last year. The Republicans better come up with a workable healthcare plan that expands coverage and lowers prices this time around. Trump has done his best with prescription drugs (the cost of which has gone down for the first time in a while) and price transparency, but the healthcare promise was so indelibly branded with “Obamacare” that it won’t matter.
9. “Rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure.” – F
This was a constant promise. So far, it hasn’t happened.
10. “Drain the swamp.” – F
The catchphrase that got super over toward the end of the campaign has, unfortunately, been Trump’s biggest failure. From day one, personnel selection in this administration has been terrible. Instead of putting in principled America first populists, his White House has been filled to the brim with Obama holdovers and Conservatism, Inc. wet noodles. That’s the reason why he’s been so embroiled in coup attempts.
Perhaps the swamp is self-draining, but it isn’t draining fast enough, and that’s ultimately on him.
Overall – C+
Forecast (Q4 2019)
As the grade implies, Trump has disappointed in some ways, but has also kept major promises to his supporters. His record on campaign promises suggest more vulnerability than the other data, but he’s certainly favored compared to the Democrat charisma vacuums. The question now is whether the public still wants his promises or wants to buy something else, like some kind of vague “return to normalcy.”
Unfortunately for the Democrats, they don’t have a good candidate to sell a “return to normalcy.”
And I don’t think the public wants to buy a far left revolution, either, though that is where the Democratic base’s energy is. Furthermore, even the sellers of that aren’t good.
Perhaps there’s some hidden black swan I don’t see, or revulsion of Trump’s personality will move enough voters away from him regardless of how terrible his opponents are, but we can only go from the historical data and what we know about persuasion.
And the historical and psychological data mostly points in one direction. Trump is in a good position that has grown stronger in recent months.
With their impeachment farce, the Democratic Party is successfully reinforcing the persona that Trump’s always wanted to play – the rough and tumble anti-hero who might use underhanded methods, but who nevertheless fights for the right cause. Think a Stone Cold Steve Austin or Jon Moxley figure fighting for the high ideals of John Cena or Daniel Bryan. Good luck to the Democrats beating a character like that with their boring, unmasculine, self-righteous group of technocrats and socialists.
Do you honestly think any of the characters the Democrats are playing would beat this guy?
P.S.: This promo was chosen deliberately. Its content sounds reminiscent of recent events, doesn’t it?
To deep dive into all things elections and persuasion, read Stumped, which predicted Trump’s victory last time.