How Trump is going to win this election: strategy, spoilers, and memes – oh my!
Nearly everyone who’s lived through a few elections will tell you this year’s is one of the craziest in living memory. The most obvious reason is Donald J. Trump, the former reality television star and real estate mogul who announced his candidacy last June. I’m not going to argue for why Trump should or shouldn’t be president. Whether he’s a good guy who just wants to “Make America Great Again,” or if he’s an evil huckster selling the American public on golden-haired bad ideas isn’t the purview of this article. Chances are, you’ve already made up your mind.
Rather, this article is about refuting the idea that Trump can’t possibly win.
Whether it’s due to his rhetoric, low-favorability ratings, or the fact that he has no experience with either the military or as an elected official, nearly every single person whose job it was to prognosticate on politics and elections has been incorrect. Most — especially Nate Silver, the stats man who correctly predicted the last two presidential elections at FiveThirtyEight.com — thought Trump's campaign would die off at numerous points over the last year. They kept claiming he was a “non-serious” candidate, or too much of a bully to ever get very far.
They’ve all been wrong. Trump is the presumptive and soon-to-be-nominee for the Republican Party — one election away from being our president. And considering the circumstances, it’s safe to be skeptical of those still saying there’s no way he’s actually going to win in November.
On the contrary, Trump will almost assuredly win and become our next president (allowing yet another Simpsons joke to become reality).
Instead of fretting over the future of the country, it’s time to take a cold hard look at what’s going on in America right now and acknowledge how and why this is about to go down.
1. Romney’s electoral strategy lays the groundwork for Trump, with help from Clinton.
Doing the Electoral College math, it’s apparent that any Republican candidate running for president starts with an uphill battle. Based on the results of the 2012 election, Republicans are at a distinct disadvantage from the start. On May 5, CNN pegged the historically Democratic “blue” states as adding up to 237 electors and the historically Republican “red” states at 191 electors — a 46 elector deficit. The assumption in these numbers being that these electors are in states that won’t change sides, which is based off the results of the last two elections.
The remaining 110 electors are fought over in battleground “purple” states that are often close enough in terms of populations of political parties that they can easily flip depending on the candidate. Democrats only need to secure 33 of these votes, versus the 79 that the GOP must attain in order to gain the 270 electors required to win.
For Republicans, this means big states like Florida and Ohio are important in order to prevent an immediate loss, as well as working to win the now recognizably purple states of Nevada, Colorado, Virginia, North Carolina, and New Hampshire to seal the deal. Trump must pursue this strategy, and already has an advantage. The 2012 Romney campaign laid the groundwork for a potential flip of several softer blue states, specifically the area known as “The Rust Belt” — a sector of the Northeast that has seen massive economic downturn as a result of the decline in US manufacturing.
In 2012, Romney hit these states hard enough that, prior to the election, Wisconsin (10 Electors), Michigan (16), and Pennsylvania (20), all historically blue states, were pegged as “too close to call” by RealClearPolitics.com. Though Obama took all three of those states last election, they were narrow margins of victory.
But out in the Rust Belt, Trump’s message of an “America First” protectionist economic policy built on fighting foreign interests and bringing manufacturing back to the US builds upon Romney’s rhetoric, throwing the area into battleground position.
The more important factor in the winning of these states is the opponent — Clinton. Many of the labor sector workers who lost their manufacturing jobs in the last 20-30 years very specifically blame this loss on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), since it led to jobs being exported to countries in Central and South America.
Though she’s tried to disassociate herself from NAFTA in recent years, the agreement was signed and promoted by Bill Clinton and supported by Hillary during Bill’s presidency. The utter hatred these job losses have engendered is quite strong in that part of the country, as people still feel their effects. Add in the fact that, outside of immigration and economics, many of Trump’s policy proposals aren’t particularly conservative, and that he polls relatively well with Labor Democrats — a January poll by Mercury Analytics had roughly 20 percent of Democrats willing to change sides for Trump — and there is a very real possibility that one or more of these states will flip.
This is significant because if any of these states flip for Trump, it erases the initial advantage Democrats have had over the last several elections, and makes the race much more competitive.
Due to the fact that it’s probably a Clinton-Trump election, this will likely happen in at least one of these three states. Once it does, Trump’s win is easier and Clinton’s victory much harder.
2. Low-favorability favors the team with the more ardent base.
Trump is hated, this much is true. According to numerous polls, Trump’s biggest weakness is that he has consistently been seen as unfavorable. The Washington Post even wrote an article that pointed out that in March, Trump was more unfavorable than former head of the KKK David Duke with an unprecedented total unfavorable rating of 67 percent according to polling conducted with ABC.
