Correct me if I’m wrong, but six months ago Donald Trump was nothing but a talking suit full of money and insults. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, was an experienced politician full of policy substance.
Then they switched places.
The media tells us that today we will hear Clinton attack Trump with a lot of name-calling. She will also associate Trump with his fringe supporters, especially the racists. Clinton might mention something about policies, but none of that will make news. Now it’s all about the insults and the persuasion. Watch for lots of lip-quivering and dramatic acting around the idea of being disgusted by Trump’s ways. Disgusted!
Trump, meanwhile, is going through The Softening. He’s planning policy speeches on immigration, the economy, and more. Trump is modifying his more extreme policy ideas and becoming more presidential.
The brand reversal isn’t totally clean. Clinton will still say stuff about policies, and Trump will still do plenty of insulting. But overall, Clinton has embraced the full-Godzilla approach in which persuasion matters more than truth. Trump is doing something more like the opposite, including prepping for upcoming debates (even if he says he is not), and talking more about policy. He needs to do those things to prop up his brand to “presidential” level.
I heard Clinton call in to CNN last night and preview her new Trump-is-racist persuasion, and I have to say it was strong. Strong enough to win, unless Trump finds a way to counter it.
The Clinton persuasion method will involve dramatic and repeated shouting of racist claims against Trump. Examples:
1. THE THING HE GOT SUED FOR 40 YEARS AGO!
2. THE THING HE SAID ABOUT THE JUDGE THAT WE MISINTERPRETED!
3. THE DEPORTATION HE NEVER REALLY MEANT!
Trump supporters will try to explain-away each bit of “evidence,” but will fail because of the sheer volume of them, and the limits on TV time. The facts will not matter. What matters is how often voters hear Trump’s name associated with one terrible accusation after another. That’s Godzilla’s persuasion advice, I assume.
Clinton will be using the phenomenon of confirmation bias to sell her persuasion. Once she primes people to see Trump as a racist, any “evidence” they see will fit that world view. You witnessed this week that Trump offered to help the African-American community, but confirmation bias contorted that into some sort of secret racist dog whistle in the minds of his opponents. That is their truth now.
Normally, the best defense against an opponent’s accusations is a persuasion move similar to how Trump expressed “regrets” about sometimes using the “wrong words.” When you accept an accusation, and show regret, it takes the power out of it. Clinton did the same move last night on CNN, telling Anderson Cooper she made a mistake with the email server and regrets it. That was a strong play.
But Trump can’t accept charges of racism and then express regret. Racism doesn’t wash off the way an email security mistake might. Trump can’t embrace the accusations and amplify them, nor can he accept the charges and apology.
So what the heck does he do now?
There is only one high-ground maneuver left for Trump. It’s a risky one, but perhaps the only path available. It involves moving the frame – from whether or not Trump did the things he is accused of doing – to a new frame in which all humans are flawed, but we are trying to improve. Maybe something like this:
“We were all worse people 40 years ago. The goal of life is to improve. I think I have improved, and I want to help America do the same. Let’s improve together.”
People can relate to a sinner who has improved. We all hope to be that person.
At least we should.
If you think monkeys are funny, you might like my book. But that would be more coincidence than anything else because the book is not about monkeys.