I follow several bloggers with whom I disagree (sometimes strongly). Indeed it is a virtue if they have different conclusions, because perhaps my own view is wrong. But what makes me start losing interest is when these bloggers aren’t even internally consistent.
For example, back on June 28 Scott Adams (the Dilbert creator who has gained new fame for his analysis of Trump’s success) made it crystal clear that the Hillary Clinton camp had finally hit upon the right way to attack Trump:
While the Clinton campaign itself has been notably weak with its persuasion game, the folks on her side have been viciously effective at branding Trump a crazy racist.
Nothing else in this election matters.
Viewed through the Master Persuader filter, the facts of this election don’t matter because facts are not persuasive. The lies don’t matter. The flip-flopping doesn’t matter. Trump’s command of the issues don’t matter. Trump’s insults don’t matter. Policies don’t matter. Trump University doesn’t matter. Even charges of sexism are not enough to derail him.
The persuasion kill shot against Trump is the accusation that Trump is a crazy racist. When you combine crazy and racist, you have a lethal persuasion cocktail. And that’s what the Clinton side has done.
The folks on social media tested lots of accusations against Trump until they found traction with the “crazy racist” theme in all its forms. And Clinton’s campaign team wisely amplified it.
Remember when social media was saying Trump wasn’t serious about running, or that he was a clown, or he was doing it for the money? Those accusations didn’t get traction, and Trump swept them away with his continued success.
But the accusations kept coming, one after another, until the combo of crazy and racist bubbled to the top, as measured by social media virality. The Clinton campaign recognized the crazy racist theme as the best approach and started hammering on it through a variety of “fear Trump” message. Fear works when facts do not. And “crazy racist” is totally scary. And totally working. You can test it for yourself by asking any anti-Trumper to list the top three reasons for disliking Trump. Some form of “crazy racist” will normally come out on top. Persuasion-wise, every other reason is just noise.
Now at the time, I cut Adams some slack–even though I thought it was a bit silly–for this analysis, because he was stressing the combination. I mean, people had been denouncing Trump as a racist since his infamous Mexican rapist remarks. So it would have been ridiculous for Adams, in June 2016, to say, “Ah, Team Clinton has finally started closing the persuasion gap, by hitting on the clever idea of calling Trump a racist. Good thing they have ‘Godzilla’ advising her, who would’ve thought to call the Republican a racist? Excellent brainstorm coming from the annals of hypnotism.”
I hope you all see what I mean. (Incidentally, in other recent posts Adams keeps saying what a brilliant idea this ‘Godzilla’ advisor has had, by stoking voter fears that Trump can’t be trusted with nuclear weapons. Uh, is the idea that this Godzilla knows about arguably the most famous U.S. political ad of all time?)
So anyway, given that the only way I could give myself permission to keep taking Adams seriously was that he stressing the combination of crazy and racist in the “persuasion battle,” you can imagine my surprise when I read the following in his August 25 post:
Clinton will still say stuff about policies, and Trump will still do plenty of insulting. But overall, Clinton has embraced the full-Godzilla approach in which persuasion matters more than truth. Trump is doing something more like the opposite, including prepping for upcoming debates (even if he says he is not), and talking more about policy. He needs to do those things to prop up his brand to “presidential” level.
I heard Clinton call in to CNN last night and preview her new Trump-is-racist persuasion, and I have to say it was strong. Strong enough to win, unless Trump finds a way to counter it.
The Clinton persuasion method will involve dramatic and repeated shouting of racist claims against Trump. Examples:
1. THE THING HE GOT SUED FOR 40 YEARS AGO!
2. THE THING HE SAID ABOUT THE JUDGE THAT WE MISINTERPRETED!
3. THE DEPORTATION HE NEVER REALLY MEANT!
Trump supporters will try to explain-away each bit of “evidence,” but will fail because of the sheer volume of them, and the limits on TV time. The facts will not matter. What matters is how often voters hear Trump’s name associated with one terrible accusation after another. That’s Godzilla’s persuasion advice, I assume.
See what I mean? He isn’t even bothering to include the “crazy” thing anymore. Now it’s just: “Wow, this Godzilla has finally gotten Team Clinton to call Trump a racist. Man that guy’s good.”
Last thing which pushed me over the edge: The reason Adams is so sure that Team Clinton has begun taking advice from “Godzilla” is that their strategy vis-a-vis Trump turned on a dime, right after Sanders dropped out. According to Breitbart:
Adams told Breitbart News that he believes that Cialdini may have sat out the Democratic Party primary — or perhaps worked for Sen. Bernie Sanders — then joined the Clinton effort once it became clear she would be the party’s nominee.
While Trump had been more effective at using persuasion techniques, he said, “the Clinton persuasion game went from non-existent, which I reported on for months, to solid-gold, weapons-grade, almost instantly, as soon as Bernie Sanders dropped out.”
Sanders had been outperforming expectations, and Clinton had been underperforming expectations. “Wherever you see somebody exceed expectations by that much, either they are a persuader, like Trump is, or they have somebody helping them,” Adams concluded.
That stopped, as soon as Sanders yielded to Clinton.
Adams explained: “Clinton stopped talking about her boring policies, and details, and her experience, and she went to pure persuasion. She went to the bigger scare,” which was the image of Donald Trump with his finger on the nuclear button.
The result, he said, was a lift in her poll numbers, and the ongoing slump in Donald Trump’s performance.
It would be “surprising,” he said, if Cialdini, or one of his students, weren’t helping Clinton, given his past involvement in the Obama campaign.
“His fingerprints are all over this.”
But is the above really a sign that a new advisor came on board right after Sanders dropped out? Or, is the more straightforward explanation that Team Hillary first had to knock out Sanders–which required a certain approach to appeal to idealistic and (sometimes) wonkish progressives–and then turn attention to Trump for the general?
Also, note in the above excerpt that (at least if the paraphrase is correct) Adams wasn’t even talking about “crazy racist,” instead he was saying more generally that Team Clinton was trying to use fear and the nuclear button approach.
In summary, I’ll still read Adams’ blog, which is unique and entertaining, but I’ve stopped humoring the possibility that he has a brilliant system of campaign analysis that most other pundits are missing.