Thursday, May 12, 2016

Why Donald Trump Can Win

"What's the difference between a bulldog and a hockey mom?"  Those of you who, like me, watched the 2008 Republican Convention know that the answer to that question is "Lipstick."  After all, it was the first time any of us had heard, or even heard of, Sarah Palin.  But after she uttered that joke and addressed the convention as the vice presidential nominee, we liked her.

Come on, be honest; at the time you thought, "Well, that old John McCain may have ingested some life into his previously boring campaign."  If you are a Republican, you were thrilled, and if you are a Democrat, you were initially worried that Palin could help McCain's sagging campaign.  His polling numbers immediately spiked, and it wasn't until we started hearing more from Ms. Palin that we realized how vapid she is and what a mistake he had made.  But during those first few days and even weeks, people felt an emotional connection to the Republican ticket that they had not felt before, and many were ready to vote for McCain. 

However, Barack Obama had a much better strategy...he would hammer home one message...hope.  He used slogans like "We can do it" to convey a message that if we worked together, there would be hope for the country.

My point is that people don't vote with their intellect--they vote with their emotions.  They connected on an emotional level with Obama's message and rejected McCain's placid negativity.  Here are some other examples:
  • In 1948, Thomas Dewey was an astute statesman renowned for his grasp of the issues, yet he was beaten by Harry Truman (a surprising result) because Dewey sounded like a politician while Truman connected with voters on a personal level.
  • In 1952 and 1956, the Democratic nominee was Adlai Stevenson II, arguably the smartest and most informed nominee in our history.  But he was running against Dwight Eisenhower, the 5-star general who led the allies to victory in WWII.  The voters weren't about to forget that emotional connection, no matter how smart Stevenson was.  It would be like voting against George Washington.
  • Coming into the election of 1992, George H.W. Bush had what appeared to be an insurmountably high approval rating, yet he lost to Bill Clinton, who was viewed as a likable rogue and played saxophone on the Arsenio Hall show.  The truth is that people felt more of a connection to Barbara Bush than they did to George, while Bill (who was promoted as "the man from Hope" Arkansas) made them smile and campaigned with the song, "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow."
In fact, you can look back at almost any modern presidential campaign and note that the winner was the nominee who made the strongest emotional connection with voters.  So, where does that leave us in 2016?

Even if you think Hillary Clinton is right on most issues, does anyone feel an emotional connection to her?  In the meantime, Donald generally ignores any substantive discussion of issues, while instead tapping into voter emotions related to their distrust of Washington and those who hold office.  In addition, he taps into our resentment of losing jobs to foreigners (even if he outsources jobs in his own businesses) and he plays to the distrust we feel for all things Muslim.  After all, what was the last action movie you watched in which the bad guys weren't Arabs or Muslim extremists?

If this trend persists...if Trump continues to build emotional connections with voters, even if many of those emotions are less than positive, he will be elected president in November.  The only way Hillary can overcome this emotional deficit is to get off her high horse, stop shouting at rallies, and start to talk about how, as a person, she wants to help right the world's wrongs.  She needs to reach out to all people to build the kind of world in which everyone has a chance to succeed.  That is, after all, the premise on which America was built, and it's what most Americans still feel about our country.

This election won't be decided on the issues...indeed few of them are.  Instead, the winner will be the person who can most effectively win the battle for the voters' emotions, and that's why Donald Trump can win.

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