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Trump Persuasion Alert: The Bush-Slayer Comment - Scott Adams' Blog

Trump Persuasion Alert: The Bush-Slayer Comment

This article explains how Trump has decided to call Jeb Bush a “low energy” candidate.

That’s a linguistic kill shot. If you live to be a hundred, you will never see a better linguistic move.

No candidate can recover from the low-energy label. Trump ended Bush with two words. Now, even if Trump stumbles, Bush won’t be the one that surges to the front. From now on, Bush’s campaign hat is an anvil.

You might think I am exaggerating. Politicians label opponents all the time. Usually the labels have to do with policies, personality, intelligence, or experience. And usually those labels are glancing blows, at best.

But no candidate ever launched a “low-energy” criticism before. That’s a kill shot. You don’t wash that off. It is a variant of the High Ground Maneuver because Trump is saying that even if Bush and Trump had the same policies, the choice is still clear. You want the guy who isn’t going to be napping for four years.

And remember your visuals. Jeb looks like a low-energy guy. Take away Trump’s “low energy” label and Bush might seem like a calm, cool, rational executive – exactly what this country needs in these crazy times.

Until your opponent tattoos “low-energy” on your forehead. That doesn’t wash off. Done. Next.

You don’t see linguistic kill shots that often. This one was engineered. Do you want to hear another example of a linguistic kill shot that you probably never noticed in the past?

When Clinton/Gore were running for reelection against Dole/Kemp, the big topic was Kemp’s “supply-side economics” idea that you could cut taxes and goose the economy enough to make up the difference in tax collections. Clinton and Gore were helpless against supply-side economics because it sounded to voters like free money. Who doesn’t want to cut their taxes and make more money too?

How do you defend against the promise of more money for nothing? Clinton and Gore had no way to counter it. You couldn’t argue it on economic grounds because the voters were not sophisticated enough to follow along. Nor would voters be swayed by experts. And supply-side economics was the big topic of the election. 

So Gore used a linguistic kill shot. If you remember your campaign history, he started labeling Kemp’s supply-side economics as a “risky plan” for an economy that was doing reasonably okay. The media sprayed the word “risky” all over the headlines after the first time Gore used it in a debate. Clinton started using it too, since the word was getting traction.

Older voters with one eye on retirement, or already retired, have no appetite for risk. And they know that any big, new economic plan comes with risk. You cannot argue risk. Risk was the Higher Ground. It was the kill shot.

Supply-side economics largely died that election cycle, give or take some later death spasms. Thanks to one word. And the word was engineered for that purpose.

Do you get a sense for how powerful this stuff is? A word or two changes history.

If you are following along with my Trump analyses, you know I try to make predictions so you can check my work. It is easy to overlay an interpretation on the past (as I just did). Predicting the future is harder, and thus a better way for you to check my interpretation of events against prediction.

My new prediction is that when Trump gets serious about eviscerating Hillary Clinton he will engineer a similar High Ground label that has little to do with her policies. It might even be open to interpretation so all of her haters see what they want to see. 

Watch me engineer a linguistic kill shot for Trump to use against Hillary Clinton.

Trump: “America needs credibility”

See what I did there?

Credibility is the high ground. It ignores policy differences. Core republicans will obviously agree that Clinton is a “liar” in their words. So the message works for them. That part is easy.

The hard part, and the reason these words have to be engineered, is that you need to appeal to both sides with the same words. And “credibility” does that. Even supporters of Clinton – people who love everything she says and does – have to agree that her credibility has eroded because of all the email scandal noise.

And what about Trump? Is he credible by contrast?

Look for all the stories already printed about Trump being a handshake agreement guy. If you work in the business world, that is the highest standard of credibility.

Let me put it this way. Ignore your thoughts about Trump’s and Hillary Clinton’s policies and personalities for a minute. If you had to make a verbal agreement with both of them, which one do you think has the higher odds of doing as promised?

Trump already said he hates the Iran nuke deal but will enforce it because he honors deals. The man is bulletproof on that dimension, so he will take the argument to the dimension where he wins every time.

The word “credibility” resonates with every adult. And it hasn’t been overused in the context of politics so it carries no unintended baggage. We all want credibility, period. The word is clean and powerful.

Don’t worry about Trump using the word credibility to win. I ruined that option by using it in this blog and creating a paper trail to a cartoonist. Trump will need another approach.

Now you know how to engineer a linguistic kill shot. 

1. Find a word that is “clean” from historical political baggage (examples: risky, low-energy, credibility).

2. Choose a word that moves people to High Ground concepts where you are relatively strong and your opponent has a weakness, ignoring the smaller issues that are the topics of all disagreements.

Examples:

Low ground: Cut taxes                 —>  High ground: Risky

Low ground: Immigration policy   —>  High ground: Low-energy guy

Low Ground: Clinton’s policies     —> High Ground: credibility 

In my corporate days I used the High Ground maneuver to “win” any meeting I needed to win. Unlike most methods of persuasion that have more of a statistical power, perhaps influencing 20% of a crowd, the High Ground maneuver works instantly, every time, and on every person. (In my personal experience.)

As soon as I recognized that tool in Trump’s toolbox, I predicted he would win it all. He was going into a stick fight with a bazooka. Most of you only saw sticks. Trained persuaders saw the bazooka. 

I remind you that he literally wrote the book on negotiating.

My best guess for why the High Ground maneuver works so well is that you are taking a person from the weeds of your disagreement to a place where they need to define who they are as a person. Our egos won’t let us define ourselves as small thinkers in front of a big thinker, so we try to keep up, running to the High Ground of our demise as quickly as we can.

Scott

Bonus thought: If you view the world in terms of goals, Trump has failed twice to be president. You expect him to fail a third time because that is the pattern he created. But viewed from a systems filter, Trump got the most practice running for president of anyone in the conversation.

Name one situation where practice doesn’t matter. Stop being surprised that the guy who practiced the most is performing the best. That is how systems thinkers play the long game. They fail toward a place of BETTER odds, not worse.

You can see more about systems being better than goals in my book on success.

In Top Tech Blog, if you surf, you want a motorized surfboard that doesn’t need waves. And yet another handheld health “scanning” device is here. This trend of miniaturized personal health scanners is huge. You will want this one.