When Governor Schwarzenegger ran for governor in 2003 California was disgusted with mainstream politicians. Schwarzenegger was able to use the circus of the Governor Gray Davis recall election to vault from celebrity to governor. The Terminator divided and suppressed the vote of traditional Democratic constituencies with lines like “girlie men”. And The Donald is now using the same combination of disgust at politicians and an unpredictable circus of slick media manipulation and celebrity as the catalyst to a winning campaign.
How does he do it?
One answer is the obvious one the media has identified. He has the conventional media completely under his control. Like meth addicts they admit publicly they are addicted, but they continue using daily. This allows Trump to focus the media on his outrageous statements day after day until they are normal and dominant.
The second is less obvious to the media and the political elite. They have spent the last fifteen years telling the American electorate that Washington, DC is awful, partisan, and ineffective. And to their surprise the American people have absorbed that message, agreed, and decided to flirt with an outsider. He may be awful, crude, and prejudiced, but he also might be effective.
And the secret to Trump’s claim to effectiveness is that within his positions is always a kernel of truth that Americans agree with broadly. Foreign policy is low on the list of American partisanship, so let us use it as an example. Below is a chart of NATO defense spending:
Chart from Defense One’s Nato Members Defense Spending, in Two Charts.
The current NATO treaty obligates the United States to bring on Armageddon if Russia or some other aggressor attacks any of these countries. And all of them are likewise obligated to spend 2% of their GDP (gross domestic product) on defense spending. American presidents and politicians have complained for decades that the Europeans are largely not meeting their treaty obligations. And yet those same politicians are unprepared to threaten to leave the alliance.
So along comes The Donald.
The billionaire businessman told a campaign rally in Racine, Wisconsin that allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization “are not paying their fair share” and called the 28-nation alliance “obsolete…Either they pay up, including for past deficiencies, or they have to get out. And if it breaks up NATO, it breaks up NATO,” Trump said.
It is right out of his book the Art of the Deal. If you are not willing to walk away, then you lose. And instinctively the American electorate understands this. They buy cars. And suckers overpay if they telegraph that no matter what they say, they will not get up and leave the manager’s table.
Conventional wisdom since Trump locked up the nomination is that the polling shows Secretary Clinton winning in a blowout, particularly among women. So, what does Trump do? The absolutely wrong thing according to the media and the DC political elite. He launches an all out down and dirty attack on Mrs. Clinton as an enabler of President Clinton’s serial affairs.
And it does not matter that it is largely distorted. It has a kernel of truth in it. While she has artfully parried his attacks, she has also abandoned her economic message which is the central issue in the campaign. Like every opponent before her, Trump has knocked her off message.
He is the outsider as was Schwarzenegger. She is the insider as Gray Davis was in 2003. The Trumpinator has turned her into a “girlie man”.
Recently a young female Sanders supporter told me, “I just don’t trust her.” Trump does not need her vote. He just needs her to stay home. He does not need to win the women’s vote or the Hispanic vote. He just needs to suppress them, while turning out his supporters.
Secretary Clinton risks swirling in the Trumpinator circus, reactively talking about the past, women’s issues versus President Clinton’s dalliances, defined as the insider. In an outsider year where both candidates have high unfavorables the outsider with the dominant message is dangerous.
Democrats need to wake up fast or the polls are going to tighten amongst likely voters.