Let’s Do the Twist
(VANCOUVER ISLAND) In a lot of ways, the Trump phenomenon is a victim of its own early success. Trump, in all likelihood had at first no intention of presenting a serious challenge for the presidency. That was confirmed by one of his former staffers who told the press that he just wanted to garner some press, increase his profile, and burnish his brand before inevitably being eliminated in the early rounds. That would have been a breathtakingly audacious marketing scheme; cynical, bad for the country, and very likely enormously successful from his limited personal perspective. However, the fake campaign caught fire and his outspoken racism, bigotry, and astonishing ignorance resonated with a far larger element of American society than even he would have predicted.
So, a year later, we are looking at a marketing campaign that looks destined to describe a perfect arc. From the bottom of the list of potential GOP nominees, he steadily, and to everyone’s surprise, climbed in the polls until at his peak, he looked like he had gained enough traction to take the White House. He accomplished this by unblushingly appealing to the very worst in human nature and in American society. Trump pulled this off by virtue of his instinctive and unmatched understanding of electronic and social media. He managed to stage his rise by his increasingly outrageous statements; his words were calculated to offend most people to such a degree that his extemporaneous speeches became newsworthy simply for their shock value. And like any good media whore, he knew that to keep the free publicity coming, he had to top himself in each news cycle.
What he had perhaps underestimated was the number of Americans who, once given permission, would approve of and enthusiastically support his most vicious, hateful, and outlandish views. Every day he doubled down on his previous day’s over the top creepiness. As he did so, he began to shed supporters: those people who had grudgingly followed him because he was their party’s nominee; those who had bought into his personal myth of the hugely successful self made man and were discovering the truth; those who were members of one of the groups he had gleefully alienated all started to drop off. No matter; at first those losses were offset by newly energised joiners, each of whom was more extreme than the last. But eventually, after scraping the bottom of the barrel of white supremacists, conspiracy theorists, and whackjobs of every description, he began to run out of new followers; his hate offensive began to see a net loss of support. At that point, those who had cynically climbed on his bandwagon because he looked like he might steamroller his way to the presidency, began to rebel.
Senators and congressmen who would be running for re-election themselves began to distance themselves and, for the first time in anyone’s memory, politicians began to rescind their endorsements of their party’s presumptive nominee. Those losses are irreversible; it’s hard enough for a politician to reverse himself publicly, but virtually impossible for one to do it twice and retain a shred of credibility. Except Trump, of course, who, by actual count, lies more often than he tells the truth, and has broken the flip flop record with an unchallenged change of position five times in two days over the abortion issue.
Now, as his campaign is past the peak and on the downward slope of the arc, Trump is scanning the horizon for any potential support among the very few groups he has neglected to alienate. At this moment he is working very hard to woo the evangelical Christian vote by meeting with their leaders and attacking the practicing Methodist, Hillary Clinton as having no religious views. He had made a half hearted attempt earlier, when he assumed evangelical support as part of the Republican base, and he screwed it up. Apparently when one refers to the Second Book of Corinthians in their bible, one doesn’t say, “Two Corinthians”, one is supposed to say, “Second Corinthians” or one will be caught out as a poseur. Trump was caught out as a poseur. However, he had managed to keep some of the most radical Christians despite that nearly unforgivable gaffe.
And the reason they stuck with him? There were those among his followers
who subscribe to this theory: Trump is really more religious than he pretends to be. He is pretending to have only a lukewarm fervour because (as we all know) true Christians are being persecuted. And how do they know this? Look at his tapes and photographs. See that frequently repeated gesture where his tiny forefinger is pointing skyward? Sort of a Christian one finger salute? That’s a signal to the true believers that he acknowledges God and it is intended that only they will catch on. Seriously.
But the somewhat rational religious leaders can’t quite bring themselves to endorse him. They don’t believe that they can trust his vows to put pro-lifers on the Supreme Court, to end the legal ban on tax exempt religious groups participating in the political process, and somehow to require that store clerks say, “Merry Christmas” rather than
something more secular.
Trump’s biggest problem right now is that he can’t do the traditional pivot to sound more presidential as the actual general election campaign looms. He can’t for two main reasons. The first is that he is simply incapable of it. He gets a tiny little erection every time he hears the roars of adulation from his true believers when he says something ignorant, crude, and hateful. He can’t stop himself from saying the ridiculous things that elicit that reaction among the bag of mixed nuts that spill out onto his rally’s floors.
But another, and this time insurmountable reason he can’t do the twist, is the very success of his attention getting strategy. Traditionally, candidates were able to twist away from a hardline approach and moderate their rhetoric simply because not that many people paid much attention to the primaries; the general was when people started tuning in. Once a candidate had secured the party’s base, the more moderate language was directed at the vast source of votes closer to the middle, those who hadn’t really focussed on politics until the sides were lined up.
Trump has changed all that. He knows that absolutely everyone has heard his views; everyone knows about the wall, and the roundup of Mexicans, and the ban on Muslims, and the use of torture, and the intent to kill innocent wives and children of suspected terrorists, and his intent to eliminate gun-free zones on his first day in office. He can’t walk those absurdities back. And if he tried, he’d lose some of his true believers without picking up a single vote from those who have rejected him for a multitude of reasons. He is stuck with his latest and most ridiculous media creation: Donald Trump the racist, loudmouthed, narcissistic ignoramus; the sleazy pitchman who is running for president.