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Home/Rod Dreher/Trump the ‘Clown Genius’

Trump the ‘Clown Genius’

Now, here is some interesting thinking by Scott Adams, who has a theory about why Donald Trump will win the GOP nomination, and the presidency. For Adams, it’s all about Trump’s skill as a persuader, and how Trump uses his weaknesses to perform jiu-jitsu on his opponents. Excerpts:

And what did you think of Trump’s famous “Rosie O’Donnell” quip at the first debate when asked about his comments on women? The interviewer’s questions were intended to paint Trump forever as a sexist pig. But Trump quickly and cleverly set the “anchor” as Rosie O’Donnell, a name he could be sure was not popular with his core Republican crowd. And then he casually admitted, without hesitation, that he was sure he had said other bad things about other people as well.

Now do you see how the anchor works? If the idea of “Trump insults women” had been allowed to pair in your mind with the nice women you know and love, you would hate Trump. That jerk is insulting my sister, my mother, and my wife! But Trump never let that happen. At the first moment (and you have to admit he thinks fast) he inserted the Rosie O’Donnell anchor and owned the conversation from that point on. Now he’s not the sexist who sometimes insults women; he’s the straight-talker who won’t hesitate to insult someone who has it coming (in his view).

But it gets better. You probably cringed when Trump kept saying his appearance gave FOX its biggest audience rating. That seemed totally off point for a politician, right? But see what happened.

Apparently FOX chief Roger Ailes called Trump and made peace. And by that I mean Trump owns FOX for the rest of the campaign because his willingness to appear on their network will determine their financial fate. BAM, Trump owns FOX and paid no money for it. See how this works? That’s what a strong brand gives you.

It’s not that Adams supports Trump; it’s that he sees Trump as a supreme salesman, which is to say, as a master manipulator of psychology. More:

If you’re keeping score, in the past month Trump has bitch-slapped the entire Republican Party, redefined our expectations of politics, focused the national discussion on immigration, proposed the only new idea for handling ISIS, and taken functional control of FOX News. And I don’t think he put much effort into it. Imagine what he could do if he gave up golf.

You’ll want to read the whole thing, if only because this is fun to talk about.

Contrast this with George F. Will’s scathing column bashing Trump as a “counterfeit Republican.” Excerpt:

In every town large enough to have two traffic lights there is a bar at the back of which sits the local Donald Trump, nursing his fifth beer and innumerable delusions. Because the actual Donald Trump is wealthy, he can turn himself into an unprecedentedly and incorrigibly vulgar presidential candidate. It is his right to use his riches as he pleases. His squalid performance and its coarsening of civic life are costs of freedom that an open society must be prepared to pay.

When, however, Trump decided that his next acquisition would be not another casino but the Republican presidential nomination, he tactically and quickly underwent many conversions of convenience (concerning abortion, health care, funding Democrats, etc.). His makeover demonstrates that he is a counterfeit Republican and no conservative.

He is an affront to anyone devoted to the project William F. Buckley began six decades ago with the founding in 1955 of National Review — making conservatism intellectually respectable and politically palatable. Buckley’s legacy is being betrayed by invertebrate conservatives now saying that although Trump “goes too far,” he has “tapped into something,” and therefore …

Therefore what? This stance — if a semi-grovel can be dignified as a stance — is a recipe for deserved disaster. Recall Henry Wallace and Strom Thurmond “tapped into” things.

Hmm. Maybe a lot fewer right-of-center voters care about either the reputation of the Republican Party or the Buckley legacy than we thought. I mean, I’m not a Republican but I think Will is mostly right. Yet I wonder to what extent that’s because I simply cannot imagine a Trump presidency — and therefore, that the problem is not Trump as it is my limited imagination. After all, they said America would never elect a B-movie actor as president, didn’t they? Conservatives like Will (and me) who sniff at Trump remind me of conservatives in Louisiana who sniffed at the grotesqueries of Huey P. Long — who, genius populist that he was, rode their sneers all the way to the governor’s mansion.

Don’t get me wrong, I still believe Trump is bound to blow himself sky-high. I hope he does. But could it be that we are in such an advanced state of decadence that Trump may, well, trump all of us critics? Politico has a collection of the Trumpiest Trump comments ever. Note this one, from 1990:

“There are two publics as far as I’m concerned. The real public and then there’s the New York society horseshit. The real public has always liked Donald Trump. The real public feels that Donald Trump is going through Trump-bashing. When I go out now, forget about it. I’m mobbed. It’s bedlam.”

UPDATE: Some good comments on this thread. Here’s one from Tag Murphy:

I got a taste of Trump’s methods back in 1989 when I was working as a banker for Chase Manhattan in Tokyo. I had helped arrange financing for 18 of America West’s airplanes in the Japanese market. I got a call at home early one morning from Mike Conway, America West’s president, saying he wanted my help in putting together a financing package for a bid America West planned to make for what was then known as the Eastern shuttle. (The shuttle between La Guardia and Boston/Washington). I got to work but within a day the word came down from New York that we were not to do anything on behalf of America West’s bid. Mike Conway told me a few months later (after I had left Chase) that he had run into Trump (Trump ended up buying the shuttle and renamed it the “Trump Shuttle”) and Trump had crowed to him something to the effect that “you had Chase backing you on your bid, didn’t you? Well, I took care of them.” Apparently, Trump had threatened to pull all his real estate business with Chase (a lot of business) if Chase supported America West’s bid. This kind of thing happens all the time in finance, but what puzzled me then was that Trump would actually go out of his way to brag about it to Mike Conway. Maybe I shouldn’t have been puzzled — as Adams’s article suggests (thanks for linking that; I wouldn’t have seen it otherwise) Trump resorts to a mix of intimidation and braggadocio almost by instinct and he is a genius at it. While it’s hard not to enjoy watching pompous asses like Will rub their hands and wipe their brows at what “movement conservatism” has brought into being (not to mention seeing the curtain ripped from Fox “News”), anyone who thinks that Trump’s rise is just a rip-roaring good spectacle deserves what is coming to all of us.

This one from Richard, which includes a quote from reader J_A1979:

J_A wrote: “Maybe no one else says anything useful to the people in two-light towns. Maybe Trump doesn’t either, but the last thing beer drinkers in two-light town need is capital gains tax cuts, union busting, reductions in overtime and minimum salary, wars in the Middle East, and to repeal Obamacare and replace it with *cricket sounds*.”

J_A, yours is the most trenchant comment in this thread so far this evening – not that the others are bad, but I think you nailed it. I think Trump could well be goofing everyone. I’m not sure – other than maintaining his brand and his fortune – that he has anything remotely resembling a principle. He’s a marketer, and he’s giving customers what he sees that they want.

And not only is no one else doing that, for most of the Republican bus (I’ll be polite), they’re serving up talking points that had coffee stains on them when they were handed to Mitt Romney four years ago.

Commentary’s Peter Wehner wrote a serious denunciation of Trump as a “populist”, not a “conservative” that really outdid George Will. But the conservative movement has been sowing these seeds for years, selling bread and circuses to the masses through talk radio, and serving up war for the crony capitalists in the defense and security industries, and protection for the corporations that invest in China (and how is that working out for ya?).

It’s hard not to look at this election right now and not see strange echoes of Europe in the 20’s. Maybe I’m wrong, but this could turn out to be our 21st Century.

Sobering.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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