Running Against The Devil: Book Review
Running Against the Devil: A Plot to Save America From Trump--and Democrats From Themselves (2020), Rick Wilson. Wilson is (or was) a Republican operative running political campaigns fair and foul, opposing Trump as a corrupt incompetent narcissist rather than a conservative. The book includes a fair bit of political and operational detail, as well as a perspective on what it would take to beat Trump in 2020. My focus here is mainly on what seems to be the useful operating stuff. A key point to me is running moderate candidates in purple districts. He showed that Bill Clinton: "understood that the broad 'Reagan Democrat' coalition was up for grabs" (p. 99). Bush 43 talked education and "compassionate conservatism. ... It was built in a lab to be just that. ... Obama ran and won in 2008 as a technocratic centrist, essentially scanning as a liberal Republican. ... They all understood how to expand their voter pool. ... Treat the Democratic base as it is, not as the Democrats think it is. Knowing the composition of your own base is the most fundamental skill in data-driven politics" (p. 99-100).
Wilson alternately praises and shames just about everyone in America, with plenty of f-bombs thrown in. I found it a frustrating read, but the book was loaded with insight and quotable gems. My review will try to focus on these insights and gems. Two major points are highlighted. 1. He identifies major categories of Democrats (or people likely to voter Democratic--including moderates).
2. The entire focus of the election is 15 battleground states. He used the Cook Partisan voting Index and briefly describes what's important in each of those states. Texas is not on the list--it will go red. Throughout, Wilson describes voters that could be persuaded to vote democratic and why, and those that will not. But it's all about Trump, not policy. Wilson offers pragmatic advice for winning what's likely to be a close election. (He also compares what the 2020 strategy should be versus the failed Clinton strategy which he views as political malpractice.) I don't know if his perspective is fundamentally right or wrong, but it is persuasive.
At the very end was a dedication that I absolutely agree with: "To the men and women inside government who have confronted enormous risk and danger to their careers, reputations, and personal safety to tell the truth about this White House and this president. In the face of the hatred and abuse that hits anyone Trump designates as an enemy, they have demonstrated something truly rare in today's Washington: honor. Every authoritarian regime in history depends on silence, either coerced or purchased, and every whistle-blower and truth-teller who raises their hand, swears to speak the truth, and takes fire is deserving of our appreciation" (p. 309). The last chapter, called "Election Night, November 3, 2020," present a good summary of what it takes to beat Trump according to Wilson (written before Biden became the obvious choice or the Covid19 pandemic).
The basic rationale for the book: "If Trump wins reelection, freedom, opportunity, and equality will no longer be the normative social forces shaping the next generation ... They will be steeped in the essence of Trumpism: nativist, negative, and fundamentally pessimistic. The Other is the enemy. They'll learn the long-discredited notion that ethnicity defines character. ... They'll learn that lying about everything, all the time, is the way great leaders operate. ... The point of modern propaganda isn't only to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth. ... young people comfortable with casual cruelty, rampant dishonesty, and revenge" (p. 72-3). In other words to "turn this country off a path to authoritarian statism, racially motivated nationalism, and ingrained corruption" (p. 77).
Wilson has a basic critique of Democrats, which he exploited as a Republican operative: "Campaigns create strategies that seem brilliant inside the bubble but cannot survive the hard collision with political reality. They view the country as one homogeneous entity, not as it is, a patchwork of regions, cultures, and ethnic groups. ... They chase political fashions and trends, extrapolating too much policy from too little data. ... I made a career in the GOP helping to take Democratic seats by exploiting the mismatch of policy to politics. Republicans became masters at leveraging Democrats' insistence on picking candidates based on what policies they like versus what wins. ... Democrats are already doing every god-damned thing they can think of to lose to this moron, making the same mistakes they made against Nixon, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, and Trump ... anointing someone who strokes their ideological happy place. ... In your heads, Hillary Clinton was the most accomplished woman in American public life. ... The real Hillary Clinton was a greatest-hits album of Democratic Party mistakes wrapped up in a candidate: unlikable, cagey to a fault, cautious, a terrible combination of turgid and defensive on the stump, and cursed with a campaign that promised the moon and delivered little outside the deep-blue states" (p. 79-80). He viewed Democrats running a successful campaign "like juggling chain saws with a live ferret in your pants" (p. 80).
