Donald Trump Is No Buffoon — He Knows Exactly What He’s Doing And It May Just Work

Trump’s may be the most dangerous campaign in a generation.

First of all, this isn’t a Hillary Clinton endorsement. It’s an attempt to unmask Trump’s strategy. The prevailing analysis on cable news has been that Trump’s campaign is in shambles; that Trump is unpredictable and chaotic as a candidate; and that he refuses to follow the advice of his campaign staff. That may drive ratings and draws clicks. But it’s flat out wrong.

Trump, by his own admission, was a Democrat until about a decade ago. But he was also power hungry. He did not see a viable path to the White House as a Democrat, so he carefully studied his options on the Republican side. There, he saw his path; and it’s a path that he’s been following for the past decade. He acutely honed in on the anger in the Republican base that had reached a fever pitch after President Obama’s election; then charted a course that he knew no viable Republican contender would ever dare to follow. He began to trumpet the hard core positions being touted by the conservative media — such as birtherism, climate change denial, and the notion that President Obama was a “secret Muslim” (whatever that means). In doing so, he legitimized these fringe positions. It was a risky tactic. But he perceived, adeptly, that enough Republicans would, in the end, conclude that anyone was better than Hillary Clinton.

Trump’s strategy has been to tap into a primal fear — prevalent among white, blue collar Americans — that we are losing our jobs and way of life to “diversity.” He has not only brought that fear to the surface, he’s legitimized it. He has hid the racism that fuels his movement behind his larger-than-life personality and sticky slogans like “Make America Great Again.”

And not one word of it has been random. In each of his rallies, Trump follows a very predictable pattern: He actively fans the flames then — when media outlets condemn his bigotry — accuses them of “unfair treatment.” His supporters follow suit, arguing, “We’re not bigots; the press just has it out for us.”

Take for instance the Khan debacle. The press labeled this as an instance of Trump being “too thin skinned” and reacting impulsively to a slight. I’d argue Trump’s fight with the Khan family was calculated. It was yet another dog whistle to rally his hardcore conservative base behind their fear of Islam, Muslims and Sharia law. It may have hurt him in the polls, but he’s playing the long game. If he moderates too soon before November, he’ll lose the hardcore base that propelled him to primary victory. Simply put, Trump’s bet is that his base will see the Khan family as Muslims before they see them as gold star parents. And he’s probably right.

The New York Times’ compilation video yesterday rips the mask off what many of us already knew. It’s quite common to hear words like “nigger” and “beaner” and “whore” at Trump rallies. In fact, it’s a direct result of his strategy. To win, Donald knew he needed to develop a cult of personality, the likes of which we haven’t seen in some time. He knew he needed to appeal to something dark and primal that we like to think we’d abandoned a generation ago.

The best tactic for defeating his strategy would’ve been to hold it up to a mirror. But instead, the media, for the most part, has argued that Trump possesses no strategy. As a result, his cult of personality has ballooned to a size that may make it impossible to deflate.

Trump is betting that Americans are incapable of breaking free of partisan and ideological blinders. He’s betting that Americans will prove unable to rise above his brand of cynical politics. He’s betting that the worst in us will trump the best in us. If he’s right, we face a scary future: in which we lose forever the claim that we are an exceptional nation.

Trump has mapped out every moment of this campaign, except what to do if he wins; and that should scare us all as much as his strategy thus far. He’s had a week of bad coverage. But don’t assume it’s accidental. And don’t assume it foreshadows defeat.

Jonathan Franks is Political Director for Montel Williams and the Founder of LUCID PR.