Donald Trump’s strongman strategy

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To the mild frustration of reporters and commentators, Donald Trump has thus far run a presidential campaign that is virtually content-free when it comes to policy substance.

The main thing he promises to deliver if he becomes president is Donald Trump. He isn’t asking voters to support what he stands for; he wants Americans to support him.

And as for why anyone should support him, his reason is plain: I’m the man. I’m stronger than anyone who tries to challenge me. I can make America great because I am great.

Each time Trump casually generates outrage, he demonstrates his growing power. He parades his ability to act without constraint and baits the media which promptly and obediently declares, “this time Trump’s gone too far.”

Yet as both he and they know, on the contrary, he’s just shown that none of his rivals or critics have the power to rein him in. Like a boxing champion, he continues waiving his fist in the air to the delight of his admirers.

When Trump refused to disavow the Ku Klux Klan this weekend, did this have anything to do with his views about the KKK? I very much doubt it. Instead, it much more likely revealed what he thinks of Jake Tapper and CNN. Trump wasn’t about to jump through a disavowal hoop on the command of a journalist.

Trump has made it abundantly clear how he views the media, not only through his countless verbal expressions of contempt, but also through demeaning the press at campaign rallies by forcing them into pens, like farmyard animals — a humiliation that news organizations accept because of their own greed.

Since Trump is running as a strongman for America, all he has to do is pick fights and win them. It doesn’t matter what the fight is about — just that he’s the one who comes out on top.

When the pope seemed to be picking a fight with him, Trump backed down — that was a fight that offered no reward.

When Trump runs as the Republican candidate in the general election, he won’t need to be the most popular candidate in order to win — he’ll just need to get the most votes. In other words, it probably won’t matter who he is running against if he is successful in generating a higher turnout from his supporters than that of his opponent.

In this regard, Trump’s trump card is the fact that he mostly appeals to Americans who are loyal to strong leaders and obedient to their commands.

Last month, Max Ehrenfreund wrote:

One of the reasons that Donald Trump has flummoxed pollsters and political analysts is that his supporters seem to have nothing in common. He appeals to evangelical and secular voters, conservative and moderate Republicans, independents and even some Democrats. Many of his supporters are white and don’t have a college degree, but he also does well with some highly educated voters, too.

What’s bringing all these different people together, new research shows, is a shared type of personality — a personality that in many ways has nothing to do with politics. Indeed, it turns out that your views on raising children better predict whether you support Trump than just about anything else about you.

Matthew MacWilliams, a doctoral candidate at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, conducted a poll in which Republicans were asked four questions about child-rearing. With each question, respondents were asked which of two traits were more important in children:

  • independence or respect for their elders;
  • curiosity or good manners;
  • self-reliance or obedience;
  • being considerate or being well-behaved.

Psychologists use these questions to identify people who are disposed to favor hierarchy, loyalty and strong leadership — those who picked the second trait in each set — what experts call “authoritarianism.” That many of Trump’s supporters share this trait helps explain the success of his unconventional candidacy and suggests that his rivals will have a hard time winning over his adherents.

When it comes to politics, authoritarians tend to prefer clarity and unity to ambiguity and difference. They’re amenable to restricting the rights of foreigners, members of a political party in the minority and anyone whose culture or lifestyle deviates from their own community’s.

“For authoritarians, things are black and white,” MacWilliams said. “Authoritarians obey.”

When Donald Trump calls out his troops on November 8, they will obey.

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