There are red states and blue states, about 35 that will stay that way in 2020, roughly 200 electoral college votes for each candidate. The key is winning in the 15 or so battleground states across the country, with different cultures and issues. The key is to spend time and money only on these. Ignore super-blue-state issues that will bomb in the mid-west. Democrats win in urban areas and can easily win the popular vote but lose the election. The key is winning in the purple states, which requires discipline, attacking Trump in specific ways, and focusing on the interests in each key area. It's not about policy ("a top-down, rigid ideological checklist of programmatic messages that sound like a focus group at a Democratic Socialist Alliance meeting" is a loser (p. 89); an example would be Elizabeth Warren's policy papers ("serious, smart, and robust work ... except when they're being weaponized against the candidate" (p. 89)). "This race is about Trump. Policy distracts, and the Fox-Trump distortions of your policy distracts absolutely. ... This race is against a man, not a party, a platform, or an ideology. ... Show voters how Trump tried to eliminate healthcare coverage for preexisting conditions, highlighting how his corrupt government screws over working families. Educate voters on how the trade war is wrecking their economic future, and how farmers and manufacturing are both being crushed, Call out Trump's cruelty toward immigrant children. Call him out as the unrepentant racist he has proven himself to be. ... Trump has a dozen Rick Wilson types with an unlimited budget and zero shame. ... If you need to beat a man who practices pure, unadulterated opportunistic politics, you'd better be ready to practice pure, unadulterated opportunistic politics" (p. 90-2).
"For Democrats, the voters they need are right in front of their eyes: the large and growing cohort of Republican women who broke away from the GOP, and the white, Democratic men who broke for Trump in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Florida. ... For many, their choice to go with Trump was diffuse; they voter out of anger and bitterness at a system that shanked them. It was the end-product of a successful thirty-year War on Hillary" (p. 93). What wins: "simple, robust messages on heavy rotation triumph over complex policy" (p. 94). "Democrats won by running candidates who ... matched the politics and attitudes of the districts. ... Democrats could compete in red and purple areas, particularly suburbs, when they ran more moderate candidates" (p. 96).
Important Point 1: Wilson gets technical talking about his: "typology of Democratic voters with five broad categories and three divisions. ... Categories: Progressive activists, traditional liberals, passive liberals, moderates, and the politically disengaged. The three divisions are the total percentages in the total population, in the Democratic electorate, and on social media. ... The powerful distortion field of Twitter ... is driving candidates to positions that have political costs" (p. 101).
"Political activists are the center of the woke universe. ... Political activists have strong ideological views, high levels of engagement with political issues, and the highest levels of education and socio-economic status. ... They have an outsized role in public debates, even though they comprise a small portion of the total population. They are highly sensitive to issues of fairness and equity in society, particularly regarding race, gender, and other minority group identities. ... They represent just 8% of the American electorate, 22% of the Democratic voter base, but 39% of the social-media cohort. ... They're a gold mine for the Trump campaign and its allies" (p. 101). Traditional liberals ... are more likely to vote, and more likely to have a long record of loyalty to the older [tradition]. ... They maintain idealistic attitudes about the potential for social justice in America, yet they are less ideological than progressive activists. ... They also are not as intolerant of conservatives. They have strong humanitarian values, and around half say that religion is important. ... Traditional liberals respond best to rational arguments and are inclined to place more faith in the viability of American institutions. ... Traditional liberals represent 11% of the country overall, 25% of the Democratic electorate, and 22% of the social media cohort. ... Passive liberals are less politically engaged, and more driven by the feel of the political climate than by deep policy or political questions. ... [They] tend to have liberal views on social issues such as immigration, DACA, sexism, and LGBTQI issues, ...with a higher proportion of females (59%) than any other segment. ... They are quite uninformed, consume little news media, and generally avoid political debates. ... Passive liberals are 15% of the population, just 2% of the Democratic voter pool, and 1% of the social-media cohort. ... The politically disengaged ... are the Obama-Trump Democrats, ... having lower levels of income and education and being less engaged in following current affairs, ... being one of the least likely groups to participate in political rallies or vote in local elections. ... They make up 26% of the population, 14% of the Democratic vote, and just 3% of the social-media cohort (pp. 101-104).
Moderate Democrats are reviled ... because the progressive wing keeps believing this country is one single region, entity, value set, and belief structure. ... Moderates reflect the middle of the road of public opinion, .... tend to be engaged in their communities, often volunteer, and are interested in current affairs, but uncomfortable with the tribalism of politics. ... They feel conflicted on certain social justice issues. ... They dislike the activism and what they see as extremism of both progressives and conservatives. Moderates are 15% of the American electorate, 24% of the Democratic base, and 13% of the Twitterati. ... The moderate cohort of voters is the most intriguing play in the game. Democrats could take them a message of restoring normalcy, tradition, and comity in our politics. I call this group Biden Democrats" (p. 105). [This is my cohort (I would delete the Democrat part) and his description seems about right. Assuming the 24% of the population is accurate, there is no bell curve (normality) in the spread of voters from conservative to liberals (an assumption of the median voter model). Seventy-six percent of the population are either conservative or liberal. However, this is still a big enough group to suggest that the median voter is the one to focus on. Wilson rejects that, in the sense this election is not about policy, but only personality (that is, Trump--in or out).]
