I called it several weeks ago but here it is in writing: Donald Trump will win Iowa & New Hampshire. Here are the top seven reasons why:
1. Despair: Imagine if on almost every issue important to you over the last eight years you’re watching the other side win. The President and pop culture are celebrating and it feels to you like the world is collapsing (think gay marriage and socialized medicine). Joe Trippi first pointed this out to me. It is hard to underestimate the anger of the Republican primary voter. This piece is very good on the subject: “The dark depths of conservative despair” by Paul Waldman in The Week.
2. Issues: As I learned from Ron Rapoport, three of the main issues animating Trump’s candidacy — immigration, free trade, and political corruption — were the animating issues behind Ross Perot’s independent bid, and later core to the success of Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America. These issues are deeply felt in a large segment of the electorate; let’s not forget that Perot got 18+% of the popular vote. These issues are real, and not just to primary voters. More on this here: “Like Ross Perot, but worse for the GOP” by Ron Rapoport and Walt Stone in the Los Angeles Times.
3. “Moment” media: Douglas Rushkoff’s Present Shock makes the case that, thanks to our technology, we’re in a post-narrative culture. Extending that idea to politics suggests the decline of traditional campaign narrative and the power of the tweet or the moment. That is not to say that narrative is dead; it’s just to say that the balance of power has shifted, and Trump is a master of “moment” media. Would he even be a candidate if not for Twitter? Some of Rushkoff’s ideas here, but buy the book for the good stuff: “How Technology Killed the Future” by Douglas Ruskoff in Politico.
4. Desire: One of the things I learned in political campaigns is that generally speaking the candidate who wants it most tends to win. You have to **really** want it. And lately I think Trump has decided he wants it. I’ve been on his email list since his announcement, and the frequency of the emails has increased from monthly to almost weekly, and the tone of the emails has shifted recently from “buy more hats” to something that very nearly sounds presidential. I think something has changed and he’s decided he wants this, which is crucial.
5. Fun: Another thing I learned, from both Joe Trippi and Gina Glantz, is that politics wants — needs! — to be fun. Some of you with a firm memory of 2003 will recall the Sleepless Summer Tour. Campaigns can be long, boring, dreary things, and you’ve got to keep it fun. And one thing Trump understands is spectacle, which is a sort of Fun. Molly Ball really nails it in this piece: “The Ecstasy of Donald Trump” by Molly Ball in The Atlantic
6. Poll trends: A third thing I’ve learned from various political campaigns over the years is that polls — with all their failings and warts — don’t always tell the truth in a snapshot… but that the trends in polls over time are worth trusting. Despite Nate Silver’s admonitions on the Trump front, Trump has real, serious, sustained support. Alex Castellanos called this a few weeks ago, writing in an email that “In my experience, once voters doubt but return, doubting again is less likely… A candidate’s vote hardens.” Unfortunately his whole email is not online, but you can read a bit of it here: “GOP vet: Trump win looking more and more likely” by Byron York in the Washington Examiner.
7. Truth vs. Identity: Both George Stephanopoulos on ABC (last Sunday) and Chuck Todd on NBC (this Sunday) confronted Trump on blatantly untrue statements (Todd more strongly than Stephanopoulos). Trump stuck to his guns and seemed untroubled, even telling Todd to calm down. How do you change people’s minds on important public issues when they don’t believe you? Take people who believe things that are demonstrably false, like anti-vaxers. When confronted with science, with clear evidence of truth — or even evidence that they have been lied to — people tend to harden in their beliefs (just like Trump did on Meet the Press this morning). Dan Kahan at Yale uses the phrase “cultural cognition” to explain the tendency of people to conform their facts to match their cultural identities — you start with a strong cultural identity, and then shape your individual beliefs to conform to that identity. But this means that by changing your mind on a specific issue, you might be undermining some fundamental stuff about who you believe you are, and what you believe about your community. Kahan’s works suggests that when you challenge Trump on whether or not he actually saw crowds of people in New Jersey celebrating the terrorist attacks of 9/11, you won’t get anywhere, because it’s not about whether or not the story is true — it’s about the mythology and the culture the story communicates. More on Kahan’s work here: http://www.culturalcognition.net/
On a related but somewhat tangential note, there are some interesting questions about the way that the primary/caucus calendar — originally engineered to offer an establishment candidate like Jeb Bush a clear path to victory in a crowded field — might benefit Trump. My colleagues at the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy (notably Ev Boyle) have painstakingly mapped the primary/caucus landscape in this Google Doc. There are still some unanswered questions and quite a few wrinkles to be ironed out, but it’s up to date and completed to the best of our ability at this point. Crowdsourcing it is probably the best way to fill in the gaps and get our questions answered — tweet suggestions to me or Ev.
A lot of it is great politics to watch… some of it veers towards scary (which makes it all the more riveting). The alarm bells about fascism may be a little overzealous (read this “Donald Trump’s alarming skid toward outright fascism” by Ryan Cooper in The Week) but maybe not. The most troubling thing for me in the entire Trump candidacy so far is the way he flummoxes journalists. Chuck Todd did an admirable job this morning — but was brushed aside, as many others before him. What does it mean to be a journalist — to hold power accountable — when power (& the public?) seems not to care too much about being held accountable?