How good are Clinton’s Trumpologists?


A science reporter for Business Insider seems somewhat disturbed about the likelihood that Hillary Clinton might be receiving unscientific advice on how to debate Donald Trump in Nevada tonight:

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are set to face off tonight in the third and final presidential debate of the 2016 election.

In August, The New York Times reported that Clinton’s campaign brought in psychology experts to help her prepare for her first debate with Donald Trump — which is weird, because that’s not really what psychologists do.

Here is the relevant part of The Times’ article (emphasis mine):

Hillary Clinton’s advisers are … seeking insights about Mr. Trump’s deepest insecurities as they devise strategies to needle and undermine him … at the first presidential debate … Her team is also getting advice from psychology experts to help create a personality profile of Mr. Trump to gauge how he may respond to attacks and deal with a woman as his sole adversary on the debate stage. They are undertaking a forensic-style analysis of Mr. Trump’s performances in the Republican primary debates, cataloging strengths and weaknesses as well as trigger points that caused him to lash out in less-than-presidential ways.

There’s not a tremendous amount of information here, but it’s enough to work from if we want to find research relevant to the work these psychologists (or “psychology experts”) are reportedly doing. The strange part is that there isn’t much to find.

Much as I can bemoan the reporting language of the New York Times on stylistic grounds, I will credit its reporters for their precision and/or intentional vagueness in their choice of words. To wit: psychology experts. If this report was referring to psychologists, I venture to assume that’s the term that would have been used.

While professional psychologists should be experts in psychology, there are all kinds of people who can be loosely described as psychology experts even if they aren’t actually psychologists — they might be lawyers, boxing coaches, politicians, or come from any walk of life through which they have acquired particular insight into the workings of the human mind. Psychology experts don’t need to licensed.

As for Clinton’s psychology experts, their particular skill need be no broader than in unlocking the operations inside one mind: Donald Trump’s. Or to be precise: one person. Trump’s way of being is so unreflective and so visceral that his thinking generally appears subordinate to the way he feels for which reason the Clinton campaign should probably have also sought some input from a primatologist.

Much as America and the whole world is already sick this man’s facility to generate a kind of universal consciousness — never before in human history has one living person captured the attention of this many people (an insane observation but surely true!) — one of the political payoffs for the Clinton campaign from the excessive media coverage Trump has received is that his insistence on being in the spotlight has rendered him all the more easy to analyse. What need is there for emails and tax returns when there is an endless supply of pure Trump?

Ultimately, however, irrespective of the extent to which Hillary Clinton’s debate preparation has been guided by genuine insight into her opponent, her success will hinge as much if not more on the moves she makes as they do those of Trump.

At this juncture in the campaign there is a real danger she may suffer from over-confidence — however much she has been told and tells herself to take nothing for granted.

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