February 26, 2016
A few weeks ago, the National Review tried to take down Trump with a parade of reasoned opinions about why he is not a real conservative. The net effect: zero.
Jeb! Bush relentlessly attacked Trump for being a bully: a chaos candidate who was trying to insult his way to the presidency. He’s now watching the election from his couch.
Ted Cruz mocks him for flip-flopping on issues, but even Trump’s vocal support for Planned Parenthood failed to mar is mojo.
The pundits (myself included) have said his attacks on Muslims, the Pope, and countless others were too outrageous for the American public. But they didn’t stop him from notching his 3rd electoral win with 46% of the vote in Nevada.
What the hell is going on? Why are none of these attacks working?
Attacks only work when they undermine a value the target audience considers important. And these attacks fundamentally misunderstand both Trump’s audience and his appeal.
So what do Trump’s voters value?
Based on the data we have seen about the Trump base, the following is largely true (though I am intentionally overgeneralizing): His base is mostly white, male, between 35 and 55 years old, less educated, and lower-income. They have limited employment opportunities. They may work in the same jobs as their parents or in industries that have failed to innovate to survive. They see automation, globalization, and immigration as real threats to their futures.
What’s more, they blame politicians, the party establishment, media elites, and political correctness run amok for the current state of affairs.
They long for yesterday more than they look forward to tomorrow. They’re conservative, but they don’t identify as “conservative.” That label isn’t a core part of who they are.
Above all, they long for a leader: someone strong and powerful, successful outside the Washington Beltway, and brave enough to say the things that (they think) need to be said.
Through this lens, all the attacks on Trump backfire.
Being called a bully is a compliment. Being called a false conservative is mere noise. Being attacked for outrageous comments is a sign he’s doing something right!
So what can be done?
Our research is clear: the key to political persuasion, much like the key to selling, is to appeal to the audience’s beliefs, not your own. If Trump’s perceived strength, success, and unvarnished candor are animating his acolytes, then that’s the only way to take him down.
Remember, Trump’s voters consider him a master of the universe—the American Dream personified.
To discredit Trump, you must discredit his success. Make him look small and spoiled. Make him look weak and whiny.
He hasn’t released his tax returns yet…is it because he’s only a billionaire in his dreams? What’s he hiding?
He has taken companies bankrupt four times…how many times will he bankrupt the government?
He built a real estate empire…but could he have even done it without daddy’s money?
He says he’s a winner…but isn’t he just a makeup-wearing, reality TV star? The male Kim Kardashian?
He whines that Megyn Kelly doesn’t treat him fairly…and he thinks he’s ready to be the President of the United States? There are 11-year olds made of sterner stuff.
No one is going to take Trump down with logic or facts. And you aren’t going to hurt his support with attacks that only reinforce what people like about him. To beat Trump, you have to attack what matters to his supporters. Want to beat him? Go after him the way he goes after others.
Then, and only then, can anyone trump The Donald.