Socialism is not a popular issue for most of the US. Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and national parks seem to be the limit for most. Consequently, Bernie Sanders and AOC should not be highlighted in the election ("Bernie elements are: the blue-state version of Trump's online army. Somewhere between 10%-15% of Sanders voters switched ... to Trump, p. 114). A single-payer, no private insurance system is not a winner. Democrats are largely on board (77% to 19%), but independents not so much (37% to 56%); numbers in the swing states not good. The black vote and turnout were down in 2016, with Hillary getting 88%, while Obama got 93%. "It did not help that Hillary Clinton is the whitest, most school-marmish person in America" (p. 117). Hispanics and blacks are more socially conservative than white voters, on average and, therefore, seemingly easy targets for Republicans. Trump went for white racism and rejected any interest in minority votes. "For black voters, the referendum on Trump is in one dimension: racism" (p. 117).
"The problem with chasing the youth vote: they're unlikely to be registered; ... they're not conditioned to vote; ... and a meaningful fraction of the national youth vote overall is located in California. ... A student-loan jubilee would be a massive subsidy to white, upper-middle-class people. ... The electoral college states in play are mostly old" (p. 123).
Wilson sees a major problem with extreme purity. "Liberal activists have a repeated pattern we've often exploited: Their desire for national ideological conformity is boundless. That's why there are virtually no pro-life Democrats. ... A Democrat in a conservative Catholic district must still be as pro-abortion as a Democrat in Brookline. Democrats in the rural South must still be anti-gun. ... My old term rolled up democratic seats with adds that hammered that cultural divide. ... Trump's negative ads are going to drive Democrats not just to defend but to hyperbolically defend late-term abortion, a full ban on guns, single-payer government-run healthcare, higher taxes, and all the cultural signifiers of the elite coastal cities in which the Democratic political and media machines reside. The first fundamental rule of responding to negative ads: Don't repeat the charges. The second: ... Never, ever let an attack go unanswered. The only way to respond to a negative ad is to hammer home with a different negative ad of your own. You can never explain or correct; you must simply nuke them back with more. ... Every president takes care of his donors, in large ways and small, but in the Trump administration, there's everything but a price list. ... He is a warlord president, both utterly bribable and utterly capable of turning the mechanism of government against his political enemies." (p. 135-6).
Small-dollar donations on the Democratic side will be vital, and will be there in big numbers, but only if you make this election a referendum on Trump. No one is sending in donations because of the nominee's infrastructure plan" (p. 137). "Obama's 2008 field operation was famously effective and organized" (p. 137).
The key is "aggressive press operatives on the ground in the top 15 targeted states. They should be folks who understand the media in Florida or Michigan or Arizona or Pennsylvania. Spend the money. ... Talk about agriculture in Iowa, trade disasters in Wisconsin, the Puerto Rican hurricane relief failure in Florida. ... You want a story about that Iowa soybean farmer. ... union worker in Michigan or Wisconsin who hated Hillary. ... [Show that] Democrats give a damn about the swing states." (p. 160). [They will attack the candidate. ... They seek to wreck the message and media cycle, take attention off Trump, fire up his base, and divide the Democratic coalition" (p. 164). Fake news: "have you seen Joe Biden use the n-word? The clip will look so damn real. ... The scummiest elements of the Trump media ... will blast it out to the readers and social-media followers. ... Thousands of bot accounts will start posting and reposting the video. ... The monster is loose. ... Posting memes of Joe Biden in a Klan hood. ... [Later] the analysis starts to hit, proving the video is fake" (p. 164-6). Some media will call it fake, Fox won't.
Opposition researchers work "to scrub every single aspect of your nominee's life. ... Hillary was an absurdly rich opposition-research target. ... The deep unwillingness of people around her to bring her bad news about research finding and public perceptions was hideous malpractice" (p. 169). Consider: "Joe Biden's forty-year-old tapes on busing, Al Franken's surfaced USO tour photo, Ralph Northam's year-book [in black face, as was Justin Trudeau]. ... People around Trump know how to turn oppo into messaging" (p. 170). "Presume that nothing will remain hidden. ... Look at it and ask, "How would the most vicious, amoral, cruel operative of the Trump campaign pitch this to Fox? ... What's the least charitable explanation for this story? ... The best defense is an endless, aggressive, chain-saw offense. ... Don't expect to be able to pitch great dirt on Trump to national reporters. They've become so jaded. ... Make it about [Trump's] low character, shallow intellect, and bad judgment. ... Force him to focus on defense. ... Know your history, have a full inventory of your dirty laundry, and be ready to own it before the bad guys own you" (p. 170-2).
