Monday, January 04, 2016

Is The Republican Establishment Stuck With Trumpf?


There's been a lot of clucking over the Jason Horowitz article in yesterday's NY Times about how a younger Herr Trumpf dealt with his brother's family. It's a poignant personal story that's almost embarrassing to read. Horowitz's ending, though, is something that betrays ugly traits in candidate Trump that the public might want to take into consideration when they decide who to vote fto make the next president of this country.
In 1999, the family patriarch died, and 650 people, including many real estate executives and politicians, crowded his funeral at Marble Collegiate Church on Fifth Avenue.

But the drama was hardly put to rest. Freddy’s son, Fred III, spoke at the funeral, and that night, his wife went into labor with their son, who developed seizures that led to cerebral palsy. The Trump family promised that it would take care of the medical bills.

Then came the unveiling of Fred Sr.’s will, which Donald had helped draft. It divided the bulk of the inheritance, at least $20 million, among his children and their descendants, “other than my son Fred C. Trump Jr.”

Freddy’s children sued, claiming that an earlier version of the will had entitled them to their father’s share of the estate, but that Donald and his siblings had used “undue influence” over their grandfather, who had dementia, to cut them out.

A week later, Mr. Trump retaliated by withdrawing the medical benefits critical to his nephew’s infant child.
This apocryphal little story isn't going to change the minds of any Trumpf supporters, few of whom probably read (the Times) but next month undecided Republicans In Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada will go a long way towards making the decision of who the GOP will nominate for the presidency this year. When questioned about his draconian retaliatory move against the infant with cerebral palsy Trumpf said, "I was angry because they sued, although "[a]t the time, he attributed their exclusion from the will to his father’s 'tremendous dislike' for Freddy’s ex-wife, Linda." An interesting essay from Zack Kopplin goes a long way towards explaining why reports about this kind of behavior don't phase Trumpf's supporters in the slightest.

Life's losers, looking for revenge against people who weren't dealt the same shitty hand they were, Trumpf under-educated, overly ignorant backers don't care about "facts," just about their own basest, infantile emotions, base, infantile emotions Trump has skillfully tapped into and, to some extent, has learned how to manipulate. They hate anything that skacks of "establishment" and when establishment figures attack their clownish caudillo, they like him even more.
A few weeks ago, Republican pollster Frank Luntz spent hours showing a focus group of Donald Trump supporters television ads that criticized their candidate. The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel described one ad as “not so subtly comparing the Republican front-runner to Adolf Hitler.”

Those attacks on Trump made him stronger. Supporters’ “confidence only grew as Trump’s alleged gaffes and mistakes were laid out,” wrote Weigel. For months, Luntz and other members of the Republican establishment have failed to deflate Trump. “Normally, if I did this for a campaign,” Luntz said, “I’d have destroyed the candidate by this point.”

Luntz may not understand why Trump’s supporters are so persistently devoted, but their behavior is similar to what I’ve seen from people who are committed to anti-science beliefs.

In a 2014 study, Brendan Nyhan and several other researchers found that when parents with negative feelings about vaccines were presented with evidence that vaccines do not cause autism, they actually reported being less likely to vaccinate their children. The corrective information had a negative effect.

(During the September GOP debate, by the way, Donald Trump falsely blamed vaccines for autism and said a vaccine “looks just like it’s meant for a horse, not for a child.”)

I asked Nyhan, a political scientist at Dartmouth College, about Trump’s strength in the face of attacks. “For highly controversial issues and political figures, there’s a risk that correct information is not only ineffective, but can make misconceptions worse,” Nyhan said. “People who are exposed to correct information in the context of a debate over a controversial issue can end up believing more strongly in the misperception than people who never saw the correct information.” This phenomenon is known as the “backfire effect.”

People often reject information about science, and politics, because they engage in motivated reasoning, according to Emily Thorson of George Washington University, who studies the lingering effects of misinformation on people’s opinions. “People’s pre-existing attitudes just invariably shape what they choose to believe, what facts they actually believe, what facts they actually retain, whether or not they actually believe corrections,” said Thorson. She gave me the example of Donald Trump supporters who have fallen through the gaps in the U.S. economy. “We know that in general, the unemployment rate is pretty good, the economy is doing well, but for somebody who doesn’t have a job, it doesn’t feel like that for them,” she said. “That’s going to shape what they choose to believe.”

Trump supporters have their own narrative about the economy. Carville told me he thought Trump’s supporters’ affection, while distasteful, was “understandable,” because Trump made sense of why they couldn’t find good jobs. “Trump has an explanation: ‘Stupid politicians have betrayed you to immigrants,’ ” Carville said, “What’s Jeb’s explanation? Their decision to support Trump is not irrational.”

Thorson agreed. “As much as the things that Trump is saying are wrong, there is an internal coherence to them that I think is compelling to [his supporters],” she said. And it’s hard to correct these misconceptions.

