The Marketing Imagination and the Political Imagination
According to the RealClearPolitics polling average, Joe Biden is about ten points ahead of Donald Trump.
Moreover, the planned “reset” of Trump’s reelection campaign in Tulsa on June 20 was not a success, at least in terms of its expectations-game optics; the Trump fans were enthusiastic, but there were only 6,200 of them—a fraction of the number that the campaign itself had anticipated. Was the soft attendance the result of Democrat dirty tricks? Or of threatened mob violence? Perhaps there was some of that, but the plain fact is that the Trump campaign had trouble building a crowd in a state that Trump carried by by more 36 points four years ago. Other events, elsewhere in the last few days, we might note, have gone much better, expectations-game management-wise.
Meanwhile, in just three-and-a-half months, Americans will start voting, thanks to absentee voting and vote-by- mail. Thus the Trump campaign must necessarily enter a new and sharper phase, in which it runs more effectively against what it calls the “defined Joe Biden”—that is, Biden revealed as something other than “Middle Class Joe.”
Yet if the Trump campaign is to succeed in “defining” Biden, as a menace, it won’t be sufficient to argue that Biden is “Sleepy Joe,” or that he has adopted new, more liberal, stances during his 2020 run for the White House. Those might both be true statements, but they aren’t enough. The plain fact is, “Joe Biden isn’t scaring the president’s base.” Those words come from the Washington Post’s David Weigel, who is not one of those PC journalistic wokesters, and who was on hand at the rally in Tulsa. He further recorded that anti-Biden sentiments were not strongly voiced among the crowd, and that “anti-Biden merchandise was not flying off the table.” Yes, Weigel acknowledged, many Trump supporters think that Biden has lost a step or two—or three—mentally, but that’s not the same thing as seeing him as some sort of Hillary Clinton-type ogre.
So we can see: If the Trump campaign just runs against Biden, sitting in his basement in Delaware—which is, shrewd Democrats say, the best place for him to be—that’s not likely to be sufficient to overcome the ominous public opinion trend-lines on Trump’s handling of, most notably, the coronavirus.
Instead, the Trump campaign must be both tougher and more creative: It must make an active effort to help voters to visualize what a Biden presidency would actually be like. That is, if Biden wins, who would fill up his administration? Yes, Biden himself might not be so dangerous, but who will be around him? And here we don’t mean his wife, Jill, who seems pleasant enough.
Instead, we must ask: Who would be, for instance, his attorney general? Would he, or she, be in favor of strong law enforcement? Well, we all know the answer to that question.
So what’s desperately needed is to make that answer—Biden will be softer on crime than Trump—truly palpable, truly granular, such that any fair-minded voter will get a feel for the look, the texture, even the taste of a President Biden’s soft-on-crime policies.
We know, for instance, that a Biden Justice Department will swing its door wide open to the American Civil Liberties Union and Black Lives Matter, as well as to the many hirelings of George Soros, the billionaire who has spent many millions transforming the judicial system, defeating incumbent prosecutors and replacing them with anti-law enforcement zealots.
So now, let’s play this out, if Biden wins: Starting in January 2021, who would have the top jobs at Justice? Which individuals, exactly? And so how can opponents illustrate the effect of their crime-progressivism in practical, tangible terms? Will there be more Antifa as a result? Will there be more lawless “autonomous zones,” such as we now see in Seattle? Will the prisons and jails be thinned out? Emptied out? Will it be safe to walk down the street?
A Political Mirror on Society
Fortunately, today, we have new tools for visualization and story telling—and so the Trump campaigners should use them to “granularize” a Biden presidency. Indeed, it’s never been easier to make a video, or a computer-assisted animation, or something using Zoom, or a show featuring augmented reality and virtual reality.
And so, for instance, if the Trump campaign wished to depict the future of anarchy in a Bidenized U.S., it could make a mash-up of video from, say, the 2012 dystopic Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises. In particular, there’s this scene, when anarchist totalitarians hold a kangaroo court with predictably lethal results.
So we can see: It wouldn’t be hard at all to make a video titled, “Welcome to Joe Biden’s Antifa America.” Now some would say, of course, that Biden is not Antifa. And it’s true, he isn’t. Even Trump himself has conceded that about the man. Yet it remains to be seen whether or not a Biden 46 would unleash those vicious forces through leniency or inattention. Or, as Trump argued in Tulsa, a President Biden would be a “helpless puppet of the radical left.”
