The Hidden Value in Trash Talk

Twenty years from now historians are likely to recognize the 2016 Presidential Campaign as the first time Trash Talk was introduced into political campaigning. They will also report that the highly paid political pundits did not understand why even the most conservative voters accepted, even admired such behavior. By the time campaign managers began to understand this phenomenon, it was too late to resist or emulate it. Had such disruption broken out in the Progressive camp, the Conservatives would have used it as an example of how low Democrat candidates were willing to go in their search for votes. But it broke out in the Conservative camp amid a stable of 16 upstanding, Bible toting, Constitution quoting Republicans. Only The Donald and his entourage were able to see the hidden value is such behavior. This was not the first time in American political history that social or technical change set new standards for success in politics.

The 1906 mid-term elections saw the incursion of political speeches on radio. This skewed the expected outcomes of well-planned campaigns towards the candidate with the most commanding radio voice.

According to Don Hewitt, the producer-director of the first-ever televised presidential debate, voters who watched the debate on TV the night of Sept. 26, 1960, were certain Sen. John F. Kennedy had won. Those who heard the event on radio, were just as certain Vice President Richard M. Nixon was the clear winner. The televised debates did not enlighten voters, they entertained them. This gave the most charismatic and likable characters a leg up on election day.

The use of insulting or boastful speech by a popular candidate left the Republican Party Establishment dumbfounded. It is one thing to interrogate political opponents with complex policy questions or to catch them off guard with facts they cannot deny, but the use of invective intended to demoralize, intimidate, or humiliate opponents was reserved for WWE Smackdown events.

Either Donald Trump was not aware of this unwritten prohibition, or he was the first politician to recognize that trash talk has become the new standard for any kind of verbal performance — including political debates. If so, we must credit him with finding the hidden value in trash talk and using it to his advantage. While Sarah Palin might have bordered on trash talk when she elevated Joe the Plumber to celebrity status, she never found the hidden value in it. If she had, Sen John McCain might have won a term as President and laid the ground work for Governor Palin to become the first female POTUS.

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