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The Choke Artist Versus the Watch Salesman (Trump Persuasion Series)

    Let’s compare Trump’s and Rubio’s Linguistic Kill Shots from the Republican debate last night.

    I’m ignoring Cruz today because he seemed to be arguing his case to a bored jury. He wasn’t terribly interesting last night. He seemed lawyerly.

    Rubio showed a new feisty side at the debate, going after Trump for hiring illegal Polish workers 35 years ago through a subcontractor, pointing out Trump’s notable business failures, saying Trump would be selling watches in Manhattan if he had not inherited wealth, and mocking Trump’s healthcare plan that is light on details. Rubio also called-out Trump for repeating himself during the debate. Trump seemed on the defensive more than usual.

    Rubio’s debate grade: A+

    That was all good stuff. I don’t know if Rubio got a new advisor or just decided this was the time to put it all out there. 

    Robot Rubio? Gone. He was replaced by feisty Rubio. That’s a big deal, and well-executed.

    Trump had his worst debate in terms of how much time was spent on topics that are bad for Trump. In the past, Trump’s magic involved making the public focus on the weaknesses of his opponents. Rubio flipped that around with his flurry of quotable attacks.

    Now for Trump.

    Trump tested a new Linguistic Kill Shot for Rubio, calling him a “choke artist” for freezing up on stage at the last debate. As always, Trump’s engineered kill shots have the following qualities:

    1. The insult is a type you haven’t heard before in politics. I call it a fresh field insult. That allows Trump to imbue it with his own meaning. The words “choke artist” do not remind you of anyone else in politics.

    2. Adding “artist” to choke makes you think past the sale. The sale is whether Rubio is a choker. Your brain accepts that truth in order to process whether or not Rubio is an artist at choking or just a regular choker. (I’ll bet you missed that.)

    3. It took about ten seconds for Twitter users to realize that “choke artist” reminded them of a sexual act that sometimes happens after the foam party at the gay nightclub. And let’s say the “artist” in this case is not the one standing upright. 

    In the interest of context, you need to know that bad people on the Internet have been trying to get the Rubio-is-gay rumor going for months. I’ve avoided that topic until now because you can’t write about it without becoming part of it. For the record, I doubt Rubio is gay, but maybe he experimented with some Koch contributions in college. Personally, I think having another gay president would be kinda cool. Lincoln did okay. But the gay rumor about Rubio might have an impact on Republican voters who are not aware of how much their beloved Abe Lincoln loved logs.

    4. Deniability. Trump didn’t say Rubio is gay. All he said is that Rubio got sweaty and froze up during a debate. Any other interpretation is your own. As far as you know.

    Now let’s compare Rubio’s and Trump’s linguistic kill shots.

    Rubio went after Trump’s strength, which in this case is Trump’s reputation as a skilled business operator. That was good strategy and he did it well.

    Trump, however, went after Rubio’s weaknesses, by mentioning his choking under pressure. Trump’s Linguistic Kill Shot – as always – matches the physicality of his opponent, not exclusively his behavior. (Rubio attacked only Trump’s behavior.)

    Trump also alerted the press and the public to be looking for any examples of future Rubio choking. Now that we are looking for it, we are likely to find it even in places it does not exist. If Rubio makes even the smallest speaking miscue – as all people do – we are primed see it as choking. Advantage: Trump.

    In summary, Trump’s Linguistic Kill Shot has weapons-grade engineering (as usual) whereas Rubio’s attacks were a festival of A-B testing. Rubio threw everything at Trump and waited to see what would stick. Phase 2 will be hitting the sticky stuff hard.

    You can’t compare Rubio’s A-B testing to Trump’s finished Linguistic Kill Shot. That’s apples and oranges. But Rubio did set himself up to get stronger once he knows what works best. 

    Most observers, including me, believe Rubio’s good night was a case of too little and too late. I think that’s probably right. But the one thing we know for sure is that Rubio will not be Trump’s VP choice. That option died last night.

Spooky Alert! Spooky Alert!

    I mentioned recently that my 2004 book, The Religion War, featured a leader named Cruz rising in the United States and bringing a war of annihilation to the Caliphate. Now we have candidate Ted Cruz doing well in the polls and stating his intentions to annihilate ISIS. Obviously that is a coincidence, but a fun one.

    But where I went wrong was the first name. My character in the book was named Horatio Cruz, not Ted Cruz.

    Now watch this video of 18-year old Ted Cruz talking about wanting to play a character named Horatio. It happens in the first 30 seconds.

    Yeah, spooky.

    It’s still a coincidence, but a fun one.

The Iowa Reframing

    I can’t stop laughing about Trump’s Iowa reframing. You probably heard about it. The setup goes like this:

    – Trump was trailing Cruz in Iowa polls. 

    – Trump taunted an Iowa audience with “You have not picked a lot of winners.”

    – The media reported Trump’s taunts.

    And the very next poll showed Trump slightly atop Cruz once you factor in the less-likely-to-vote people who will definitely vote this time.

    The trap that Trump set for Iowa is that they can either vote for him – in which case he wins – or they can vote for Cruz and prove he was right about Iowa having a bad track record. Then, say the polls, he will go on to win New Hampshire. 

    Trump already explicitly said he would mock Iowa like crazy if they get this vote “wrong.” Remember I taught you that Trump always creates a big gap between what happens to you when you please him and what happens if you don’t. Iowa has been warned 🙂

    Let me put this in more humorous words because it deserves it.

    What you think you see is Trump telling people they should vote for him. In the 2D world, he is simply using different language to say what all politicians say. But in the 3D world of persuasion Trump just created a situation in which…

    wait for it…

    Iowans are voting on their own intelligence.

    That’s an identity play. You should recognize it by now as the strongest form of persuasion.

    Here’s what does NOT work: “Look at my awesome policies.”

    Here’s what DOES work: “Smart people vote this way.”

    As always, Trump goes for identity over reason. And once again it gets him exactly the reaction he wanted. I could literally feel the persuasion and it has been making me laugh for two days. (Laughing can be a tell for persuasion.)

    If Trump wins Iowa and New Hampshire, which seems likely at this point, he will turn on the afterburners, and the words you are likely to hear from pundits in the next two months are “natural front-runner.” 

    When you hear mentions of Trump as a good front-runner it means – to borrow a phrase from the world of investing – we are on the brink of “capitulation.” That’s the point where everyone just stops resisting the idea of a President Trump and starts adjusting to the reality of it.

    People have been surprised that Trump could elbow his way to the front of the pack and stay there so long. But at this point, a lot of folks still think something will happen to bump Trump out of the lead. They will capitulate on that belief when they realize Trump might be the best front-runner civilization has ever created.

    I’m saying Trump’s personality assures he’ll be comfortable not sharing the top spot, and it will show. His fighter instinct will evolve into a calm confidence, and the public will respond to it.