Travel Ban: Brilliant Politics

The travel ban affecting people from seven mostly Muslim countries that Donald Trump implemented the other day was brilliant politics. Even though he has never been a politician, Trump is outmaneuvering the Washington establishment with ease.

Think of all of the benefits to Trump of the executive order that implemented the ban:

  • Trump did it himself and did not have to rely on Congress. He shows that he can get things done without them
  • It was implemented during his first 10 days in office, showing that he can act fast
  • It probably won’t stand up in court, so he can reap the political gain from the ban without having to deal with any long term consequences, economic or otherwise
  • The turmoil around the ban distracts attention from anything else the Trump administration or Congress is doing
  • The ban has no effect on 99.99% of Americans. In fact, most would probably support closer scrutiny of people coming from those countries, just because they are paranoid about terrorism
  • The ban energized the left into protesting.
    • Trump will belittle the protests, showing that he can beat them
    • The average American will not relate to the protests for reasons described above, showing that the protesters don’t really represent them
    • At some point, the left, the media and the American people will get protest fatigue. These protests just move us closer to that point

The Washington Post instituted a Pinocchio-based fact checker. Trump may be a Pinocchio, but he’s also doing a masterful job of pulling Washington’s strings right now.

Misdirection and Media Manipulation

The media continues to have a hard time with Donald Trump. Like a magician doing card tricks, he manipulates the media into focusing on trivia instead of the more important thing he is doing. His usual m.o. is to tweet something. Tweets are like catnip to the media – they can’t resist.

For example, last week he tweeted about voter fraud which dominated the morning news. Instead of focusing on the executive order of the previous day regarding regulatory streamlining, the media spent its time trying to prove a negative (there is no voter fraud), which is, of course, impossible. Even if one could prove it, it doesn’t matter as it won’t change anything in the US. However, freezing and rolling back EPA and Agriculture regulation can change quite a bit.

Eventually the media will (hopefully) figure this out and focus on the right things. After all, they are supposed to be professional skeptics. But for the time being, Donald the Illusionist is making them look like rubes.

Trump and The L Word

Donald Trump has no issue calling his opponents liars. First it was Lyin’ Ted Cruz, but after he defeated Cruz in the primaries he transferred the moniker to Lyin’ Hillary Clinton. Give Trump credit – he states it very plainly and clearly.

Washington’s media and political class, however, cannot seem to bring themselves to use the word “lie”. Instead, they use alternatives like:

  • Factually incorrect
  • Misstatement
  • Untrue
  • Falsehood
  • Fabrication

Why not just call it a lie? All of these euphemisms make a lie sounds like not such a bad thing. It signals that the speaker does not have the guts to tell the unvarnished truth about a lie. Trump’s supporters, and in fact everyone, have very good ‘gutless’ detectors. Until the establishment media and politicians can get over their aversion to using the L word, they will be at a disadvantage.

In recent history, there were two times that the press and politicians called the president a flat out liar, and not just a misstater of the facts. One was when Richard Nixon denied having anything to do with the Watergate break in. The other was when Bill Clinton denied having an extramarital affair. In both cases, the president was impeached.

If everyone starts using the L word about Trump, he could be in for a rough ride.

Trump’s Invincibility

During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump had an important epiphany and verbalized it at a rally:

“I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, okay, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay?  (1/23/16)”

His point was that once a voter decided to support him, it would take something truly massive to get them to change their minds about that support.

He was correct.

And he still is.

This is not just because he is so good at getting his message to his supporters. It is also because his opponents are so frightfully bad at communicating with Trump’s supporters.

On paper, there are plenty of issues with Trump. But none of his opponents, Republican or Democrat, have figured out a way to get these across to his core supporters. For one thing, they have not figured out the new media rules (e.g., how to bypass the press and use Twitter instead).

They are also not willing to be as crass as he is. But as Trump’s supporters know, crass is another word for telling it like it is. They are tired of politicians that speak in politically correct B.S.  They don’t, why should their politicians? It is similar to George W. Bush: many people did not agree with his positions, but they admired his ability to take a position and stick with it. They may not agree with all of Trump’s positions, but they admire his street fighter approach to standing up for them.

Until one of Trump’s opponents is willing to engage him in a street fight, Trump will hold onto his supporters through thick and thin.Who will that be? So far, the only possibility from the 2106 campaign season is Bernie Sanders, and it is not clear that he wants that fight.

#DrainTheSwamp 2.0

Donald Trump got quite a bit of political mileage over the corruption and incompetence of the politicians in Washington DC. Real or imagined, it hit a nerve with the public and his Drain The Swamp Twitter hashtag proved very popular. Even after he was elected, he used it to shame the Republican congress into not gutting the Office of Congressional Ethics.

Trump himself is Teflon. He has been associated with swampy behavior, but nothing sticks to him (so far). It will be interesting to see if that holds true for his team. His cabinet appointees, especially those from the private sector, may find that the Washington microscope is particularly good at ferreting out slimy, swampy actions. And since Trump is invincible, there will be all the more incentive for the press, etc. to go after his surrogates.

It will be ironic if Trumps opponents are successful in turning a 2.0 version of Drain The Swamp against him.


Anti-Trump Protesters

I have no problem with the anti-Trump protestors exercising their first amendment rights. However, I do have one question for them:

Did you vote for Hillary Clinton?

Because if you did not vote for Hillary Clinton, don’t you think it’s a bit rich that you are protesting Donald Trump? A few more votes for Clinton and Trump would not be president. Anyone who refrained from voting for Clinton or voted for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein has to face up to the fact that they helped elect Donald Trump (or detracted from Clinton’s popular vote margin, which helps Donald Trump). And if you helped elect Donald Trump, why are you protesting?

Free speech is fine, but in a democracy we change leaders by voting. The chance to vote for a president other than Trump was less than 90 days ago. The next chance will be almost 1400 days from now. That’s a long time to keep protesting.

Trump’s Twitter Triumph

Traditionally, if a politician wanted to get a message out they had three options:

  • Hold a press conference
  • Issue a press release
  • Have the message leaked

All of these methods depended on the press playing its role to relay the message to the public. If the politician was lucky, the press would include a short quote in the story, a pithy ‘sound bite’ that was crafted specifically to get noticed.

Donald Trump has found a way to short circuit this process. He uses Twitter. It is nothing new, Twitter has been around for a decade and celebrities have been using it for years. But politicians have seen it as a secondary outlet.

Serious news was handled in the traditional way – Twitter was not considered sufficiently substantive for it.  But Trump upended this. His primary outlet is Twitter. The traditional methods are an afterthought.

The result is that he gets double exposure. His pronouncements are delivered immediately to his Twitter followers, and an added benefit is that that Twitter’s structure forces him to focus his message into a short tweet. Then the traditional media takes over and passes his message on. They reprint his tweets verbatim, giving him exposure – in his own words – to everyone else.

All of the celebrities know how this works. It is second nature to them. But for politicians and the political media, it is an uncomfortable way of doing things. It disintermediates a large part of the Washington establishment. Why do you need leaks and the press when you can go right to the public?

It will be interesting to see how long it takes for the rest of the political world to adjust to Trump’s new operating manual.