In the meantime, those who believe that a new wave of ultra-violence would be unleashed alongside a Biden presidency in 2021 have a perfect right to say so. Indeed, they have a perfect duty to release their visualization of Bidenian anarchy; other movies to be possibly mashed up include such grim classics as Night of the Living Dead, A Clockwork Orange, Dirty Harry, Warriors, and Escape From New York. We might recall that each of these movies, dating from the last big crime wave, from the 60s to the 80s, held up a mirror to the era’s horrifying criminal realities. Yes, even though they were fictional films, each told a sort of terrible truth.
In marketing lingo, this sort of vivid visualization is known as “tangibilizing the intangible.” That is, effective marketers envision something not yet real, that is, intangible, and make it seem real, that is, tangible. To put it another way, the consumer is being told that what you see is what you will get.
This concept, of tangibilizing the intangible, comes from a 1986 book, The Marketing Imagination, by Harvard Business School professor Theodore Levitt. What Levitt wrote three-and-a-half decades ago is still true today: “Imagination means to construct mental pictures of what … is not actually present.” So now, in the case of the 2020 election, Trump campaigners, and their allies, must manage the “marketing,” or, should we say, the “anti-marketing” of a Biden presidency.
Of course, anybody can create a castle in the sky, or conjure up any other sort of fancy. And yet to be effective in marketing terms, the thing being marketed has to have some basis in potential reality. As Levitt explained, “Nobody pays attention to even a well-argued proposition if it’s obviously devoid of plausibility.”
Yet as we have seen, it’s plausible that Biden can win, and it’s plausible that Biden will have an ACLU/BLM-friendly crime policy. So those who wish to stave off such a Biden victory had better start tangibilizing the intangible, by showing what a Biden victory would actually look like.
In other words, anti-Biden forces need a bold leap, from the marketing imagination to the political imagination.
Ten Tangibles of a Biden Presidency
So as Trump campaigners begin thinking about what we might expect from a Biden presidency, and then how to vivify these expectations–now, before November 3–they can start by assembling raw material. That is, they can pull together the elements of the “script” that could guide them in the Biden-tangibilization process.
In terms of actual script-writing, they can start with some of the “unfinished business” of the Obama-Biden administration. After all, Biden has spent the last two years on the campaign trail reminding everyone that he was Barack Obama’s vice president; so now, it’s time for him to own all its policies, as they were once—and how they will be in a Biden future.
Here are three notables examples of Obama legacy policies that Biden seems sure to pick up if he wins:
1. Iran Nuclear Deal. By all accounts, this deal—formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—inked in 2015, was the diplomatic crown jewel of Obama’s presidency. For his part, Trump officially renounced JCPOA back in 2018, and yet the deal, minus the U.S., is still in place, still, binding, theoretically, the Iranians, Chinese, Russians, and Europeans.
To be sure, the actual substance of the deal is in tatters. In 2018, for example, Israel released a trove of documents, pilfered from inside Iran, which seemed to show that the Iranians had been cheating on the agreement all along.
In any case, JCPOA expires in 2025, and so a hypothetical Biden administration will have to figure out what to do at that time. About the only thing we can be sure of is that Biden’s diplomats will be looking to handle the Iran issue in the opposite manner of the way Trump has handled it. So what would that mean for Iran’s nuclear program? For the future of the Middle East? For the future of the world? Well, that’s for the Trump folks to dramatize.
2. Paris Climate Framework. This was another deal signed by the Obama administration in 2015, seeking to restrict future emissions of carbon dioxide. In the agreement, the U.S. committed to reducing CO2 by more than a quarter by 2025. Trump withdrew from the Paris agreement in 2017.
So now, what will Biden do if he wins? He has said specifically that he will have the U.S. re-engage with the Paris process, although, of course, most Democrats want to do much more. Many Democrats, in fact, advocate a Green New Deal, which would spend tens of trillions in pursuit of the total transformation of the U.S. economy.
For his part, Biden won’t go that far. He advocates, instead, as a sort of lesser compromise, a murky position on fracking, an additional expenditure of $1.7 trillion, and “net zero” CO2 emissions by 2020. So tell us, Trump story-tellers: How would all that would work out for America? And American jobs?
