The Trump Trap

There was a lot of yelling at the debates last week. Bernie (“I-have-to-yell-to-hear-myself”) Sanders and Elizabeth (“Fight! Fight! Fight!!) Warren led the pack, but there were others, I think. It’s hard to remember what ex- Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper said while Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Bill de Blasio shouted for attention.

But there was substance, too. 19 of the 20 candidates were highly qualified and smart enough to be President. (Really? Marianne Williamson, an author?).

“But remember who they’re trying to replace…” you might say into your sleeve. 

Snicker if you will, but look what happened to a pretty good line-up of Republican candidates in 2016. Trump destroyed them, methodically, charismatically, and ruthlessly – even as Republican pros laughed. When he took on Hillary, Democrats laughed all the way to the losers’ circle.

Today, Democrats’ fear and anger at Trump permeated their recent debates.

Which is exactly what Trump wants. It’s part of his trap, folks, the same trap he’s set for years, first in business, now in politics.

Here’s how it works:

Step 1 – “The Big Splash”: Start with a big splash. Then rally allies by convincing them they’ll make a big splash, too – and tons of money. 

Business example: getting Atlantic City to back his casinos, manipulating New York to allow Trump Tower, getting banks to give him risky loans. 

Political example: the splashy escalator ride in Trump Tower; Christy, Romney, and others thinking they’d be in the Cabinet.

Step 2 – “The Put Downs”: demean and ridicule the opposition at every turn. Make schoolyard insults a fearsome weapon. Attack ruthlessly, without letup, until the opposition’s initial fear evolves into matching anger.  

Business example: Attacking the banks in Atlantic City, attacking regulators in New York City. 

Political example: the destruction of Bush, Rubio, and Cruz in 2016; insulting NATO, Trudeau, Kim Jong Un, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, etc.

Step 3 – “The Outrage”: When the opposition finally explodes and chaos reigns, look around in shock. Be Claude Rains in Casa Blanca, “I’m shocked, shocked to find my opponents so childish and angry!” 

Business Example: When his casino went down, he blamed Atlantic City. 

Political example: His shock, shock at Europe, Mexico, and Canada for standing up to him.

Step 4, “The Conciliator”: As anger and chaos rain down and everybody just wants it all to stop, suddenly become the grown-up in the room. Offer conciliation – and less than you would have in the first place. The adversary is so exhausted, he accepts it, gratefully.  

Business Example: The banks funding his Atlantic City fiasco accepted 10 cents or so on the dollar, because it was better than losing everything if Trump declared bankruptcy; New York let him replace the Commodore Hotel with the Grand Hyatt, because the Commodore had fallen into disrepair, effecting the area all around Grand Central station.

Political example: Stopping the attack on Iran, the tariffs on Mexico, pausing other tariffs. 

That’s how the Trump Trap works. And he’s about to apply it to the 2020 election.

Democrats are susceptible because of our primary system. Primary voters are the extremists of their party. They know the issues long before moderates are even aware of them. They’re usually angry at the status quo.

In 2016, Republican primary voters had many qualified candidates, but they chose a complete novice instead, a man who won by tapping into his base’s anger at urban elites. He used his base’s kind of insults and their kind of language to kindle their kind of outrage, then rode it all the way to the White House. 

Democrats had only two candidates, and one controlled it all.

This year, roles are reversed. The Democrats have 25 candidates. Most are fearful and angry at Trump, and about to fall into his trap again. Trump is the sole opponent (sorry, Gov. Weld).

Step 1 – “The Big Splash”: He turns the July Fourth holiday into a Trump day by making the Lincoln Memorial celebration his celebration.

Step 2 – “The Put Downs”: Shouts of “Fake News” and “Socialism!” fuel his base’s anger at the Democrats, and fires up Democrat’s anger at him.  

Step 3 – “The Outrage”:  During most of the general election, he further weakens EPA rules, locks up more immigrant children, threatens more tariffs, military action, etc.,  ramping up anger and chaos.

Step 4 – “The Conciliator”:  Toward the end of the election he softens his rhetoric, expresses sadness at a divided country, and talks about healing the nation’s division.  The Democrats sputter like Bernie Sanders at a Koch Brothers convention. Swing voters, fearing socialism, the press, angry Democrats, and general chaos, swing back to Trump.

The trap closes.

That is what Democrats need to think about, and now.

(If you like this, pass it on. If you don't, pass it on anyway. Why should you suffer alone?)