Appealing To A Certain Demographic

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Image by Gage Skidmore Appealing To A Certain Demographic

First, a disclaimer. Not all conservatives are Cleek’s-Law-abiding, regressively-red-meat-eating, confrontational, mocking-bitter-what-I’m-just-being-humorous bullies. Many are perfectly compassionate, pleasant people to spend time with whether you agree or disagree with them. Not that ALL conservatives respond to the LCD-targetted sloganeering of Sarah Palin quips and Fox News Channel opinion personality rants addicted to the adrenaline rush of insulting opponents and overbalancing so far to the right that appeals to classically socialistic ethics are portrayed as conservative because they come out of the mouths of Republicans.*

Indeed, many are somewhat embarrassed by their fellow-travelers who do conduct themselves in this way. Because, of course, some otherwise-intelligent conservatives allow themselves to behave exactly in that unseemly fashion.

Why would smart people, people capable of complex and nuanced thought, people whose intentions below all the vitriolic  rhetoric are ultimately good, behave this way? My best guess is that they like the attention too much.

For that strain of self-styled “Movement Conservatives” who do respond to that sort of thing, I’m going to point out that Donald Trump is clearly their candidate: he doesn’t just talk the talk when the cameras are on and the media is paying attention.

In my experience, it rarely takes that much pressure in a deposition before all of the training and coaching and practice an attorney has given her client gets swept aside, and the deponent’s true self surfaces. When that happens, as it almost inevitably does, it’s usually more harmful to the deponent than flattering to him. The deposition is a unique and powerful lens with which to view a person’s inner self. So I thought it was brilliant of the Gray Lady‘s reporters to dig into old deposition of Trump, and my goodness, did they find color:

Hundreds of pages of sworn testimony by Mr. Trump over the past decade show something less flattering. Some of his claims, made under oath, and under pressure, are shown to be hyperbolic overstatements, and others to be shadings of the truth or even outright misstatements. And in rare instances, he turns boorish and demeaning.

* * *

For Mr. Trump, a man accustomed to luxurious private planes and a solicitous staff, the dozens of hours of tedious testimony represented a humbling and, at times, aggravating concession to the American legal system.

The sort of bluster-and-swagger thing described as being in the depositions does have a certain charisma, at least for a certain sort of person. So it’s no wonder The Donald is sucking all the oxygen out of the GOP primary. To a large sampling of people likely to actively engage in the pre-primary, the sort of highly partisan, emotionally motivated culture warrior attracted to “movement conservatism” and the Tea Party, Trump looks even more like the sort of candidate they can have a political crush on after the deposition analysis than before.

After a generation of feeding off of all-attack-no-content, outrage-for-its-own-sake, clownish mercenary attention-whoring, the conservative media machine is now confronted with its personified id: a man who has given plenty of his own money to Democrats, seeking personal advantage.

If Trump is the “movement’s” id, who is its superego? Reince Priebus? Who is the ego, mediating between the two? Jeb Bush? Scott Walker? Respectfully, I beg those gentlemen to pardon my skepticism that they either desire or are able to fulfill such roles.

Trump’s appeal in the jockeying-for-position pre-primary currently underway is driven by his personality, his image, his fame, his outrageous statements. His platform of policy preferences, to the extent one can be identified, is basically pure populism. This is what my colleague on these pages means when he diagnoses movement conservatism of “sailing away to irrelevance:” Trump’s campaign amply demonstrates how the market pressures and pursuit of media ratings can overtake and consume actual policy ideas or governing ability. It’s all outrage, all emotion, all personality — with nothing of substance beneath that and not so much as a hint of apology for its vapidity.

 

* From Gov. Kasich’s speech quoted in the linked article: “[C]reating jobs is our highest moral purpose … The Lord wants our hearts to reach out to those that don’t have what we have.” That sounds a lot like the government creating jobs and dispensing welfare to the economically unfortunate, for reasons of moral obligation. But a Republican said it, so by definition it must be conservatism, and cannot be socialism.

 

Burt LikkoBurt Likko is the pseudonym of an attorney in Southern California and the managing editor of Ordinary Times. His interests include Constitutional law with a special interest in law relating to the concept of separation of church and state, cooking, good wine, and bad science fiction movies. Follow his sporadic Tweets at @burtlikko, and his Flipboard at Burt Likko.

