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Why we will NEVER see a Trump “Pivot”

December 18, 2018

geoffrey.skelley (Geoffrey Skelley, elections analyst): We’ve been waiting for the fabled “Trump pivot” for, what, two years now? I’m not counting on it happening next year.

What Should Trump’s 2020 Strategy Be In 2019? – A FiveThirtyEight Chat

Nor should anyone, ever. And here is why:

To start, lets assume the circular logic that “Trump’s base” is made up of those people who already support Trump, because of the things that make him ineffably Trump.

I distinguish them from the Republicans/Conservatives who will support Trump because he doesn’t have a “D” after his name, though there is considerable overlap. Many of these “Never Ds” have become part of Trump’s base because they define themselves as being against anything the Democratic party is for (and for anything the Ds are against), and since the Liberals hate Trump, the Never Ds LOVE Trump.

What makes Trump’s base love Trump? That can be debated. Is it a function of ignorance as indicated by the correlation between lack of a college degree and voting for Trump?  Is it  related to the population density correlation, because the rural rubes are taken in by the city slicker con man? Is it because country folk are, at their heart, bigoted? It could be those things, but note that I deliberately used some controversial stereotypes based on statistical correlations; my point being that any attempt to dissect the why of it is likely to be read as invoking those stereotypes (regardless of whether or not I actually do in a real discussion of the why). That makes the discussion of the why of it likely to derail the actual point of this essay, distracting from the point I am (slowly) working toward. Additionally, the why is irrelevant to my point, and lengthy enough a discussion to warrant it’s own post. Hence, accepting the circular logic of “Trump’s base” defined as the people who like Trump because of Trump and his Trumpiness for whatever reason.

First, Trump’s loyalty may be only a one-way street, but his admiration is limited to three classes of people:

  1. People he wants something from (limited to those who have some level of power to deny it to him). Witness his kowtowing to Vladimir Putin (who holds the keys to business dealings in Russia) and Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (who holds the keys to business dealings in Saudi Arabia).
  2. People who have things Trump wishes he had. These are people with more power or money than he has. Putin and MBS qualify here too, as to Turkish PM Recep Erdogan, Kim Jong Un of North Korea, and the list goes on.
  3. Finally, people who like and are loyal to Trump. Fox News, his fixer Michael Cohen (until Cohen flipped), his pet generals Michael Flynn and John Kelly (until Flynn got caught lying and and Kelly stood up to him one too many times), etc. And his base.

Contra-wise, Trump has no tolerance for anyone who isn’t a fawning sycophant.

Second, Trump doesn’t really enjoy being President. His disappointment on election night and his constant frustration at having to do things he doesn’t enjoy and being unable to do whatever he wants (for instance, when it is illegal, or courts that say “No”) have been well documented.

Third, Trump appeals to aggrievement. Make America Great Again, because “Someone” has made America less great. “Someone” is taking/destroying what is rightfully yours, and that “Someone” is usually not Straight White Christian Male Conservatives. (And when they are one or more of those qualities, they aren’t “real” SWCMCs.)

Note that it is hard to keep aggrievement going when you control the Presidency, the Senate, the House the Supreme Court, and most state governments.

Because of those three things, Trump has no incentive to pivot toward the middle. 

The conventional wisdom is that, when what you are doing is unpopular and your party has taken a shellacking in the mid-terms, you try to enlarge the range of people you appeal to in order to maintain power (and maybe get at least some of your agenda enacted). But Trump’s “power” doesn’t come from the levers of government (otherwise more of his agenda would have gotten enacted) – it comes from aggrievement. (And I don’t believe Trump has an “agenda” as such, but that too is a discussion for another post.)

Having a foil in the form of Democratic control of the House – even losing the 2020 election will serve Trump’s need to appeal to aggrievement. Now he can blame the Democratic Party for his inability to get his agenda passed (he’s using them already, despite the fact that the Republicans are still in complete control of the levers of power). If/when Trump loses in 2020, he can go back to 2016 Plan A and claim that the Democrats and illegals (same thing, really) robbed him and, by extension, his supporters of their rightful victory, and milk the aggrievement by selling more MAGA merchandise and starting up his own aggrievement media empire.

Not pivoting, even if that leads to losing elections, allows him to gain more power with his base.

By contrast, pivoting will turn his supporters’ aggrievement on himself for betraying them, the way that they were betrayed by the standard pro-business conservatives, the globalist neo-conservatives, the liberals, the media, the government, and so on, because that is the way aggrievement works.

There is a self-perpetuating dynamic at work here. Just because Trump isn’t playing seven-dimensional chess doesn’t mean he lacks instinctive genius. He personally has aggrievement – he (probably rightly) feels that he isn’t as successful as he should be, that there are others more successful than him and he DESERVES to be the most successful, therefore someone is to blame for his lack of complete domination. He taps into that, and finds things to say that speak to other aggrieved people. Its not like there was a great clamoring for a wall before Trump descended the golden escalator, it was a device he used to tap into the aggrievement. And in their aggrievement, they discovered they REALLY needed a wall, and Trump’s desire for their support (and adoration)(and, oh yeah, their money) keeps him supplying them with their aggrievement, and so the circle was constructed.

To keep that circle going, to keep getting the adoration, he is constrained from pivoting.

Pivoting is work. To do it successfully, you have to work hard to find a message that will resonate with your opponents while not pissing off your base (and, as already noted, aggrievement is all about being pissed off). You have to make tough choices about what parts of your agenda are worth fighting for and where you can give a little to get a little. nd you have to actually negotiate, instead of relying on bullying.

For a guy whose M.O. is rolling into work (downstairs from where he lives) at noon and knocking off before three PM four days a week, and golfing or traveling to and from the golf course the other three days, hard work like that is really not appealing. And winning the presidency WASN’T EVEN PLAN A! Who would want to work that hard?

Not pivoting gives him more of what drives him; pivoting means getting less of what he wants and more of what he doesn’t.

He’ll never pivot.

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Historical Argument

April 2, 2013

The argument before the SUpreme Court over the definition of marriage may be over (for this season, anyway), but the decision is still weeks or months away.

Which gives us time to pick apart the arguments made before the highest court in the land.

One of the main arguments in defense of California’s overturned Proposition 8 is that marriage has always been defined as between a man and a woman. For thousands of years it has been that way.

The coded message is, God said it was so, therefore it is so. But the founders of our nation wisely decided that our government would be of the people, for the people, and by the people… not by a Pope, not by any god, or by anyone claiming to speak for him. So that argument doesn’t hold any weight with the court, so the defenders of bigotry must resort to the coded language: so has it ever been, so shall it ever be.

(This despite the “reverence” with which those against gay marriage claim to have for the Founding Fathers. For that, they have to resort to claiming that the Constitution which the Founders wrote misquotes them!)

But here is the thing – for thousands of years, the definition of a government was a divinely ordained monarch. It may have been fine for our ancestors, but we figured out a better way. Which is why we have an internet to blog on, and a Supreme Court to argue in front of.

Divinely ordained monarchs, the tradition of thousands of years, overturned. A narrow definition of marriage, the tradition of thousands of years… well, for now we can only hope. Figuring out a better way to run things…. a tradition that will hopefully continue for a while!


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