However, the second most unfavorable person was Hillary Clinton. With an average total unfavorable rating around 52 percent, Clinton and Trump are both hated on a level that is unheard of for a general election.
While favorability is a nebulous factor, it does affect voter turnout. Low favorability candidates naturally tend to lead to a lower voter turnout.
Many pundits seem to base the modeling of Democratic voter turnout for this election using numbers based on the 2008 and 2012 elections, when Obama was running. But in this election’s primaries, Democratic voter turnout has dropped significantly. New York Times writer Nicholas Confessore wrote in early March that during the primaries for Super Tuesday “[voter turnout] declined in almost every state, dropping by roughly 50 percent in Texas and 40 percent in Tennessee. In Arkansas, Alabama and Georgia, the number of Democrats voting decreased by between a quarter and a third.”
Confessore continued, “It stands in sharp contrast to the flood of energized new voters showing up at the polls to vote for Donald J. Trump in the Republican contest.” Essentially, the high voter turnouts for Democrats in 2008 and 2012 seem to be due to exclusive Obama voters. At the same time, Trump is pulling in a lot of exclusive voters himself (that 20 percent of Democrats are likely culprits).
For most, this election has shaped up to be a choice between a Giant Douche and a Turd Sandwich. With two hated candidates, you see lower turnout overall. So naturally, the side with the more vocal, energized base wins out.
Trump in particular has a notoriously passionate base of support, and there’s a ton of historical precedent which indicates that low voter turnout generally benefits Republican nominees.
Recent polls by RealClearPolitics.com say Trump is running neck and neck with Clinton, but also indicate that were he to face Sanders in the general election, he would likely lose by 15 points. The reason seems obvious: Sanders has an even larger base than Trump with higher favorability, and likely a higher turnout.
Which, of course, leads to the socialist in the room . . .
3. Sanders the Spoiler.
The presidency wouldn’t even be within Trump’s reach if not for Bernie Sanders.
Like Trump himself, most pundits and politicos didn’t consider Sanders (the proud democratic socialist) a serious contender at the outset of the primary race.
Given a candidate they can believe in, far left democratic constituencies (especially college students) have become fired up by Sanders.
But Sanders isn’t going to win. Even if Sanders wins every delegate from now on, the chance of him changing the minds of the superdelegates in Clinton’s pocket are slim to none. This obvious eventuality has triggered an intense backlash from Sanders' base in recent weeks.
Huge swaths of Berners have vowed to never vote for Hillary. A small but solid chunk say they will choose Trump once their candidate fails to get the nomination. A poll by Hart Research Associates for the New York Times indicated that around seven to eight percent of Sanders fans would go Trump, and only 66 percent would back Clinton in the general election, a large enough amount to possibly flip the election.
Though far more troubling is what Sanders' camp is doing to demoralize the democratic campaign as they face the reality that Sanders will not win the nomination. Last week, a rally for Clinton was held on May 5 at East LA College. Hordes of Sanders supporters showed up to protest. There was charged, vocal anger coming from the crowd that assembled to berate the former Secretary of State and the people coming to hear her talk. Several protesters actually had to be removed from the gym after interrupting her speech.
At least the leftist anger at Trump rallies makes logical sense: he’s on the opposite side of the spectrum. But similar agitation at Clinton events only demonstrates deep rancor and division for what are supposed to be people on the same side.
The direct result of Sanders' aggressive fan base attacking its own party is that Clinton’s favorability ratings have been tanking within the Democratic Party, according to a Gallup poll conducted in April. With her own party against her and many unlikely to vote for her if nominated, Trump is in a much better position to beat her in the general election.
4. Years of social justice protesting has galvanized opposition into the Alt-Right.
In case no one noticed, social justice issues, and especially large crowds of young people yelling about them, have been a growing concern over the last five years.
Occupy Wall Street in 2012. Black Lives Matter in 2013 and 2014. Last year’s numerous quad occupations and protests against school officials on college campuses at the University of Missouri, Claremont McKenna, Yale, Princeton, Harvard and many others across the country. This year — transgender bathrooms.
If anyone has spent any time learning about the 1960s rise of the New Left, then it should be apparent that this is a case of history repeating itself. What the modern campus left either likes to forget, or never learned, is the immediate result of campaigning against Johnson’s War: the election of Richard M. Nixon.