Wilson is not impressed with Democrat election strategy. "You win the White House only on the backs of the fluke, generational candidates who silence or ignore the chattering claques of highly specialized micro-interest groups inside the Democratic machine. You rush forward into obvious traps set by political morons. ... You think you sound righteous, but it too often comes across as one long scold from the political correctness commissars. ... When you lecture the rubes [Wilson doesn't have much respect for voters either] in flyover country, damn are you condescending jerks. ... As a party you seem entirely unable to convert the fact that 60% of Americans loathe Trump into a coherent referendum on whether America will be led by him or a sane person" (p. 181). "Trump's team is counting on you to put your ideological inclinations, emotions, and policy wish-fulfillment fantasies front and center in this election. They're praying you run a campaign based on what the edges of your base demand, and not what a serious, bloodless analytical campaign based on polling, data analysis, and turnout models tell you. ... [Then] chase electoral unicorns ('Hey, let's spend money in Texas!') ... You have the ability to target and segment messaging to a degree of granularity and power that was unobtainable two decades ago" (p. 184).
"Despite my rep as an amoral madman, the secret was that I built these ads with my pollsters, my researchers, and, as the science developed, my data team. ... [Not] witchcraft or mystic auguries. They were tools, calibrated to move the hearts and minds of voters. They were tested, crafted, and deployed to hit targets we didn't have a right to persuade, but we found ways to do so. Often it meant making spots with a message or ideological polarity that our base didn't love but that the targets did" (p. 185). "Policy loses to personality every time. ... Stunts, joking asides, dumb nicknames, and lowbrow pranks beat substance and gravitas. ... Be great on television. ... Media training, speech training, debate training, and authentic presence are all vital. ... Trump's natural instinct for the camera and his showmanship have been developed over decades. ... The most important forum for delivering the big moments is debates. ... Trump's skill in the 2016 GOP debates was simple: They were politicians; he was a performer. They were driven by policy; he was driven by celebrity. ... Trump will distort, mangle, and mischaracterize any real policy the Democrat brings to the debate floor. So don't bring policy. ... In 2016 Trump left Republican candidates gasping. ... They had an inability to rapidly punch against him, fought him on the wrong grounds, and never showed righteous anger. ... When you start hitting Trump, never, ever let up. ...Trump's ego is delicate, his skin is thin. ... Trump fights dirty. There are no rules. There are no boundaries. You cannot make him feel regret, or shame, or embarrassment. ... Hammer his ego and his personal narrative. ... Trump was a boob during each of the GOP debates. ... The voters were scoring these debates on the Trump Reality Show scale" (p. 187-91).
Advise to the Democrat team: "Build your models, your expectations, and your strategy around a basket of states where you will win the Electoral College vote. ... You're running fifteen state campaigns. "Clinton's campaign watched the Wisconsin numbers in their own trackers--not from the pollster, but from their data folks--plummet in the closing week. ... They did nothing. They sat around planning where they would sit on Inauguration Day" (p. 200). "National polls ... tell us American mostly dislike Trump. ... The polls don't tell us what the issue trade offs are in the key states. ... they don't tell us what the hot buttons are that could take an issue that't popular nationally and turn it into a millstone around your neck. ... The voters don't think through tactical voting options or complex policy alternatives. ... For them, it's about love versus hate, hope versus fear, good versus evil. ... Obama wasn't a firebrand; he was a technocrat. Every decision needs to be grounded in data, targeting, and return on political investment. ... Trump's campaign team desperately wants 2020 to be about socialism, abortion, gun control, left-wing anti-Semitism, gender pronouns, the news media, and identity politics" (p. 201-6).
Important Point 2. How to win. "Your advantage is that Trump has broken his promises in many of the [swing] states--his trade war is an economic wrecking ball. ... The bad news is that in many of these places your favorite issues are alien, offensive, or political poison" (p. 229). Both sades have about 200 electoral votes no matter what (e.g., California versus Texas). Wilson relies on the Cook Partisan Voting Index (you can Google it; it starts with a red/blue map; gray, pink and light blue are the swing states). Information is tabulated by state and by district: Texas, for example, show 13 Democratic districts, versus 24 Republican. The 15 swing states are: Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Virginia, Arizona, Minnesota, Colorado, Iowa, Nevada. Maine, and New Hampshire. "Trump's triumph in the Upper Midwest should scare the hell out of the Democrats ... [it] is far more conservative than any of the Democratic candidates. In the South, Democrats face two hard targets: Georgia, which is still a reach, and Florida, which demands massive resources and effort. ... Any Democratic campaign worth its salt will be running a massive set of multivariate scenarios trading off polling, resources, and media costs, and planning their message, strategy, and expenditures" (p. 231).