Image by Gage Skidmore Appealing To A Certain Demographic

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73 thoughts on “Appealing To A Certain Demographic

  1. Interestingly Matt Y believes that Trump’s policies make him a better third party candidate than Michael Bloomberg or any other elite favored third way person.

    http://www.vox.com/2015/7/15/8962821/donald-trump-third-party

    “Trumpism is like the opposite of that. And with good reason. It consists of ideas that are endorsed by substantial blocs of the electorate but that lack representation in high-level US politics.

    Bloombergism is precisely backward. It makes for fun elite discussion because it is popular among elites. But precisely because it is so popular among elites, both parties’ agendas already bear its fingerprints, and the space for it to power a third party is limited.”

    Matt Y notes that Trump is not targeting Medicare and SS for destruction and there is a good amount of market for economic nationalism. He also notes that Trump basically sounds like your average congressional Democrat when it comes to expressing skepticism over the TPP. The only difference is that Trump adds Xenophobia to the mix.

    I think that Trump is a rather vulgar person but history has shown that there is a good market for the kind of vulgarity that he shows. I think people see it as a rebellion against polite manners that keep them out. There is something to a lot of people that says “If I were a billionaire, I would rather be like Donald Trump than Bill Gates or Steve Jobs.” Trump clearly enjoys being rich and living well. Bill Gates is too nerdy to appeal as a rich person and also very private in his own way. You can see Trump enjoying steak and lobster dinners with red wines, can you see that for Bill Gates?

    As much as I love the whole modern and minimalist aesthetic and nice clothing that blends in. A good chunk of people like trump and his showiness. As a student of the culture wars and as someone who is probably overly fascinated by them, I think a lot of the incomprehension comes down to matters of taste. Meaning that the Palinista-Trump set can’t understand the aesthetic preferences and ethical concerns of their dreaded rivals, upper-middle class San Francisco and Brooklyn liberals who prefer minamalism, sustainability, and environmentalism.

    There is a lot of outrage over Walter Palmer, the Minnesota dentist who admitted to paying 50,000 dollars for the chance to kill Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe. But I wonder how many people are thinking “Now this is a good who knows how to live life to its fullest. He doesn’t give a fuck. He just does what we wants.”

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          • That article offers exactly one (1) substantive analysis of Vox reporting: Zack Beauchamp’s “bold” assertion that “ISIS is losing its war for the Middle East.” It paints a broad sweep that Vox has remained committed to this analysis over the long haul (probably because Beauchamp is their guy on the middle east, and that’s pretty much been his take on ISIS since ISIS became a thing).

            Beauchamp’s take was always and remains today an inversion of the prevailing media narrative, which is that everyone ISIS fights runs away in fear from their quasi-latter-Bronze Age barbarism, so there is no one willing to stand their ground against ISIS — not the Kurds, not the regular Iraqi army, not Assad.

            Whether this assessment is accurate is questionable — but then, so is Beauchamp’s assessment that ISIS has been losing for more than a year. The truth, I suspect, lies somewhere in between; observing and diagnosing political conditions on the ground half a world away in a region that has collapsed into a multipolar transnational war seems like the sort of endeavor doomed to murky overall assessments, particularly in popular media.

            Point here is, Vox’s one documented specific take on an issue is an inversion of the conventional wisdom.

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            • I think that example was chosen in part because it was so unambiguously, spectacularly wrong. It was during a spate of “No, no Obama is unambiguously right here” things that were… suspect… except to the people who are already inclined to agree. If I’d known it was going to come up, I would have kept a catalog. (You’ll see it in almost all of their writing about PPACA.)

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              • I have similar issues with Vox. The Klein/Yglesias/Vox perspective has cloaked itself in the language of technocracy to the point that it’s convinced itself that it doesn’t have values or make certain types of value judgments about what is and isn’t good policy. It’s not exactly the “View From Nowhere” but I think it suffers from a number of the same shortcomings.

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                    • I don’t think I ever got that far with Vox. I realized early on in its existence that it didn’t have much substance, or interest to me. I will sometime follow links to Vox pieces, and generally have my impression confirmed.

                      The more interesting question, to my mind, is why 538 sucks so much? That one caught me by surprise.

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                      • Because Nate was narrowly very good at one thing that there wasn’t anybody else doing – figuring out the leans of various pollsters, applying that lean, and then averaging polls to seem like a genius (yes, it was a little more complicated than that, but not much more).

                        Once he moved outside of that into actual political punditry, or trying to get into sports analytics the average fan would understand, or posting articles from anti-climate change hacks for some reason, 538 became just another website.