In 1968, Nixon used growing campus activism and riots at the Democratic National Convention as an example of how his opponent Hubert Humphrey was “soft on crime,” thus skillfully portraying himself as a tough “law and order” candidate to the “silent majority” of the populace that disagrees quietly at home.
Trump uses the same tactic. As reported by USA Today, his response to protests at his rallies has been to say that they’re only going to increase his vote tally. It’s not hard to see the old Nixon maneuver of accusing Democrats of being soft on crime, when it’s the left that’s protesting the most.
In addition to history that isn’t focused on the evils of colonialism, campus radicals don’t really seem to understand physics. For every action, there are equal and opposite reactions.
So I’ll spell this out clearly: large swaths of social justice activists insisting that every white person (still the majority demographic in the country) is inherently racist, every man (half the population) is inherently a misogynist, and every straight person (97 percent of the population) is inherently homophobic might work in the academic bubble, but not out in the working world. There is a point where the constant refrain becomes “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” and people just stop buying it.
The opposition to this trend has sparked an increasingly organized resistance, which is forming the largest bulk of Trump’s support. They’re known as the Alt-Right.
The Alt-Right has made a tremendous appearance on the political scene since Trump announced his candidacy, having given the group a goal and potential leader. If it weren’t for the growing frustration with social justice campaigns swelling the ranks of this coalition of new wave political conservatives, the group simply wouldn’t exist.
This development is unique, potentially permanent, a serious problem for Clinton, and a major boon for Trump.
5. Branding, and how Pepe power pushes people Pro-Trump.
Originally a concept from Richard Dawkins to identify the single smallest unit of information, the fundamental nature of what a meme is, changed. A meme is still a short, simple idea, but one that is naturally viral because it’s an exploitable joke, easily transformed by anyone to fit into their particular situation.
But the deeper nature of the meme is something that marketers have known about for years — branding. Both memes and brands are all about instilling the memory and familiarizing people with the product or concept.
This is where Trump, and his Alt-Right supporters online, are slaying everyone this election. Trump is a master of branding, and the Alt-Right are masters of memes.
Trump’s branding skill is evident in his use of the slogan, “Make America Great Again” (almost the same as the one adopted by Reagan) and his key platform, building a “big, beautiful wall” on the border with Mexico.“The Wall” is an absolutely genius bit of marketing. They’re two words that immediately instill visual imagery in the listener’s mind, and are traditionally associated with positive values of protection and security.
That’s the trick with branding. If you keep your message short and sweet, people flock to it. Trump has “Build Wall," and Sanders has either “Income Inequality” or “Free Stuff." Clinton, however, lacks any kind of simple, two or three word brand message.
Trump uses this marketing mastery to put a brand on his rivals and make it stick.
“Low Energy” Jeb Bush. “Little Marco” Rubio. “Lyin’ Ted” Cruz. And now, "Crooked" Hillary. These brands create such a negative association with his opponents that they can’t be dismissed through logic or reason.
This is the power of memery. With a cadre of Alt-Right youth spreading memes like “Can’t Stump the Trump,” and “All Aboard the Trump Train,” there is so much psychic suggestion being shoved onto the internet promoting Trump that it is shaping the collective conscious of many independents and folks not directly opposed to him.
The memes stemming from his Alt-Right support base make Trump seem like a harmless prankster, a tough leader, and an inevitable choice. They create an appearance of weakness in his opponents. The term “Cuckservative,” for example, is a brand placed on conservative politicians and pundits viewed as working too closely with centrists and the left, worried about “respectability politics,” instead of fighting for more traditional conservative values.
These branding attacks are effective because most politicians don’t know how to counter them. When Ted Cruz went online to spout Simpsons quotes in an effort to seem hip, he came off as a phony scrambling for cover from an onslaught.
Few have acknowledged how powerful this effect is other than Milo Yiannopoulos, the gay British conservative writer for Breitbart UK. Yiannopoulos wrote an article explaining how this effect is being felt throughout this election entitled, “Meme Magic: Donald Trump is the internet’s revenge on lazy elites.”
In the article Yiannopoulos goes into full detail about how effective this strategy is, saying, “The Donald’s opponents never stood a chance. Trump understands the internet, and the internet might just propel him to the White House. Meme magic is real.”
It’s tough to say he’s not onto something.
Considering the particular realities of this election when it comes to the electoral map, the prospective voter turnout, Sanders, and the large counter-reaction to progressive politics, in the end it might be the sheer power of dumb Pepe the Frog memes that push Trump to the top.