Wilson then reviews each of the 15 swing states. "Arizona is trending blue. A prime state where the GOP's clown show candidates like Joe Arpaio and Kelli Ward are great foils for a smart campaign. ... Weed and the energy sector are big stories in CO. Florida Republicans are really good at winning statewide races. The state Democratic Party is notoriously ineffective and disorganized. Floridians love low taxes and a clean environment, and our love of guns is rivaled only by the tribes of northwestern Pakistan. Florida ... has ten media markets ... and one-size-fits-all campaigns don't fly. ... Georgia is slowly trending blue. Iowa: ... trade war has given them a singular opportunity to crush Trump. ... Don't mistake Iowa for a progressive hotbed. It's still culturally conservative, rural, and so very white. Michigan: After the state suffered decades of industrial decline, Trump became an avatar of their fury over both parties promising miracles. Minnesota: "Upper Midwest slowly trending more Republican, even in a state considered to be a progressive breeding ground. ... Nevada is shifting into the blue column. ... An influx of Hispanic voters ... California diaspora. ... North Carolina's metro areas are turning very blue. Its rural areas are moving more Republican. Ohio is the hardest target on the list. ... This is a red state, trending more red from the grassroots up. ... Trump's lies over the economy and the disaster of the trade war are a twin hit. ... If there was a real shocker in 2016, it was Pennsylvania. ... Industrial glories of the past are fading quickly. ... The famous Philly suburbs may be blue and trending bluer, but the Reagan Democrats in the rest of the state are now Trump Republicans. ... Democrats will need to maximize African-Americans statewide and boost female turnout. ... Virginia: Trump single-handedly destroyed the GOP there in the last two year. ... Everywhere outside the Big Six [around Washington, DC] and Richmond, the place is as red as Alabama. ... Wisconsin's rising GOP tide came from an organized party farm team, strong grassroots work, and a flood of donor money" (p. 231-7).
Quotes [Wilson has multiple invective-filled rants. Here are a few of the better ones (expurgated).]
"Corruption is a disease. In healthy societies, it's a chronic but mild ailment. ... It's why governments have laws against self-dealing and nepotism, governmental watchdogs, mandatory conflict-of-interest reporting requirement, and bright lines on using government office for personal enrichment. Those things function as an ethics immune system" (p. 28).
"A coal lobbyist now runs the Environmental Protection Agency, a pharma lobbyist runs the Department of Health can Human Services, and, for a time, a defense lobbyist ran the Department of Defense" (p. 31). "The majority of the Trump folks today look at the few who got prison time as outliers" (p. 31).
"The trade war is a perfect example of Trumpism and its combination of blistering ignorance and robust cronyism. ... It has harmed farmers, ranchers, timber, manufacturing, tech companies, and small businesses all while driving up costs to American consumers. ... The most important countervailing message against Trump is simple. He lied to you. ... Every promise is a lie, every commitment nothing but a con, and every policy a Potemkin village. ... Both Clinton and Obama promise to restore jobs, manufacturing, unions, and the rest of the old signifiers of Rust Belt America. ... Trump's lies had a different edge and character. His deceptions were more pointed, more racial, and xenophobic" (p. 42-4).
"From Putin to North Korea to Iran to ISIS to Saudi Arabia to NATO, Trump turned US foreign policy into a pay-for-play humiliation ... We're suffering from diminished credibility, influence, and security. ... Trump's trade record is one long on bluster and higher costs for Americans, followed by concessions to the ostensible targets of his policy. On foreign relations, from NATO to the Baltics to South America to the Persian Gulf, Trump has left allies wondering at the source of his affection for their enemies and his animus toward their leaders" (p. 50-1).
"Trump is a flawed ... historical accident mutating into a political and moral monster who, as much as he deserves to lose, might not" (p. 78).
"May I remind you of death panels, migrant caravans, the war on Christmas, creeping sharia, Hillary's emails, Seth Rich, the Clinton Body Count, babies being killed after birth, Antifa, and a thousand other weaponized issues" (p. 92). "The Trump base may be smaller, but as two and a half years of painful experience demonstrates, Republican unity behind Trump is virtually unshakable. He is the parasite that ate the GOP from the insider out as an ideological force" (p. 93).
"Donald Trump's 2016 'policy' fit on a trucker hat. ... It was raging xenophobia, revenge against brown people, a Wall, and what was essentially a long, cheap riff on his wealth, power, intellect, and sexual prowess" (p. 93-4). "In a Walmart Nation, don't run on boutique issues. ... Never underestimate the power of dumb. Language matters. Presentation matters. Charisma matters. Policy? Not so much" (p. 94).
"Some days, you can almost convince yourself he's trying to lose this election. ... His entire life is a pattern of self-sabotage and self-destructive lying, ... boom-and-bust spending, and bumping business uglies with a constellation of sleazeballs. ... The investment Fox has made in their pet president will serve as a powerful countervailing force against even his most damaging actions. ... The consulting people around him are not dumb, and they're going to have unlimited resources. ... The consultants, ad makers, pollsters, and operatives may have a rogue candidate, but they'll simply focus on burning the Democrats to the ground and then stirring the ashes. ... They'll have Fox News and its massive viewer reach, the corrupted and degraded 'conservative' media, and Donald Trump's cheekiest friends from Russia weighing in" (pp. 125-8).
"Donald Trump is the most effective, powerful, and amoral user of earned [free] media in the history of American campaigning. ... His 60 million followers--including a few million bots ... will echo, signal, boost, share, and spread every message. ... Twitter is his singular megaphone, and he understands the way the mainstream media is drawn to it like moths to a flame. ... Donald Trump's game is the base and the base only, which ... liberates him from much of the hard work of politics" (p. 129).
