“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
It is an understatement to say that the Republican field has failed to adapt to the rise of Donald Trump. While many of the loudest media outlets have spoken out against him, Trump’s message is falling on a receptive populace with unwavering support. As candidates prepare for tonight’s GOP debate, it is my suspicion that they plan on continuing their conventional fight without the understanding that they are engaged in an unconventional war.
The first step of any tactical planning process is a thorough analysis of your enemy. This piece is to serve as my own snapshot analysis of Donald Trump, and the understandings that must be realized if one is to beat him in the polls.
1. Trump is obviously not a conservative. He reflects the Alternative Right. And his supporters are thrilled with it.
I have read a mind-numbing amount of articles that attempt to make the ground-breaking discovery that Trump is not a conservative. Good job captain obvious. The problem is, there is a large number of people who feel the conservative movement betrayed their values and is dying of a thousand cuts, ceding battlefield after battlefield to the Democrats without taking a stand. Overpowered by issues like ‘diversity’ and ‘immigration’.
Enter “Alternative Right” (or Alt-Right), a movement found mostly online that is comprised of those who haven’t quite found their place in the Grand Ole’ Party. Fascists, Identitarians, Anarcho-futurists, neo-reactionaries, and populists. This group is an up and coming force and has its crosshairs on the Republican ‘establishment’. Trump’s hardline on illegal immigration and bold attack on George W. Bush are only a few of many examples where his campaign philosophy aligns with the identitarian philosophies of the Alt-Right.
Shedding light on Trump not being a conservative is a dead end when trying to sway voters. The Conservative movement is withering and will be replaced with something stronger, whether that force be for good or ill. There is no loyalty to the sinking ship.
2. Trump speaks in terms of interests, not morality.
Donald Trump’s policies, all of them, are in terms of strictly logical American interests. This is an advantage for him in a post-protestant country that, in many places, has divorced itself of Christian morality. Morality would say that Donald Trump is not a good man. But morality is hardly in play when it comes to Trump supporters, because when Trump talks about ‘Winning’ he is talking about interests.
This is the difference between removing a dictator because he is bad, and propping him up because he provides stability. The difference between working with Russia to destroy ISIS, and not working with them because we’re still mad at them for the Crimea/Ukraine thing. The lines get fuzzy and an individual can lean one way or another in terms of which issue is more important. The point is, in this election, many on the right are concerned with American interests, willing to sacrifice the moral direction of America’s leader.
If a Republican candidate (probably the Cruz or Rubio type) is going to beat Trump, they need to talk in terms of American interests, without sacrificing morality.
3. Trump is the least mature, and can be antagonized into potentially self-destructive comments.
One of the biggest moments during the South Carolina debate was when Jeb was able to antagonize Trump to the point that Trump responded by insinuating George W. Bush was to be blamed for 9/11. While these radical comments had a negligible affect on his numbers, I do not believe that Donald Trump was in control of his emotions when he made them. This is a huge weakness that I hope can be exploited by someone more confident and up to the task than Jeb Bush, who almost always looked defeated after an engagement with Trump. Leading to my final point:
4. Trump is an aggressor, and can only be stopped with force.
When I say that the Republican field has not adapted to the war that Trump is fighting, I can only compare it to the use of longbows against gunpowder artillery in the high middle ages. Ted Cruz played politics and spent the majority of his campaign hiding behind Trump, refusing to challenge him. Jeb Bush weakly challenged him, ultimately being crushed by constant interruptions of belligerence and emasculating comments. Meanwhile Kasich plays Mister Rogers and provides positive commentary on the whole situation.
If a candidate wants to win, they are going to have to challenge Trump the old-fashioned way: face to face. It is not enough to claim to be the only one who can stop Trump in your ads and not wage a violent campaign against him on stage. Candidates can make the choice to take the high road and act the gentleman, but Trump is flipping that on its head. He is crushing his opposition . And if no one chooses a place to stand their ground, they will eventually be overrun all the same.