FLAPJACKS: How do we stop Trump? Oh god how do we stop Trump?
MGK: First off, how would “we” do anything like that?
FLAPJACKS: Don’t laugh. If we don’t stop Trump, we’ll have to move to Canada!
MGK: We already live in Canada.
FLAPJACKS: That makes it even worse because we know what it’s like here!
MGK: But that – oh, never mind.
FLAPJACKS: Thank god you’re finally on board with this. I have plans. Anti-Trump plans.
MGK: Okay, so let’s hear these plans.
FLAPJACKS: Okay. First plan: we tell all the people who like him that he is bad.
MGK: Probably won’t work.
FLAPJACKS: Why won’t it work? People don’t want to vote for bad people. Even other bad people generally want to vote for good people.
MGK: Yes, but –
FLAPJACKS: And there is a mountain of evidence that Trump is a bad person. I mean, the multiple bankruptcies, the multiple divorces, the fraud lawsuit he’s probably going to lose this year.
MGK: But the problem is is that saying Trump is “bad” is a value judgement. We’re talking about a political landscape where each side automatically takes the other side’s badness as a given, and distrusts the other side’s assertions implicitly. It’s quite possible that pro-Trump voters who might not themselves be actively racist are working themselves into a position where they believe accusations towards Trump of being racist are lies concocted by evil liberals.
FLAPJACKS: …so we think there are pro-Trump voters who aren’t racist, then?
MGK: I think it’s fair to say so, yes. Everybody likes pulling out those shocker polls like “twenty percent of Trump voters want to see slavery brought back” but it doesn’t follow that the remaining eighty percent are all thinking “yeah, slavery’s great but I can’t say it in public.” Trump is a white nationalist candidate by any reasonable yardstick, but it’s worth remembering that there are two clauses in that and “white” is only one of them.
FLAPJACKS: So you think there are some Trump voters who are racist, some who are racist AND nationalist, and some who are just nationalist?
MGK: I think that’s broadly accurate. You can quibble about the percentages, but let’s say for argument’s sake that one-third of Trump’s support is the non-racist nationalists – that’s where all his (small amount of) minority support comes from, for example.
FLAPJACKS: Plus white people who are generally well-meaning but are willing to give the racism a pass or are mentally minimizing its damage.
FLAPJACKS: But don’t you think Trump’s promises are effectively promises of a return to white supremacy?
MGK: Well, here’s the thing. Many of them are dogwhistles, and the point of a dogwhistle phrase in politics is to signal to people who know the context while not alarming the people who don’t know the context.
FLAPJACKS: But the dude said he would ban Muslims from entering the United States. That’s not a dogwhistle.
MGK: But the Mexican border wall thing is. If you’re prejudiced against Latinos, then it’s saying “we’re gonna show those Mexicans who’s boss.” But if you aren’t – at least not particularly – then it’s just a dramatic show of economic protectionism. And economic protectionism is the important thing, because that’s Trump’s real selling point.
FLAPJACKS: So you think “Make America Great Again” isn’t racist?
MGK: I think his use of it has been and is racist, but it can be interpreted in a non-racist light, which is enough for that chunk of his supporters who aren’t actively malicious towards non-whites. Because you can say “make American great again” in a non-racist way as well. You can make it mean “restrict free trade agreements which have seen offshoring of the majority of American manufacturing,” for example, pretty easily. Hell, if you want to go liberal with it, you can make it mean “restore union power and the social safety net.”
FLAPJACKS: I don’t think Trump’s going to come out as pro-union, though.
MGK: But he has been very clear that he wants to restrict free trade, and for a lot of lower-class voters that is a huge deal, because they think free trade has bitten them in the ass. Not unfairly, either, because many of the benefits of free trade are either relatively abstract. “Free trade incentivizes nations not to go to war” is broadly true, but if your job goes to a third-world country where labour costs are cheaper, the war you’re not involved in is not exactly great financial compensation on a personal level.
FLAPJACKS: So you’re saying support for Trump doesn’t necessarily indicate support for tacit racism, then?