"Cambridge Analytica [is] back with a new name and still working for the Trump reelection effort via the RNC. Data Propria, CA's new cover name, ... with all the same spooky tieback to Russian investors and coders" (p. 131). "Facebook had reps in the room for both the Trump and Clinton efforts to help them maximize Facebook data in 2016. They'll still be there for Trump again in 2020. Silicon Valley ... their corporate politics are raw capitalism" (p. 131). "Paid television ads are still a killer app. ... Trump was outspent on TV and cable in 2016 because he thought he would lose and didn't want to spend money he could keep for his own uses. But 2020 will be different. The campaign will spend, and spend big. ... Their creative work will be backed by the ability to put Trump in settings that are tailor-made for politics. ... He'll shamelessly lard his ads with the faces of African American, Hispanic, Asian, LGBTQ, and disadvantaged Americans ... [claiming] under Trump, America is great again. ... The Trump tax cut is working for families. ... Respected judges sit on the highest courts. Our military is tougher and stronger, our vets are cared for at last. We're safer and respected in the world again. Our borders are protected from drugs, disease, and human trafficking. ... Fact-checkers will spurt blood from their eyes" (pp. 131-4). "Prosperity versus godless socialism. ... The Democratic nominee will be cast as a dangerous socialist, an open-borders traitor, a coastal elite liberal snob, a killer of babies, and a taker of healthcare. ... The add running in Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania [will] pay close attention to the cultural context embedded in the negative messages" (p. 134).
"The GOP is no longer defined by the old divisions of social, economic, and foreign policy conservatives. GOP activists are now all one with the Trump borg, and the RNC is moving quickly to turn the cultists into door-knocking, voter-registering, tweet-posting automatons. ... . RNC oppo nerds will drill into the most granular details of the lives of the candidate, the candidate's family, the candidate's dog, the candidte's business associates ... to provide a stream of information to feed into the maw of the Trump-Fox-social-media machine to keep the rubes angry and terrified. ... Trump's orbit includes dirty, dark [folks who] will pay money for dirt. ... Trump can and will use unverified, untruthful oppo. ... Trump's first election was a triumph for Vladimir Putin, the Russian intelligence services, and the model of special warfare the Kremlin is pursuing. ... This model uses things the Russians are really good at to launch asymmetric attacks against more powerful opponents. ... The Russians will be hard at work running a repeat of their 2016 operation because it was cheap, it was effective, and it worked." (pp. 138-9).
"The power of the presidency ... where the president goes cameras follow. ... Trump's team will use the power of the government as a rapid response tool to keep Trump in the news, to make news, and to step on Democratic events" (p. 141). Government events cost the campaign nothing; at his resorts, they are revenue generators. "Trump lacks the genes for shame, modesty, and discretion" (p. 142). "Showbiz rules: all PR is good PR" (p. 143). "The campaign will frustrate Democrats because it will appear superficial, phony, and laughable in comparison to Trump's actual record. For his target audience, it will work--really well. For the media, it will work because it will be accompanied by big, staged events, monster flags, and monster trucks. ... Trump can't stop himself because his mindset was formed by his early exposure to politics with Roy Cohn and Roger Stone. Factor in the cruel tutelage of Roger Ailes, from whom Trump learned much of his media-battering techniques" (p. 145).
"It's grievance culture. Trump has brilliantly exploited it, and 2020 will see the grievance, paranoia, and self-loathing of the GOP blossom into central themes. It's profoundly pessimistic. ... Everyone is coming to get you. The immigrants. Black Lives Matter. Antifa. The deep state. Silicon Valley. The godless homosexers. Academia. Women. Sloths. Atheists. Muslims. Jews. Zoroastrians. ... His polling and strategy team desperately wants to make this a base-only election about a core package of issues, not a referendum on his personality, leadership, or accomplishments" (p. 146-7).
"Before 2020, the last few moderates--Will Hurd of Texas, most notably--pulled the ejection handle. ... The king of the soulless class is Lindsey Graham. ... Mitch McConnell ... is the most powerful and effective Senate majority leader in history. ... His deal with the devil took a simple form. President McConnell would be in charge of the federal judiciary from top to bottom. ... Trump is a reality congressional Republicans must accept, and they fully expect an apocalyptic political backlash to follow him. The only way they see to secure the gains of the conservative movement from before and during Trump is to flood the federal bench" (p. 149-151).
