Saturday, November 07, 2020

Designing Trump Mark Two

Trump lost this time, but it's clear that, politically speaking, he was doing something right as well as some things wrong, pulled into his coalition quite a lot of new people while pushing other people out. Suppose another politician wanted to copy the successful parts of his strategy while avoiding, so far as possible, the unsuccessful parts. How would he do it?

Part of what worked was coming across as someone who could not be pushed around, who responded to attacks by counter attacking. Would it work to tone that down a little, only attack people who are very clearly attacking him rather than anyone who says anything critical? Or would that just lose him opportunities to show what a he-man he is?

I suspect that the rhetorical exaggeration, the sort of thing that comes across to many as deliberate lying — "we'll build a wall and make Mexico pay for it" — also helped him with his supporters, not because they believed him but because they automatically discount that sort of bluster and the discounted version was something they could believe in. 

The Mark Two version would have to keep Trump's major positions, including hostility to immigration and trade, unfortunate from my point of view but pretty clearly part of what worked. It didn't cost him the Hispanic vote, as many seem to have expected — he did better there than any Republican candidate since Eisenhower. I'm not sure if he has to maintain Trump's policy of outsourcing judicial choice to the Federalist Society, one of the two features of his term that I on the whole approved of. He has to be willing to appoint judges conservatives will like, but that isn't necessarily the same thing. He probably does have to maintain Trump's hostility to foreign military intervention, the other thing I approved of — unless there is some incident such as 9/11 that makes a hawkish response briefly popular with almost everyone. 

One thing I'm not sure of is how much, if any, of Trump's crude, rude, abrasive presentation produces a net gain in votes, how much a net loss.

I haven't been distinguishing between what the candidate has to do to get elected, which Trump did, and what he has to do to get re-elected, which pretty clearly at this point Trump is not doing. And these are preliminary thoughts. Do others have ideas? I am more or less assuming that Trump Mark Two would be another Republican, but he might not have to be.


Dick White said...

Given the closeness of this election, almost any tweak of campaign strategy that yielded a positive reaction would likely have saved Trump. Accordingly I see no basis for David's observation that "...clearly at this point Trump isn't doing".
Trump's defeat, in my judgment, is clearly based on the Covid phenomenon and the incredibly high Trump hatred index. Without the Covid event, I believe he would have overcome the hatred effect and won easily given all the domestic and international positives. That said, one conducts a campaign with the realities on the ground and Covid was one of them. This allowed his opponents to flog the 200,000+ deaths and drown out for the most part any serious discussion of the Trump successes.

SB said...

If you think of Trump as a populist, then yes, Trump Mark Two could as easily be a Democrat as a Republican, since both major parties have a populist wing. But is he really a populist?

He made a lot of populist campaign promises in 2016, decidedly outside Republican-party orthodoxy; that set him apart from the rest of the field, won him the Republican nomination against the wishes of Party bosses, and presumably convinced some Bernie brothers to vote for him in the general election. Once in office, his agenda seemed to be (a) enrich and promote himself and his kids, (b) test and expand the boundaries of what he can do as President, (c) shut down immigration (both legal and illegal), (d) appoint a whole lot of judges who will reliably favor the powerful over the powerless, and (e) cut taxes for rich people and large corporations.

(His campaign promises in 2020 amounted to "keep doing what I'm doing and keep out extreme-left Socialists like Joe Biden"; I honestly can't name anything else he promised to do in the next four years.)

Of these, (a) and (b) are purely selfish, (c) is an expansion of some of his populist campaign promises, and (d) and (e) are decidedly non-populist Republican orthodoxy. He did very little about (or had little success with) his other populist promises, such as protecting blue-collar industry jobs, rebuilding infrastructure, balancing the Federal budget, etc. There may have been populist support for pulling out of multilateral treaties, but there probably wasn't much for sucking up to so many bloodthirsty dictators.

Or you could think of Trump as a conservative who played a populist on TV. But he doesn't really have much record as a conservative either, other than wanting to make life better for billionaire real estate developers from Queens.

So what does "Trump Mark Two" even mean?

Ricardo Cruz said...

Are we missing the elephant in the room? The Democrat turn-over was huge this year. It seems that the facilitation of mail ballots due to covid has really helped them. My understanding is that Trump would have won if only people who bother to show up counted.

Casey B. Mulligan said...