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                        • Because Nate was narrowly very good at one thing that there wasn’t anybody else doing – figuring out the leans of various pollsters, applying that lean, and then averaging polls to seem like a genius

                          Sam Wang says hello.

                          Once he moved outside of that into actual political punditry

                          The thing is, he has always interspersed political punditry between polling posts. His punditry wasn’t life changing, but it was solid enough.

                          or trying to get into sports analytics the average fan would understand

                          I expected this to be a strength. He is a genuine expert in sports analytics. He is good at explaining stuff. This should have been pure gold.

                          posting articles from anti-climate change hacks for some reason,

                          I’m with you 100% on this one. That was just weird, especially coming so early on in the process when the site was still working to set its tone. My guess is they were trying the slatepitch approach, not to their (or anyone else’s) benefit.

                          My take is that Nate Silver doesn’t scale up well. It worked great when it was just him writing about stuff he was interested in. But going out and hiring a bunch of eager youth writers to produce a steady flow of “data driven journalism” resulted in a steady flow, but not the good kind.

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                          • I meant in the general public. Believe me, I read the Wang advocate vs Silver advocate thread wars on various forums throughout the ’08, ’10, and ’12 elections.

                            As for the last part, I think it’s important to remember that Nate spent a good few years on Kos basically training himself, and likely, posting dumb things that have been lost to the memory hole.

                            Which is fine when you’re just one diarist in a site of thousands. But, when you’re a new writer on a major site owned by ESPN, it’s a little bigger deal.

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                      • {shrug} 538 is actually one of my daily stops. Vox was a disappointment to me, but I like 538. It’s not a great site, but is closer to what Vox pretends to be than what Vox is.

                        As for Silver himself, I thought he was overrated when he was highly overrated. Then I thought the backlash – in favor of Wang, who turned out to be the wrong egg-basket in 2014 – was a pretty significant overcorrection. But elaborate explanations aside, Silver’s popularity seems mostly contingent on whether he’s telling people want they want to hear. (Myself included in that, I’m sure.)

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                        • I’m getting old here. Did Silver get famous in 2012 or 2008? And which year was the Unskewed Polls guy and Rove’s on-air meltdown as reality intruded.

                          Because if that was all 2012, then I’d say Silver just got lucky — he happened to get thrust into the limelight and contrasted with people who bought into their own spin. Not to say Silver isn’t skilled, but his fame and pull came from being the “face” of realistic, pragmatic poll interpretation right as you could see what happens to people who twist them into what they believe.

                          It was a little morality play, where the pragmatist was right over the spin-doctors. Fed into the sorts of things we like to believe as some of the best aspects of America (Science! Math! Steely-eyed pragmatism!) complete with befuddled loser who didn’t hew to such American virtues.

                          Why him over Wang, I dunno. Probably just a bit more experience writing for the masses.

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                          • Success is the product of a confluence of ability, talent, interpersonal connections, and timing — a formula that some might summarize with the shorthand word of “luck,” although I strongly suspect that “luck” in the sense of rolling dice coming up with a certain combination is not nearly a complete enough to explain things like this.

                            I’m pretty smart. I’m honest. I’m respected in my community. I’m a good lawyer. I want to serve as a judge. So why aren’t I on the bench? My “luck” isn’t good enough. More like, “I lack strong political connections to the incumbent Governor,” “I’m located in a region of the state widely thought to be a backwater,” “I’m part of an unusually large class of new lawyers creating an abundance of talent in this age bracket,” and “There aren’t a lot of vacant judicial positions right now, which happens to be the ideal point in my career arc for appointment.” Is that “bad luck”? Yes, I suppose, but “bad luck” is really a shorthand for those more specific things, most of which are beyond my ability (at the present time) to do much about.

                            Nate Silver benefited from good luck in 2008 in catching the public’s eye, but if he hadn’t had the goods to bring to the table, he’d not have held it. But like my bad luck with my attempt to gain judicial appointment, Nate Silver’s good luck is subject to more precise analysis.

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                            • He’d not have had any luck at all without his prior experience in videogames.

                              Luck, if you have it, often comes with a name. And I do know someone with a penchant for starting ventures he’s entirely too wayward to run himself.

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                          • I was reading Silver in ’08. He caught my attention during the primary campaign. The MSM, you will recall, was pushing the idea that Obama and Clinton were neck and neck, practically up to the convention. Silver was saying in around February–March at the latest–that Obama had the nomination locked, and he was explaining exactly why this was so. It was campaign commentary in its highest form. He was bucking the consensus, but he wasn’t slatepitch bullshitting, and he showed his work for full credit. And he turned out to be dead on.

