September 12, 2016
When Hillary Clinton called half of Trump supporters a “basket of deplorables,” I said it would not move the polls more than 1%. My thinking is that we have three types of voters:
1. The Deplorables – who already made up their minds for Trump.
2. Clinton supporters – who already made up their minds for Clinton.
3. Undecideds – who don’t care about stuff like this. That’s why they are undecided. And most of them probably have decided. They just don’t want to admit it.
All by itself, the “deplorable” gaffe wouldn’t be much of an issue in the long run. Clinton had time to apologize and recover from it.
But then Clinton collapsed with some sort of health problem – perhaps pneumonia – at the 9-11 anniversary event. The optics of a potential commander-in-chief collapsing at that holy place, and on an important anniversary, rendered her unelectable in my opinion. I base that prediction on how people will associate her health issues with the need to have a reliable commander-in-chief. Persuasion-wise, that’s a hole you don’t get out of.
But the 9-11 situation had another impact that I didn’t realize until today. It weaponized Clinton’s earlier gaffe about the deplorables by turning it into what I call a “fake because.” Sometimes you need a “fake because” to rationalize whatever you are doing. And that’s doubly-important in this situation. Here’s why.
In our rational minds, we are good people who use data and reason to arrive at our decisions. We need to maintain that untrue self-image to stay happy. Clinton’s collapse at the 9-11 event creates an uncomfortable dissonance in us. On one hand, we don’t think anyone should be penalized for a minor illness. And we don’t wish harm on anyone. Our rational minds want to NOT care that Clinton collapsed on the 9-11 anniversary. That’s who we are. We’re rational people who can put stuff like this in context.
But in our irrational minds – the part that actually makes decisions – we really, really don’t want a commander-in-chief who is so frail that she might sneeze-fart herself to death in the Situation Room. Realistically, and rationally, we know that isn’t a real problem.
And that’s what matters. We want to act on that feeling, but it conflicts with our self-image as nice people. That causes cognitive dissonance. The way out of your dissonance is to find a “fake because.” You need to latch onto some sort of rational-sounding reason that passes the sniff test.
And so you look to Clinton’s “deplorable” comment and find your “fake because.” She insulted voters, you say! It’s just like Romney’s 47% gaffe, you say! She’s acting unpresidential, you say!
Any reasonable person knows Clinton was making her usual point about Trump attracting an unsavory bunch of supporters. She just worded it in a funny way (and it was funny) but it blew up in her face. There is no story here.
All by itself, the “basket of deplorable” gaffe was more funny than damaging. But coming as it did so near to Clinton’s health problem, it turns into a handy “fake because.”
The existence of a “fake because” frees the undecideds. It gives them an issue they can understand – as opposed to international trade deals, for example – and it gives them a “reason” for their change: They can say they want a president who supports all Americans, even the deplorable ones.
When Clinton collapsed at the 9-11 site, that was enough to end her chances of winning. But adding the “fake because” to her “deplorable” comment will super-charge whatever was going to happen anyway.
You might love my book because Clinton called some voters deplorable. (But some, I assume, are good people.)