"Fox ... the largest news outlet in the country isn't just ideologically simpatico with a president; Fox is in daily coordination on message, targeting, and strategy with the president and his campaign. ... The bond is driven both by the network's understanding of its audience (old, white, and pissed off) and by the president's addition to their coverage. ... Fox has 1.39 million views a day. Its rivals CNN and MSNBC are at 622,000 and 1.04 million. ... Your brainy essay for the New York Times on climate change or gun control or worker retraining will get a few thousands smart people nodding, but Trump's angry tweets will be read and retweeted by tens of millions of followers not known for critical-thinking abilities. ... [plus] the massive, organized Facebook infrastructure on the far right. ... Fact-checking doesn't work with these folks. ... People who could make them play by the rules--at least at this point--won't. Mark Zuckerberg has a wee bit of power at Facebook but can't seem to rouse himself to meaningful action. ... [They] see any lie or conspiracy theory that accomplishes their beloved goal of owning the libs as acceptable and, in fact, desirable" (p. 154-5). Trump's Twitter feed as "crapulous wellspring of his endless river of bs ... to reshape the day's media coverage" (p. 156).
"It's time to learn the ancient art of tweet-fu. ... They need to be fast, funny, authentic, and cutting. Don't hesitate to go to the vaults to hurl out Trump's triggers and insecurities--his business failings, his taxes, his payoffs to porn stars, his terrible polls, his physical appearance, his friends in jail, and of course, his tiny hands" (p. 156). The American media is under constant attack from Donald Trump. ... They are insulted by his staff. They are lied to by his most senior advisors. ... No outlet will truly punish him for lying. ... The Democratic campaign ... has to build a smart, media-friendly team of surrogates who can get on television ... and punch back twice as hard. ... Get quick-thinking, sharp surrogates with social-media amplification powers. ... Trump is an earned-media machine who depends on his opponents to be on defense and to respond to his cues. ... The media wants war, fire, loud noises, alarms, and explosions. ... It's about his corruption, vulgarity, dishonesty, broken promises, and failed policies. Be angry, Be aggressive." (p. 158-60).
"In 2020, Trump is counting on his ability to lie his way to a second term. ... What should concern Trump's opponents in 2020 is how readily voters have abandoned honesty and truth as necessary to a healthy society. ... The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact an fiction and the distinction between true and false no longer exists" [Quote from Arentd's Origin of Totalitarianism]. ... While fact-checking is both meritorious and necessary, it's also almost completely ineffective for Trump voters. ... Fear is one of Trump's few weapons ... conservative media have weaponized and monetized fear based on ludicrously overdrawn lies: ... criminal gang members ... immigrants bringing smallpox, Ebola, and the plague ... terrifying scourge of godless homosexuals ... Democrats' semi-, demi-, hemo-socialism as the second coming of Stalin. Trump's framing will be apocalyptic: It's me or sharia law ... death panels ... godless communism ... war on Christmas, kneeling NFL players" (p. 175-8).
"Trump is the ultimate socially undesirable candidate. Shy Trump voters weren't secret Trump fanatics. They were shaky Trump voters who rationalized his candidacy. ... They told themselves that judges and tax cuts would be worth it, that the behavior was just an act. ... The Trump campaign will message them in ways that portray Trump as a regular Republican who is getting things done. ... As much as outright Trump voters are largely intractable, shy Trump voters are in play. The shy Trump women voters, messages about his history of sexual assault ... reminding them that their daughters will grow up in a world defined and shaped by Donald Trump's values ... especially in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Milwaukee, Tampa, Orlando, Charlotte, and Atlanta" (p. 195).
Abortion: "3%. That's the percentage of Americans who think abortion in the third trimester should be legal. Sixty% think it should be legal in the first trimester, and 28% in the second. ... Ohio. Michigan. Wisconsin, Florida. Pennsylvania. The pro-life movement in each of those states is organized, and relies on their large Catholic and evangelical populations" (p. 207-8). Consider Hispanics and blacks. "What Trump will say: 'Democrats want abortion on demand, for any reason at any time, all paid for by the taxpayers. ... "How Democrats should respond: 'Abortion is a difficult, personal choice, and it's a choice we firmly believe should be between a woman and her doctor. ... We're grateful that late-term abortions are very rare, and usually are performed only to save the life of the mother" (p. 240). Similar arguments for: guns; immigration; the wall; the economy; the media; judges; no collusion; socialism; how to talk about about immigration, Trump's killer app (pp. 240-5).
October surprise: "legitimate, though stinky, attacks. They're the hits on the opposition candidate's voting record, campaign finance, friends and allies, personal life, business dealings. ... The second kind is the external events: the sweeping crisis, international incident, or financial meltdown" (p. 218). Like Comey announcing the FBI was reopening Clinton's emails investigation. "Gresham's Law of douchy Trump-right media is that bad news coverage always drives out good, and insane coverage always drives out sane" (p. 221). It becomes the story about the story no matter how wacky or fantasy-based.
The teleprompter, far from guiding him, reveals his inauthenticity. He staggers and struggles through every line, because he believes in none of it. The real Trump is impulsive, crude, ignorant of America's long traditions and of human decency. The tweets, the throwaway lines, the insult-comic shtick is the real rhetorical legacy of Trump" (p. 238).