                            I thought his work at the NY Times was a bit watered down, but still very good. That is why I was surprised at how disappointing the current iteration turned out.

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    • Saul Degraw: Interestingly Matt Y believes that Trump’s policies make him a better third party candidate than Michael Bloomberg or any other elite favored third way person.

      Matt Y says his *ideology* is better for a third party candidate, the man is still ‘too ridiculous for the big time’

      It’s a cogent and not slatepitchy analysis that any third party candidate that has any chance to succeed needs a broad base of populism and the exploitation of issues where the two main parties have an elite consensus that is at odds with a good chunk of popular opinion.

      Immigration is the biggest fracture line in this vein. (look at Senator Sanders’ comments on the issue) Protracted wars would be another, would we still be committing arge number of troops to combat zones.

      Yglesias’s analysis is a little flawed in that while Medicare and Social Security are popular, the Democrats embrace that popularity so there’s no fault line for a third party candidate to exploit.

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    • I think its less about atheistic preferences then his manner. Some people seem to take being brash, loud and blow hard as authentic and honest whereas being measured and thoughtful as insincere and unreal. Enough people have said that about Trumpy that i think its a real thing. A real stupid thing. But still a thing.

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      • I think it is a bit combined. You are right that it is more matter though. Though the aesthetics are part of the unrepentant brashness. Wasn’t there a whole thing about Sarah Palin spending thousands upon thousands of dollars when she got the Veep nod?

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        • Sarah still does spend plenty of her PAC money. I don’t doubt there is some looking down on other peoples preferences but that is pretty common. Being unrepentant is a virtue itself for some. Being aggressive is enough to get some peoples respect.

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  2. Mr. Likko. Here is another example of you writing one of those pieces critical of Republicans, which causes me to reevaluate my belief that all Republicans are evil, greedy bastards. (To which I referred in my attempted funniness about you in the 2015 predictions post)

    Respect! I have more for you than I realized.

    —-

    Capitalism is at fault for this, right? (“market pressures and pursuit of media ratings”)

    When Democracy dies, Capitalism will be found standing over the body in His underwear, holding the smoking gun, with an insane grin on His face.

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  3. You beat me to this point about Trump’s “personality as virtue” . I will try to finish up my piece about the movement behind Trump that is far more interesting than Trump himself later this week, as I think it addresses many of the questions you have here.

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    • Oh, my, yes. This is very very true. I think pointed out somewhere in this or one of the other Trump threads pending that Trump today is far, far behind where, say, Rudy! Giuliani was at this point in 2007 and now that we’re in the waning years of President Giuliani’s second term…

      Oh, wait, Rudy! turned out to be Not Suitable For Prime Time after all despite all the money and momentum a candidate could ask for and his campaign crashed and failed the moment he had to actually attract actual votes from actual Republicans, who wound up getting in line with the Establishment’s preferred option. That was how reality went.

      At the same time, it’s fun to see The Donald out there, in the same way it’s fun to go to a horror movie with awesome special effects. You don’t have to think it’s real to feel the thrill and the scare.

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    • I think he’s right about Trump, and maybe right about Clinton. Which is to say I don’t think Clinton is especially vulnerable, but I wouldn’t say “sewn up” just yet and I think it’s conceivable, if really unlikely, that Biden could take her.

      (One of the problems with the way we talk about these things – this is not directed at zic at all – is that we have a hard time with the middle ground between “is very likely to happen” and “can’t not happen.” To the point that if you say that something is possible, you can be treated as though you are saying “as good a chance of happening as anything” even if you’re saying “Maybe a 1-in-5 or 1-in-10 chance”. Which further gets complicated when the 4-in-5 or 9-in-10 thing happens – as it usually does by definition – and then everybody’s all like “See? I told you that was what was going to happen” even if you agreed at the time that was very likely to happen.)

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      • I had thought that the email server happening within spitting distance of the OPM hack would have created one heck of a scandal. (“One heck of a scandal” defined as something that Republican Attack Dog Candidate Obviously Running For VP Slot could capitalize on and turn into political hay.)

        As it turns out, it didn’t.

        Which makes me think that the gift that Trump is giving everybody is the gift of sucking all of the oxygen out of the room and having everybody be talking about him.

        He spends less time attacking the opposition’s frontrunner than, it seems, previous frontrunners in his position have done in the past. I may be misremembering, though.

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