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Stopping Trump: They're Getting it Wrong

The Republican Establishment is beside itself, bewildered by the popularity of Donald Trump and seemingly impotent to stop or even slow his march toward the magical number, the 1,237 delegates needed to secure the nomination. The National Review set aside an entire issue for twenty-two “against Trump” articles written by respected conservatives. Conservative columnists David Brooks and Ross Douthat have issued passionate calls for moderates to find a path to normalcy. Prominent business leaders and political operatives have held secret meetings focused on stopping Trump. Foreign diplomats, used to a more evenly keeled US stance, have expressed dismay and hopes for more reasonable candidates to emerge. Comedians mock him; editors rail against him and respected Republicans from Karl Rove to Bruce Bartlett and Mitt Romney have castigated him.

None of it is working. Trump’s position in the polls remains the same. His rallies are as circus-like as ever, his supporters perhaps even louder and more passionate and, as we saw on Tuesday, the delegate count climbs.

The reason is simple but the standard bearers of “Classic Conservatism” who have run the GOP for decades don’t seem to have grasped it.

The core of Trump’s appeal is “anti-establishment.” Everything he says, does or claims he will do, flies in the face of standard political tenets and his supporters — who have been ignored by the Democrats, reneged on by the Republicans, neglected by the intelligentsia and mocked by the media — eat up every word.

It should come as no surprise that every time someone from the GOP’s establishment wing attacks Trump, insults him or criticizes his positions he gains. Every time a group of Republican VIPs gathers to plot ways to block his path to the nomination it reinforces his message. Every angry op-ed piece from the Times, the Washington Post or Huff Po merely tells them, yet again, that they are right. He is their champion.

There’s a reason why this is happening. Psychologists have long-known that persuasive communication depends, to a considerable extent, on the credibility of the messenger. With Trump’s supporters the credibility of all establishment figures, groups, organizations or publishing outlets is about as low as it can get — and so their appeals have zero impact.

There’s a video zipping around the Internet showing in rapid interspersed clips Trump dealing with protestors by having them thrown out of his rallies accompanied by threats of violence from Trump and snippets from Obama deftly handling those who disrupted his speeches with calm and open discussion of the issue. The anti-Trump folks praise this video. The pro-Trump crowd just laughs — they love their “tough guy” and think the president is a pussy.

But there’s another strategy. If the GOP wants to weaken his appeal they have to shift gears; the tried and true doesn’t work in this new world. They have to have the messages come from outside the establishment. To be effective they have to be delivered by those held in high esteem by Trump’s supporters. They cannot come from anyone who appears even remotely linked with the establishment — no party regulars, no university professors, no pundits, no members of Congress, no prominent bloggers.

They need to recruit business insiders who have firsthand knowledge of Trump’s suspect dealings write the op-eds, developers who were screwed over by Trump go on talk shows. Shareholders who got burned by his bankruptcies make the YouTube videos; construction workers who lost jobs to illegal immigrants on Trump projects need to take public stands; people who lost houses and jobs in Trump’s machinations appear in ads. Then do interviews with the students scammed by the phony Trump University, investors who lost money in Trump Steaks.

Each of these will introduce a glimmer of doubt. Doubt is a powerful force in hotly contested elections — hell, look how it’s damaging Hillary who should, simply on her record, be untouchable in this election.

If the GOP wants to stop Trump they’re going to have to go back to their 2004 playbook and SwiftBoat him. If they don’t and Trump gets the nomination, the Democrats will have to go down this road as well.

It’s ugly but this is an ugly time in American politics.


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