Political rhetoric is about selling people on your ideas, even when the true face of those ideas repels voters ... [based on] polling, research, and experience on how voters in the targeted swing states behave" (p. 239). "He hits your kids? Fredo, Big Gums, and Fascist Barbie are fair game. ... When they go low, you bring out the goddamn flamethrower" (p. 248-9).
"TV targeting for cable is wildly improved, but nothing rivals digital for delivering a single message to a single person ... it can bombard its core voters with a message that absolutely works for them. ... Facebook and Google ecosystems are siloed and self-reinforcing, and that the political culture of Trumpism means sharing with like-minded morons, which amplifies their message" (p. 256). "Develop messages and media that move votes from pro-Trump to Trump questioning" (p. 257).
Wilson was not a fan of the Clinton 2016 campaign: "They were lazy, smug, wasteful, insular, arrogant, incompetent, fractured, tone-deaf, sloppy, and worst of all they lost to Donald f-ing Trump. ... Hillary could have taken Florida, Wisconsin, and Michigan. ... They built teams without real leaders" (p. 260). "State parties in the places Democrats need to win in 2020 range from merely competent to utter train wrecks" (p. 262). "The job now is to turn regret and remorse into votes, particularly in swing states" (p. 268). "The reason Trump's numbers stay so high is that many Republicans have stopped identifying themselves to pollsters as Republicans" (p. 268). Voters "want a return to sanity, not a different flavor of ideological passion" (p. 269). "The tribal nature of Trumpism is seated in a host of racial and ethnic hatreds. ... Instead of being angry at the corporate world, they've redirected it into being angry at immigrants. Unlike conservatism, Rust Belt victim culture presumes that market forces must be moderated by the strong hand of the Great Leader. ...Promising them government will do for them what Trump didn't is a losing proposition. They like the anger he allows them. ... The traditional conservative credo of personal responsibility, hard work, and the power of markets doesn't work with them" (p. 270).
Some 26% of Americans identified themselves as evangelicals. ... You cannot reach them. Catholics? Mainline Protestants? Sure. Evangelicals? Nope. ... Trump has transformed the evangelical movement into a more cruel and worldly political tool. ... He empowers them to live in an intolerant society separate from the rest of the United States" (p. 272).
"The opportunity [of Democrats] to recapture that magic is there because Trumpism is a fundamentally negative, reductive, zero-sum political movement. ... The media, the educated, the elites, the immigrants are coming for the Trump voters. ... They have the chance to talk about hope and freedom and uplift, not by selling endless expansions of government, but a return to character. ... Republicans ... now defined only by Trump. ... He won them by promising to be a fierce, unrelenting avatar of their anger at the economy and their disaffection with politics, and a back channel for the not-so-hidden racism and xenophobia. ... The guy who used to make $37 an hour in a union auto-parts manufacturer doesn't give a flip ... about climate change, genderless bathroom mandates or paper straws. ... Middle America isn't on the cusp of being Berkeley. ... Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan are states that define the American working-class image (p. 276). "I know this because we stole these people from you. We spoke their language, in their cadence,and made sure they knew how much Democrats judged them for being insufficiently sophisticated. ... They're intensely patriotic, and you rarely praise America without revisiting our sins" (p. 277).
"Let the congressional oversight become a weaponized accountability tool" (p. 289). [Remember congressional Republicans hammering away at Hillary for Bengazi and emails.] "The goal is to deprive Trump of having the singular ability to set the topic of conversation every day" (p. 293). "The worst of Trump's lot are David Bossie and Corey Lewandowski; ... strategists for a man without a strategy, and advisors to a president who only takes advice from the gibbering demons in his head. ... Bossie's scam PAC used breathless direct-mail pieces featuring pictures of Trump ... and lurid claims that George Soros and Nancy Pelosi are beating down the door to impose full sharia communism" (p. 295). "Politics triumphs over policy, and passion triumphs over ideology. ... They will ignite a race war, wreck the economy, and abuse their fellow humans to win. They put children in cages for political theater ... Trump is not invulnerable. He is broadly loathed, seen as a liar and a moral failure. He is beset with legal and criminal exposure at every turn. He is a specific flavor that works for a specific set of demographics. He is stupid but cunning. He is unpredictable, but shallow. He is corrupt, but brazen. ... He is a sign and a symptom of an America in transition from one world to the next, and a rebuke to a broken two-party system" (p. 299).
"Your campaign broadened its appeal [with] a sense of common mission and purpose, a promise to restore American norms and values. ... [You used] targeting data analytics, and digital. ... You fought only where the battle was. ... You ignored the screams from safe blue states, and kept your dollars in the fifteen states you knew were the swing battlegrounds. ... You didn't repeat the Hillary mistake of not visiting states Trump and his Russian allies scored in 2016. ... You put electoral realities ahead of progressive fantasies. ... You posited one question: 'Should this man be president? ... You never let them distort, twist, or slander your message, policies and values" (p. 303-8). [Wilson reviews some of the swing states one by one.]