I watched the GOP presidential debate last night. You might wonder how I scored it.
In the standard world of 2D politics, where reason matters, perhaps Kasich won. But no one cares about Kasich. Or reason.
However, in the 3D world of persuasion, where identity beats analogy, and analogy beats reason, Trump dominated again.
One of the most noted exchanges of the debate involved Trump and Cruz going at each other over Cruz’ Canadian birth and his eligibility for office. A Frank Luntz focus group scored that exchange as a win for Cruz. The focus group was unanimous about that.
Unanimous! A political focus group! That rarely happens.
So Cruz won that round, right?
No. Opposite. He did win the 2D fight by unanimous decision. But that’s because the focus group probably thought a good argument is what wins debates. So when they saw a good argument from Cruz, they gave him the win.
But Trump wasn’t trying to win debate points. He was trying to redirect energy, as he always does. And he redirected our energy to the question of Cruz’ Canadian birth. That’s all Trump needed to do. He sowed enough doubt to sway some people.
The number of people who heard Cruz “win” the 2D fight over his eligibility to be president are unlikely to make a voting decision based on that issue. But the people who fear his “unclear” status might. That’s a total Trump win.
My favorite part of that exchange is when Trump cheekily talked about Cruz being problematic as a potential running mate. The point, of course, was to make you imagine Trump as presidential material and Cruz as VP material. It was brilliant 3D persuasion. Cruz tried to flip it around (and did so cleverly) but by then it was too late.
Today, all of you will be hearing about the “New York values” exchange during the debate. Cruz poked his nose into the 3rd dimension with an “identity” persuasion play. Going into Iowa, Cruz wanted Iowans to know that they were more like Cruz than Trump. It was a strong move on the persuasion scale. Cruz grabbed the “conservative” identity and tried to paint Trump as the fake conservative from liberal New York.
But Trump pulled the 9/11 card which is – ironically – the trump card of all trump cards when it comes to identity. When Americans think of 9/11, they lose their sense of state identity, their sense of political identity, and even gender identity. When the shit goes down, as it did that terrible day, the only identity anyone in this country had was “American.” Trump took that emotional high ground, invoked the heroism of that day, and owned it like a boss.
On the Republican side, Cruz is the second-best 3D persuader compared to Trump. But his powers are limited by the identity strategy he favors, which is “true conservatives.” That won’t play as well in the general election as Trump’s identity play of “Americans.”
Most of the other candidates stayed in the 2D realm all evening and focused their energies on lying about each others’ records. I barely remember what any of them said.
The worst political strategies of the night involved Rubio and Christie accusing each other of flip-flopping. That line of attack might have worked in past political contests. But in the year of the outsider, no one wants to vote for the winner of a skunk fight; voters want a candidate who isn’t a skunk in the first place.
I pause here to tell new readers of this blog that I am not endorsing Trump or anyone else. I am not smart enough to know who would do the best job of president. All I know is that Trump’s tools of persuasion are in their own league. (I’m not a fan of his policies in all cases.)
That said, Hillary Clinton considers men to be genetically inferior in their listening skills, so she can’t be my president. And I was born and raised in New York, so my message to Cruz is that he just lost the election. That’s personal too.
If it makes you feel any better, the day Trump goes negative on a segment of the American public – as both Clinton and Cruz have done – he’s dead to me too. Trump tip-toed up to the line with immigration talk, but so far he has been consistent about favoring U.S. citizens over non-citizens.
That’s as fair as I can get.
And I really don’t know who would do the best job as president. If humans were good at picking leaders, 90% of us would favor the same candidate.