3. Police “Reform.” On December 18, 2014, President Obama issued an executive order establishing a “Task Force on 21st Century Policing.” That task force held public hearings and sought out advice from local elected officials as well as mostly left-wing non-governmental organizations. In May 2015, it issued its final report, calling for a variety of changes, such as better data collection; most of these changes, of course, look tame by the standards of today. Still, we can safely predict that a President Biden would seek to build on his service in the Obama administration to go further on “police reform”—much further.
To be sure, Biden has specifically said that he does not support defunding the police, and yet at the same time, many Democrat cities are engaged in processes that range somewhere between “transforming,” “rebuilding,” and “reimagining” their police forces. And Biden’s specific position on all that changing is unclear, although he’s in favor of at least some big measures.
Of course, Trump supporters might ask with insistence: Would a President Biden, turning 80 midway in his first term, have the energy and attentiveness to watch over the Social Justice Warriors who would join his administration—particularly his Justice Department? In the meantime, Breitbart News is reporting that left-wing ideologues—funded in part by, yes, George Soros—are heavily involved in drafting the 2020 Democrat platform, the policy document intended to guide the Biden presidency and the Democrat Party overall. So when that platform is finalized, Trump campaigners will have yet another opportunity to visualize, and dramatize, the future of public safety under a President Biden.
Okay, so those are three issues already baked in the Biden cake. The urgent message to the Trump campaign: Start tangibilizing these intangibles.
Now, here are seven more issues that need tangibilizing; we could think, of course, of 70 more, but this is a start:
4. Biden’s Vice President. Nobody knows who the choice will be—the Beltway betting favors Sen. Kamala Harris—but as soon as the announcement is made, Trump campaigners need to think about visualizing, now, the influence to be exerted by the possible 49th vice president.
Moreover, we should be mindful that of the 44 individuals who have held the presidency, eight of them have died in office. So once Biden picks his running mate, Team Trump should undertake the mission not only of tangibilizing his or her likely impact on the Biden administration, but also of tangibilizing a possible successor presidential administration.
5. & 6. The U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, and overall policy toward Israel. In its time, the Obama administration chose, consistently, to invoke its legal authority to ignore a congressional mandate, dating back to 1995, to move the U.S. embassy from Israel’s former capital, Tel Aviv, to its present-day capital, Jerusalem. The location of the embassy had been an arcane point of dispute between the U.S. and Israel for half a century, and the Obama administration had been happy to keep the dispute going. By contrast, Trump moved America’s embassy to Jerusalem in 2017.
For his part, Biden has said, “The move shouldn’t have happened in the context as it did, it should happen in the context of a larger deal to help us achieve important concessions for peace in the process.” And yet at the same time, he added, “But now that is done, I would not move the embassy back to Tel Aviv.”
Okay, so that’s a politically savvy answer from Biden; after all, not many Americans, this side of Palestinian-American Rep. Rashida Tlaib and her Squad, are opposed to locating the U.S. embassy to Israel in the same city as the Israeli government.
Yet still, Biden, mindful of the growing constituency in the Democrat Party that counts itself as anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian, or both, has made it clear that a Biden administration would be “even-handed” toward Israel and the Palestinians. Such “even-handedness” could become a real flashpoint if Israel were to proceed with its reported plans to formally annex the West Bank.
In fact, Biden’s top foreign policy adviser, Anthony Blinken—quite possibly Biden’s choice for secretary of state—has declared that any such annexation would be “a huge mistake,” adding that Biden opposes “unilateral steps taken by either side that make the prospect of a negotiated two-state outcome less likely … and that includes annexation.” In the meantime, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports that House Democrats are circulating a letter opposing any possible annexation; Haaretz reports that the letter already has 90 signatures, and could get as many 200 House Democrats to sign. Indeed, Haaretz adds that most Democrats in the Senate share the same anti-annexation view.
So with Biden in the White House, what would a renewed state of antagonism between the U.S. and Israel look like? The time is now to visualize!
7. International Criminal Court. Conservatives and champions of American sovereignty fear that the International Criminal Court (ICC), a body based in The Hague, Netherlands, has the potential to become a rogue organization, turning ongoing geopolitical arguments about wars into politically motivated legal prosecutions.
Unfortunately, the U.S. has some potential exposure here, since some 2.7 million Americans have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. True America-Firsters know that Uncle Sam would have been well advised, of course, never to have gotten himself into these foreign quagmires; moreover, Trump should have pulled out three years ago—and never looked back.