MGK: It can and I would say the majority of it does. But you can’t concern yourself with the two-thirds of Trump’s vote (so far) who are racist. They are not votes you can reasonably affect or divert, except possibly to Ted Cruz, and that is possibly the only way you could get them to vote which would be worse, so concentrate on the Trump voters who might be reachable yet and the ones who might be tempted to flip to him despite the racist dogwhistling.
FLAPJACKS: Okay. I accept that pointing out that Trump is a bad racist person is not going to work. How about we go with plan two, which is “he is a silly person who says silly things”?
MGK: The racism wasn’t silly enough?
FLAPJACKS: I’m talking about going after his sense of gravitas now.
MGK: He’s kind of doughy. That’s true.
FLAPJACKS: Well, yeah, but I mean this meme that he’s a successful businessman and thus is good at everything. Because he’s not good at everything! He has tons of failed business ventures and he went bankrupt multiple times and –
MGK: – and he’s worth, even after you discount for his bullshitting about his personal worth, more than a billion dollars.
FLAPJACKS: But he’s being sued right now for Trump University!
MGK: And he’s worth more than a billion dollars.
FLAPJACKS: He started out with hundreds of millions of dollars! If he’d just invested it in bond index funds he’d be worth more money now!
MGK: But regardless, he’s worth more than a billion dollars.
FLAPJACKS: You keep saying that.
MGK: Because your argument is terrible. “Donald Trump should be even richer” is not going to make any Trump supporter blink, because Donald Trump is already worth an unimaginable amount of money. Does it make a gigantic difference if he should be worth ten billion dollars instead of two, or whatever the numbers work out to be? He’s still stupidly rich, and he’s worth more money than he started out with, and the “more money” is a stupidly large amount of money as well.
FLAPJACKS: Come to think: if he invested it all in bond index funds and made more money but didn’t have The Apprentice and own the Miss USA pageant and show up on pro wrestling and all of that, would anybody care?
MGK: Of course not. Is there anybody outside of a bunch of pundits hoping that Michael Bloomberg runs for President? No, and he was actually the mayor of New York City, but it doesn’t matter because he’s a boring rich man. He’s not who people fantasize about being when they are rich, because Bloomberg is still essentially a sober and responsible person. Trump does not give a fuck, and for a lot of his voters that’s a huge part of his appeal.
FLAPJACKS: Both because people wish they did not have to give a fuck and because his not giving a fuck suggests that he is politically independent of power brokers.
FLAPJACKS: But that second one is stupid.
MGK: Yes to that too.
FLAPJACKS: Okay. So, given that you have no actual political campaign experience, how would you solve this conundrum?
MGK: Well, if you’re going to be pissy about it –
FLAPJACKS: No, no. I withdraw my snark. Please enlighten me.
MGK: Well, it’s a two-stage process. You need to both peel away those voters who can be peeled away from him and diminish his credibility with the rest to depress their enthusiasm.
FLAPJACKS: Didn’t Marco Rubio try that already, though? Actually, wait, I withdraw the question, because Marco Rubio is a half dozen small babies in a suit.
MGK: Exactly so! Marco Rubio is a wisp of gas just solid enough to create the illusion of a human being, much in the way that swamp gas makes people think UFOs are present.
FLAPJACKS: Marco Rubio is what happens when you try to give a loaf of whole wheat Wonder Bread sentience with a mad science experiment.
MGK: Marco Rubio is the sum of all of the prepositions in a Sweet Valley High novel.
FLAPJACKS: Marco Rubio is an extra from a scene in an unreleased David Mamet film whose only scene was cut out of the film anyway.
MGK: Marco Rubio is an anagram for “I, a broom cur” and I’m not sure if that’s insulting but it certainly deserves to be.
FLAPJACKS: Marco Rubio is a guy who screams “I AM THE GREAT AND POWERFUL OZ” into his home-karaoke-machine mic.
MGK: Marco Rubio buys Brooks Brothers clothes to fit in, but in his heart, he always wants to wear a suit made of Jack Chick tracts and guns.
FLAPJACKS: …where were we again?
