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Thursday, June 9, 2016

When Democrats attack

by John MacBeath Watkins

Now that Hillary Clinton has enough delegates to be the presumptive nominee for president, the question is, how will she and her allies in the Democratic Party attack Donald Trump?

One possible answer came with the release of an ad by Priorities USA, a political action committee that sides with Clinton. The ad, called "Grace," features the parents of a disabled child discussing the birth of their child and how they felt when they saw Donald Trump ridiculing a journalist for his disability. The journalist, Serge Kovaleski, had done some digging into Trump's claim that Muslims were celebrating in New Jersey after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, and found nothing that supported Trump's claim.

Unable to support his claim about the celebration, or refute Kovaleski's reporting, Trump made fun of how arthrogryposis limits the journalist's movements.

Here's the "Grace" ad:


Now, Republican candidates tried attacking Trump in a variety of ways, only to fail. The problem is, there are so many things wrong with him as a candidate, what do you go after? It has to resonate on an emotional level with voters, and it has to make sense of the aspects of Trump that make voters uncomfortable.

Well, Trump is clearly a bully. He's also a candidate who is trying to persuade voters, with some success, that he cares about their problems.

One of the standard polling questions is which candidate is better described by the phrase "cares about people like me." One reason Mitt Romney lost to President Obama is that he could never close that empathy gap.

It's all very well to tell people that Trump's economic proposals would make a shambles of the American economy, that deporting 3 percent of the population (yes, there are that many undocumented aliens in the country) would create enormous problems and enormous costs, that banning all Muslims from coming to America would be a betrayal of everything America stands for, but these things don't really resonate on an emotional level.

But if you portray him as a cruel man who cares only about himself, who habitually punches down at those less powerful, you give people a narrative that puts all his proposals in perspective. Do you really want to put someone who abuses people less powerful than himself in power over you?

That's an emotionally resonant answer that gets to the truth of the man's character. Eduardo "Ted" Cruz could not effectively make that argument because he's not exactly Mr. Empathy himself.

Trump triumphed in the primaries by presenting himself as someone who would bully the people his supporters blame for their problems. Being that guy is how he got this far. Attacking his lack of empathy is a way of attacking his strength. It's a bit of electoral judo that turns his strength against himself.

Will it work? We'll see.


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