Yet still, today, we can’t change what’s happened, and it’s absurd to let past foolish past policies of intervention lead to the potential criminal prosecution of American warriors. And yet that’s exactly what could be happening: The ICC has formally declared that it will investigate allegations against American personnel in Afghanistan.
For its part, the Trump administration has stated that it will not cooperate with the ICC; indeed, the president just issued an executive order formally barring any ICC employee from so much as entering the country. In the meantime, former Bush 43 Justice Department official John Yoo warns, “The ICC is trying to impose its own view of international humanitarian law … on American operations in Afghanistan. If the ICC were to rule against U.S. soldiers and agents, it could authorize states to arrest them and hand them over to the court for trial.”
Interestingly, the U.S. has never agreed to be a member of the ICC, although there’s plenty of support, on the left, for joining it. Still, at the moment, the question of the ICC’s jurisdiction over America is unclear, at best—although we have all learned that clever lawyers can conjure up a case, even when none should exist.
Okay, so now, let’s ask: How would a President Biden react to an aggressive ICC? Back in 2009, the Obama-Biden administration’s special envoy for war crimes, Stephen Rapp, declared, “Our government has now made the decision that Americans will return to engagement with the ICC.” Rapp explained that the U.S. would be on hand as an observer, not as a member, and yet such shaded word-shuffling is sometimes a prelude to a deeper diplomatic plunge. Admittedly, that deeper plunge didn’t happen under Obama, but the world keeps changing—and the internationalist left never gives up hoping.
So Trumpians should ask, now: Since the Biden administration would be so wedded to internationalism, what would be its attitude toward the ICC? And toward all similarly intrusive international institutions?
8. Trade Deals. Would Biden seek to revive the trade deals that he supported in the Obama administration, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership? It’s worth recalling that when he was in the U.S. Senate, Biden supported both the North American Free Trade Agreement and Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China. So what would be next for him, trade-wise, in 2021?
9. China. Does Biden still think, as he has said repeatedly, that China is no threat to the U.S.? For perspective on Biden and China, we might recall that Biden’s son Hunter has done plenty of business in China. Moreover, in May, the National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC) announced that it had identified $70 million that went from China to the Biden Center at the University of Pennsylvania. The NLPC further noted that $22 million of that total was completely anonymous. Now what does that tell us?
10. Slavery reparations. During a June 10 “virtual town hall” hosted by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Biden opened the door to reparations for slavery, saying, “If, in fact, there are ways to get direct payments for reparations, I want to see it. Why are we waiting around for the study? We can deal with this stuff.” Some might say that Biden, as is so often the case, said a lot without actually saying anything. Others might say that slavery reparations would make a good subject for a tangibilizing video.
So we can see: Many questions are waiting to be asked about Joe Biden. And so it’s Donald Trump’s opportunity to provide the answers.
Interestingly, just on June 26, Team Trump started a jokey tweet-thread about Biden’s possible “cabinet” choices, starting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping as “trade adviser,” failed Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams as “liaison to imaginary governors,” and so on. Such whimsical imagineering is a good start, in terms of tangibilizing the intangible, but but as marketing guru Levitt wrote, the key is making the tangibilization “plausible.” And Xi Jinping for any American post is, well, not plausible. Thus it will be easy for the Biden campaign to just laugh it off.
In the meantime, an anonymous tweeter offers his own widely-circulated dystopic scenario for a Biden presidency. Many will disagree with his conclusions, but it’s a useful discussion to begin.
Before it’s too late, the Trump campaign will have to be seriously focused, and deadly serious, about sharing its vision of the fate of the nation in President Biden’s hands. Yes, the message can be funny. But maybe better, scary—and for sure, always, plausible. And the ten matters raised above are good places for Team Trump to start.
Otherwise, the Biden campaign, with its own pat answers in hand, might well lull Americans into not worrying about the prospect of a Biden presidency. And so far, if the polls are to be believed, Biden’s strategy is working.
If Trump campaigners are truly in it to win it, they will have to start, yes, defining Biden—and doing it in a most tangible way, so that Americans can truly get a sense of what an actual Biden presidency would be like. If the Trumpians can do so, then, the current dismal polls notwithstanding, they still have a solid fighting chance.