The phenomenon that is Donald Trump and the Trump candidacy is historic. It has created an election and an atmosphere that we could go another century without seeing again.
Given that Donald Trump is the Haley’s Comet of American politics, no political science playbook or textbook or game plan exists on how to handle this phenomenon. From day 1, Donald Trump has baffled pundits, experts, strategists, analysts; and just about everyone else paying attention.
The efficacy of the Trump campaign to this point is attributable to Mr. Trump’s unpredictability and unconventionality. They call the study of politics and campaign management in academia “Political Science” for a reason. It doesn’t just exist to give future law students an easy major. Much like hard sciences, the political scientist likes to deal in theory or law with best practices, related to distinct causes and effects, tested over time in the laboratory.
But don’t expect to see any test tubes and microscopes. Politicos use public opinion, focus groups, conventional wisdom, and statistical analysis in their laboratory.
Donald Trump and his campaign has not only never entered the political laboratory — he’s burned it to the ground.
What is evident however is that a pattern has developed in the manner in which Donald Trump has dispatched his opponents — in the case of Jeb Bush, with nothing more than an adjective. One by one, his 16 opponents in the quest for the GOP nomination have vanished.
Each of these opponents was unique in their interactions with Trump over the course of the campaign. But in examining these interactions and how they have been portrayed in the media and evaluated by the court of public opinion, Trump’s opponents have met their demise to what I call: “ The 5 Stages of Political Death by Trump.”
Here are the stages:
Stage 1: Under Estimation
Hubris and ego are most prevalent in this stage as Trump’s opponents discount his business acumen and question his vast wealth and how he amassed it. Collectively they discount any chance he has for any type of success because he is after all a political novice and lacks the instincts needed to achieve. They ridicule his appearance, his hit TV show, and overall competence.
Stage 2: Placation
After they’ve gotten past Stage 1, the Trump opponent begins to realize that maybe Trump does have some appeal. During this stage advisers will tell the Trump opponent to “stay above the fray,” or “to keep doing your own thing,” or respond when asked about Trump with general platitudes like, “I couldn’t care less about Trump.” Essentially you are just trying to stay out of his gaze, and thus stay out of his crosshairs. Your grandpa called it, “whistling past the graveyard” — at least mine did.
Stage 3: Manipulation
When their strategy in Stage 2 proves unsuccessful, Trump’s opponents attempt to manipulate him and diminish his rising poll numbers and momentum by impacting his campaign with external forces. Examples of this have been the eminent domain argument, the KKK attacks and focusing on his past donations to Democrats (though they never seem to mention that Hillary Clinton was once a Republican). Hyperbolic labeling is popular during this phase, as comparisons of Trump are made by his opponents to some of histories most divisive and infamous characters.
Stage 4: Frustration
After Trump utilizes his broad populist appeal to stave off the manipulative, coordinated attacks from Stage 3, good old fashioned frustration sets in. “How could people be so dumb?” and “Trump appeals to the low information voter” are typically the types of sound bites that you will hear during this stage — ironically, especially so from Democrats, claiming to represent the “common man.” During this phase you’ll also see Trump opponents make wholesale changes in their staff. Like the cherry blossoms in spring, denial is in full bloom during Stage 4.
Stage 5: Hate
Like a pot full of boiling water with the stove still on high, Trump’s opponents become enraged, unable to grasp how they could be losing to the incompetent novice whom they had foolishly under estimated in Stage 1. During this stage the Trump opponent begins to deviate from their disciplined style of campaigning and they begin to make rash, reckless decisions. Their hand has been forced by Trump, never a good situation for a candidate to be in. This stage signals that political death is near.
With the GOP nomination all but wrapped up for Donald Trump, and his delegate count surging toward 1237, many are now looking toward the general election and the match up with Hillary Clinton. For those of you scoring at home, Hillary and DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz are currently vacillating between Stages 1,2, and 3.
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