Another reason accurate information can backfire is because of mistrust for the source. In November, Trump claimed that American Muslims celebrated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center. “I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as [the World Trade Center] was coming down,” Trump said. This was incorrect and has been debunked repeatedly by fact-checkers-- but the corrections might not help. “The Republican Party has told their base: You can’t trust the mainstream media,” said Nyhan. “When the media tries to debunk a Trump falsehood, it doesn’t work, and because of how the backfire effect works, sometimes it makes it worse.”

Thorson’s research shows that even people who accept the corrections may still retain the attitude they took from the incorrect information. “Initial misinformation has a stronger effect,” she told me. “We hear [someone say] Muslims celebrating [Sept. 11] and we have this gut reaction. We hear the correction and intellectually we know it’s false, but it doesn’t bring our attitudes back down in a symmetrical way. These belief echoes persist.” So even for Trump supporters who accept that he was wrong on this issue, many of them likely still hold just as tightly to the same pro-Trump, anti-Muslim, attitudes.

Which still leaves the Republican establishment with a huge problem: How do they stop Trump?

In statements made after his focus group, Luntz acted as if Donald Trump was unique in his appeal. Thorson told me that while she thought Trump was “absolutely unique” as a candidate because of disregard for the establishment and his rejection of the “norms of politics,” she said, “I think the way that voters are responding to him is not necessarily unique.” It’s not unusual for people to reject corrections and stand by a candidate they believe in.

Nyhan believes Trump’s name recognition has made it harder to change people’s opinions about him. “The closest analogue … from my research is Sarah Palin,” Nyhan said. “[Palin had] become so controversial among Republicans that how people responded to hearing she was wrong varied based on how they felt about her,” with supporters maintaining their support no matter her mistakes.

But well-known candidates still lose. “Republicans keep saying, if this happened to any other candidate, they would be destroyed, going back to the John McCain quote months ago that people thought might end his campaign,” Nyhan said, referring to when Trump said Sen. McCain was “not a war hero.” But Nyhan says establishment that Republicans have “overstated” the extent to which they have challenged Trump and that Trump has received more positive news coverage than people recognize.

When it comes to best practices for dealing with backfire effect, Nyhan suggests people looking to correct misconceptions use sources that are credible to their target audience. He pointed to a news article examining the myth that Obamacare funds “death panels.” The story included the information that doctors, as well as health policy experts who oppose the Affordable Care Act, agree that the act does not promote death panels. Attributing factual information to trusted sources, such as doctors and the likely political allies of people who have encountered the myth, makes for a more persuasive fact check.

And, of course, family and friends are also a trusted source for information, for better or worse. “The most effective persuader is always going to be someone you know well,” said Thorson.

So in 2016, Republicans against Trump must resolve to tell Grandpa not to vote for him.
Sound a little tribal, even primitive, for the 21st Century? That's what we get, as a society, for leaving these people so ostentatiously behind. When Bernie talks about the corrosive effects of the massive inequality-- income inequality and inequality of opportunity-- he's is talking, in part, about these deluded desperate folks who want to put their faith and hopes in a "strong leader." There are reasons for the huge gap by how much polls show Bernie can beat Trump and by how much Hillary can beat Trump. Is it worth the gamble? Please consider making sure Trump doesn't get into the White House and addressing the problems that have given rise to Trumpism. How? Well, one way is to join the hordes of people who have never made a political contribution before but who are giving what they can afford to Bernie's campaign. You can do it here.

Yesterday, Byron York, righting for a Beltway right-wing website explains to non-GOP-insiders why the Republican establishment seems so utterly incapable of doing anything about Herr Trumpf other than whine. How pathetically weak does the entire party look in the face of a bombastic bully? York delineates the 5 excuses they use: "First, creating an organization and spending millions of dollars to carpet-bomb Trump with negative ads in key states isn't easy; there aren't many people who could pull it off. Second, some donors think an anti-Trump offensive not only would not work but would backfire on an already unpopular GOP establishment. Third, some who do believe it could work think it should not be attempted until Trump's critics have agreed on an alternative candidate-- which they haven't. Fourth, the anti-Trump opposition can't decide who should lead such an effort. And fifth, most GOP strategists and money movers continue to believe Trump will ultimately fail on his own, that in the end he will not be the Republican nominee."
Despite all that, there are some strategists who believe an anti-Trump campaign could still work. In a phone conversation Sunday, Stuart Stevens, chief strategist for the Romney 2012 campaign, said he is mystified that some other campaign-- the still-rich Jeb Bush super PAC, for example-- hasn't dropped a huge negative advertising bomb on Trump. "Look at Iowa," Stevens said. "The fact that someone who has been married three times, bankrupt four times, is in the gambling business and has speculated publicly about the possibility of dating his daughter is a leading candidate is absurd. I think 10,000 ratings points [a technical description for a major ad buy] would completely reorient voters to facts that are relevant."
And I think the Republican establishment will continue clutching their pearls and hoping someone else does something about this terrible person who has taken over their little scam shop. "What do we ever do to deserve this?" Don't get me started.

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