MGK: Right. So anyway, Rubio tried his best to attack Trump and came a little closer to managing it than people expected, not because his attacks were particularly top-notch but because it’s really actually very easy to attack Donald Trump, because he’s a hateful asshole who really isn’t anywhere near as competent as he constantly suggests. The “con artist” line Rubio kept using wasn’t quite ideal, but it was closer to the mark than most people have gotten.
FLAPJACKS: I hate to point this out, but Rubio got his ass kicked and Trump won most of the Super Tuesday states.
MGK: Well, yes, but that was as much because they only started attacking him a few days beforehand. Trump underperformed as compared to his polls in the majority of Super Tuesday states – mostly only by a few points, but the start of a decline could have meant something if they had started attacking him sooner. He likely lost Oklahoma and Alaska to Ted Cruz as a result of those poll drops and came close to losing Virginia to Rubio.
FLAPJACKS: Which is really kind of amazing when you think about it, considering we’re talking about Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
MGK: Plus there was John Kasich eating up about ten percent of the anti-Trump vote, and Trump’s second-choice numbers with Kasich voters are lousy – they aren’t game-changingly terrible with anybody else in the race, but they’re bad with Kasich voters.
FLAPJACKS: So “con artist” is the way to go?
MGK: Kind of? I think it’s more important to emphasize Trump’s general lack of competence outside of his comfort zone. Say “yeah, he can really work the refs in his favour. What happens when he’s the ref?” Which is kind of a lousy analogy but I think you get the general idea. The reason Trump is not destitute right now is because of the technicalities of U.S. bankruptcy law saving his ass.
FLAPJACKS: Do you mention Trump Steaks and Trump Air and all of those?
MGK: Yeah, but as sidelines. You really hit him on the casinos, you say “this guy couldn’t even successfully manage a casino, where the business model is just sitting there and watching people bring you money.”
FLAPJACKS: Well it seems like beating Trump is relatively easy!
MGK: Except that it isn’t. Attacking him in the right way is only part of the equation, and the other part is the reason why the GOP hasn’t been able to truly dent him.
FLAPJACKS: We’re going back to the economic populism, aren’t we.
MGK: Oh, yes. That’s Trump’s greatest strength. The only other person talking about Trump’s economic issues, even vaguely so, is Bernie Sanders – which explains a lot about those annoying subspecies of Berniebros who say things like “if Hillary gets the nomination I’m voting Trump.” Yes, that’s mostly them being douchebags, but there’s a serious undercurrent there that really shouldn’t be ignored.
FLAPJACKS: But I really want to ignore them.
MGK: I get that.
FLAPJACKS: I mean I really, really want to ignore them.
MGK: Understood. But that undercurrent is still there and it matters, and Hillary Clinton is particularly ill-equipped to fight it. That doesn’t mean she can’t, but it requires taking some policy positions that she might not like.
FLAPJACKS: I don’t think Hillary Clinton’s going to say “let’s end our free trade agreements and build a wall against Mexico.” She might be politically cynical but she’s not that cynical.
MGK: I agree.
FLAPJACKS: Besides, would anybody believe her if she said she was gonna do that?
MGK: No, but she doesn’t have to. The trick is to take populist positions that work with a centre-left view. Like, if the problem is “American companies moved/are moving manufacturing overseas because of cheaper labour costs,” you don’t have to argue for ending free trade agreements, because free trade agreements aren’t the only way to deal with that. You could say “we’re going to regulate and inspect companies who move overseas and make sure they provide safe and humane working conditions, and don’t hire child labour, and suddenly it won’t be so cheap for them to leave America.” You could say “we’re going to tax any company which offshores itself to a friendlier tax regime so hard there won’t be anything left when they leave.” You can say “we’re going to enforce immigrant labour laws so businesses can’t hire illegal labour on the side and force them to pay fair wages.” Those are all left-wing responses to actual bread-and-butter economic issues that affect working-class people.
FLAPJACKS: I get it. You peel off the Trump voters with left-wing nationalism that isn’t racist. You could say “we’re going to build that wall, but with union labour and we’ll put lots of big hearts on it so people know they’re still loved even as they’re walled out.”
MGK: Not really.