Trump Mark Two is an important question. I don't have the final answer but wrote this book of first-hand observations to help others who are trying to assemble an answer.

You're Hired! Untold Successes and Failures of a Populist President

SB said...

@Ricardo Cruz: In a normal election, "people who bother to show up" are pretty well distributed across parties. Absentee ballots are usually slightly bluer than in-person ballots, but it's usually not a dramatic difference.

This year there was a dramatic difference, for one reason: because Trump made your response to Covid into a statement of political allegiance. If you were a die-hard Trump supporter, you were obligated to discount the danger from Covid and vote in person; if you were anything else, including an anti-Trump Republican, you were much more likely to vote absentee.

So yes, I'm sure that if you left out all the absentee ballots in this weird election year, Trump would have won -- probably even the popular vote. But I don't think you can extrapolate anything meaningful from that to a normal year when people from all parties feel equally safe voting in person.

Anonymous said...

I hope the future is something like a Thomas Massie, who combines the populist disdain for the elite technocrats (despite having the credentials to be one of them), with a strong libertarian bent. Not a perfect libertarian, no, but probably the closest thing currently in congress.

However what I fear is that in reaction to the left's growing authoritarianism and flirtation with socialism, an actual right wing authoritarian strongman will rise up to meet that threat. They've spent the last 4 years crowing - laughably - about how Trump, essentially an 80's New York Democrat, is a tyrant dictator. What will they say when, in response to their hysteria and endless progressive pushing, an actual right wing authoritarian rises up to fight them? I don't know but if that happens, we're all pretty well screwed.

Eugine Nier said...

Ignoring the elephant in the living room, the truly unprecedented amount of voter fraud for Biden, I see.

Eugine Nier said...

See here for a good analysis of the fraud by a former accountant.

William H. Stoddard said...

I'm with the people who think it's premature to say that Trump has lost. There are legal challenges made or to be made to the outcomes in a number of states. Until the courts make decisions, nothing is legally binding, and there is enough evidence suggestive of problems with the counts in key states to make me unwilling to reach a conclusion.

I have to say that the Biden campaign's approach to this looks sketchy. It doesn't matter, in determining the winner, who announces first; what matters is who has the votes when the dust settles. If Biden really has the votes, he has nothing to lose by getting behind Trump's call for a recount with everything carefully monitored. That he's instead proclaiming himself the winner, prematurely, suggests that he's trying to bluff Trump into conceding, and by doing so perhaps to avoid any recounts; and that makes me think that he doesn't think those recounts would be in his favor—that in fact he doesn't think he honestly won, but is trying to snatch a prize he isn't entitled to. At best his conduct betrays a lack of integrity.

And Trump doesn't seem to be the sort of guy who can be bluffed that way. That's one of his virtues as a political figure. I've seen too many Republicans back down when Democrats get confrontational; that's part of how we've been moving toward left-wing authoritarianism. It's refreshing to have someone who isn't backing down.

VangelV said...

Sorry but I don't see a Trump defeat yet. He won if the votes are counted properly but has a difficult opponent in the establishment in blue states. The problem is that if this thing goes to the Supreme Court, it will be difficult to avoid the clear evidence of corruption. He could win and if there is justice in your country, will win.

Anonymous said...

I would like to point out some things that make him a very interesting character.

Donald Trump is antihero. He is a flawed character in many ways. Despite that he managed to overcome all obstacles and become the president. underdog. The narrative is always against him. There was no other person to step up against the prevailing order.

...a court jester. There is something very humorous about him. He is able to say things others cannot say.

...a strongman. He doesn't back down even when all voices are against him. He just doesn't yield.

SB said...

I think we've gotten far away from David's original, and interesting, question about what "Trump Mark Two" might look like, and into what looks like pure partisan-tribal ranting about who actually won the election and who committed mind-boggling levels of vote fraud or voter intimidation or whatever. I doubt anybody is going to change anybody else's mind, or even provide any useful new insights, on the latter, so can we drop it?

Eugine Nier said...


Don't be daft. In order to learn from the past you first need understand what actually happened in it. Piously pretending that Biden's win was legitimate and ignoring all the evidence of massive fraud is not going get you an accurate picture of who's likely to win in the future since the same thing is going to happen in the next election unless something is done about it.

Also your reference to "boggling levels of voter intimidation" which no one was even alleging exists, which is reasonable because it doesn't, suggests that you aren't even trying to be serious.