Friday, July 22, 2016

What we learned about Trump’s general election strategy from his acceptance speech

Trump revealed a lot about his general election strategy in his acceptance speech at the convention.  The speech has been described by just about everyone as “dark,” a pessimistic and frightful image of the present and future of America.  That is just exactly what Trump intended.  That’s his strategy for the general election campaign. To understand why, you have to understand who his supporters are and what they tell about Trump’s success so far and the keys to his victory in November.

Compared to Democrats and the nation as a whole, Trump supporters are more likely to be male, over 50, White, earn less than $50,000 per year and have less than a college education (half of these with less than a high school education).

They are more likely than Americans in general to:
·         Fear that they or a family member of their family will be a victim of terrorism
·         Believe that the American way of life has changed for the worse since the 1950s
·         Think that there is too much foreign influence on the American way of life
·         Say they feel uncomfortable around people who do not speak English
·         Believe that the values of Islam are at odds with the American way of life
·         Think immigrants are a burden on America
·         Believe immigrants increase crime
·         Believe their financial prospects for the future are bleak

Trump’s supporters overwhelming represent the segment of American society that feels the greatest loss from the 2008 recession and the least sense that things have improved very much for them or their families since the recession. 

These Americans are fearful of the future, anxious about the present, confused about what is happening to their country and angry that the American way of life seems to be changing in ways they don’t understand but that they believe will make their future lives worse not better.

When people feel fearful, anxious, confused and angry, they are highly vulnerable to anyone who comes along and offers to help them make sense of the situation..  They gravitate toward a charismatic leader who says he can explain to them what is happening, why it is happening, and how he—and he alone—can fix what is wrong. Trump’s success is largely a result of his ability to play that role to a greater extent than any other candidate in the Republican Party.  That’s why he is the party’s nominee instead of Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush or any of the others.

But, there is a problem for Trump when it comes to the general election.  The majority of Americans don’t share the fears and anxieties about American and their future, at least not anywhere near the level of Trump supporters. 

Trump can’t win the general election without expanding his base of supporters.  Since he doesn’t really have any positive policy goals to offer, he can’t expand his base by offering a vision of a new and exciting future.  He can only offer himself as the strongman who can vanquish evil and restore American to a storybook and largely imaginary past, before the “evil ones” came along and destroyed the Greatness that was America.

Donald Trump’s strategy to win the general election is clear.  He has to spread confusion, fear, and anger.  He has to make a lot more Americans sufficiently fearful of their future and worried about the present to give him power and willingly submit to his control.  That is how he intends to win.  In fact, it is the only way he can win.

If Democrats allow Trump to sell his doom and gloom message, they are doomed.  If there ever was a time for a convincing argument that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” and that “happy days are here again” or just around the corner, it is now.

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