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February 14, 2016

The Ego Has Landed: Why Trump Damaged Himself Tonight

Apologies. I have no idea why I indulged myself to write so long to make such a simple point. Long story short: You can't tell people they've been flat wrong about everything for 17 years, without giving the slightest reason why they should change their entire scheme of thinking, and expect them to support you.

This was a brief line in the podcast (which we'll post tomorrow) which I expanded, for reasons I can now no longer guess, into a 1500 word exegesis on the obvious.

Just skip to the brief update.


The "ego" in the headline doesn't actually refer to Trump's ego, for once. Rather, it refers to the voters' egos.

I think Trump hurt himself badly tonight, enough to knock him out of his first-place standing in most states. Oh he won't completely disappear -- but 2nd Place Trump is not the same thing as Frontrunner Trump.

Trump damaged himself with his claim that Bush lied us into war in Iraq. Not botched the intelligence, not read too much into thin intelligence.

Most Republicans, I think, would agree that that.

No, Trump claimed that Bush deliberately lied us into war.

First, this is alarming because it once again demonstrates that Trump has a conspiratorial mind. It's not enough for the conspiracist to say someone was wrong -- no, they have unrealistically black/white minds, and if you made a bad call, you must have lied.

That conspiracism was always present in his claims about Obama's birth certificate. But that bit of fantasy was about Obama, someone the average Republican voter isn't exactly eager to man the battlements for.

This corker -- this Al Gore roar of quote -- is about George W. Bush, someone still looked upon with affection by most of the party.

Which brings us to the second problem.

If Donald Trump is right, and George W. Bush deliberately schemed with his neo-con advisers to "lie" us into a phony war with Iraq, what does that say about the average Republican voter who supported Bush from 1999, voted for him, defended him through the recount, cried with him on 9/11, agreed with him on Iraq, defended him from ceaseless liberal attacks on him during the war, defended him from Obama's never-expiring "Blame Bush" blame-shifting, etc.?

If Trump is right, then we're not just wrong to have supported him. If Trump's right, we're goddamned rubes and fools to have defended this Actual Hitler-Level Monster for going on 17 years now.

Everyone has an ego. Even Jeb Bush.

The first duty of every ego is to protect itself from attack.

People want to think well of themselves, and they wish to vote in a way that makes them think well of themselves. It's a critical goal in every campaign to convince the public that voting for this candidate is the Smart, Virtuous, Good thing to do, because people will vote in a way that enables them to luxuriate their egos.

That's how Barack Obama got elected. The media convinced people that they became smart and virtuous and good just by voting for this layabout pinko incompetent.

A good leader will challenge people, and that sometimes requires posing a threat to their egos. By telling someone they are wrong-- or at least aren't thinking about things quite straight --one is attacking their ego.

But someone adroit in persuasion understands when he is in fact attacking the core of someone's sense of self-worth, and does so cautiously, deploying all the reason and tactfulness he can marshal into the effort.

He attacks that person's ego to the smallest extent compatible with his goal (changing the person's mind), and offers him good reasons to change his mind.

He thus offers a lateral move, if you will, from one state of self-valuation to another. You give up on this one way of thinking, which would usually cause some psychic strain to the ego, but, on the other hand, you have been convinced of the rectitude of this other way of thinking. By moving to that new way of thinking, you gain a level of self-worth, so you're net even on the deal. (You might even gain some sense of self-worth for having been smart enough to recognize a good argument and having been openminded enough to consider it.)

It is very unpersuasive, on the other hand, to offer someone a flat contradiction of something they've long believed while offering no reason at all to accept a new replacement belief, except the assertion of it.

Abandoning the old position is damaging to one's sense of self-worth -- how could I have gotten it wrong for so long? But no easy glide-path to the new way of thinking is offered.

You sort of have to just knuckle under someone's flat assertion -- and subordinating oneself to another's claims, with no good reasons for such subordination offered, is even more hostile to the ego than being wrong.

Who wants to be someone else's Thought Bitch?

This is a long way of saying Trump specifically and completely contradicted a belief that 75-80% of Republicans have about Bush -- that he was a fundamentally decent man, perhaps overwhelmed by a very difficult period, who made an erroneous decision based on incomplete information -- and instead offered a new belief, that Bush deliberately lied about Iraq's WMD's, a position that 75-80% of Republicans have long not only rejected but have been actively hostile towards.

With no better reason to adopt this new claim other than that Donald Trump said it.

I doubt very much people will be willing to make this leap with Trump. Gathering political support is all about getting a buy-in of belief at a price that people are willing to pay (usually, a low price-- that's why politicians strain to parrot back to you things you already believe).

I think Trump, who has been a past-master at getting people to buy-in to a very low-cost premise -- "Let's Make America Great Again" -- just made a very high cost premise central to buying into him.

And I think for that reason that many people will be taking a second look at Trump -- and not in a good "second look" way. I think they'll be evaluating things they previously gave him passes on -- donations to Hilary, Reid, Pelosi, etc.; support for partial birth abortion; support for single-peer health care-- and re-evaluate those facts while keeping in mind Trump's big new premise that Republicans supported, voted for, defended, and sustained an actual war criminal who made war on a country he knew to be innocent of the claim he dishonestly profferred against it, for who knows what sinister gain.

We'll see if he tries walking this one back, and to what extent he's successful.

If it is now a part of the agenda that we actually have to buy into all the claims Gore, Pelosi, Obama, etc. made for years, I think this new agenda is going to turn out to be too highly priced for most Republican voters.

And Don't Even Get Me Started on Tribal Signaling. I was just telling someone that every campaign boils down to two four word claims:



Dress it up however you like, the subconscious messaging in every election is just that.

I'm on Your side.

He's not like Us.

With just a few poorly chosen angry words, Trump declared a lot of allegiance to the enemy tribe, and essentially said "I'm not like you."

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posted by Ace at 01:53 AM

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