The Limits to Violence
Donald Trump has a problem. It is not that he is a fascist, he’s not. Trump has developed a brilliant presidential campaign strategy which uses “earned media” instead of paying for ads. Earned media is where you say or do sufficiently outrageous/interesting that the press covers your actions for free. The problem with this approach is there is tremendous competition for media attention and to get coverage consistently (as Trump has) you need to be increasingly shocking. You can’t simply repeat that Mexico is going to build a border wall for us, you need to threaten to attack them militarily if they don’t.
The latest chapter in Trump’s discount media strategy is inciting violence at his rallies. This has worked quite well. Television news is drawn to violence, especially when there are video images of it, like moths to a flame. He has “earned” tremendous media coverage with this approach. Former opponent-turned-apologist Ben Carson is warning this violence will escalate.
Trump’s problem is not the violence, of course. He is reveling in the increased media attention while simultaneously claiming his rallies are “love fests“. His problem is what he is going to do as a follow up act, because the media (driven by impatient viewers) has a short attention span and craves something new and different.
Trump has a bigger problem with violence that he is perhaps unaware of. Violence in a political context is a turn off. I’ve been involved in dozens of discussions in many cultures about whether violence, even in self defense, is a workable political tactic. Every one of these conversations, even with some very radical participants, decided that there was far more to lose than to gain from the use of violence. Leaving aside the important ethical discussion about people getting physically hurt around political disagreement, violence in every cultural context I have worked in does not fly.
It is dangerous to quote political pundits these days, because they have really blown it with some of their recent predictions, including Sanders shocking success in the Michigan primary. And it is worth pointing out that with the exception of Kasich and Sanders, all of the major candidates have had net negative favorability ratings (where disapproval number are higher than approval ones).
However in the end, unless apathy prevails (which is a bit unlikely in this contested election) it does not matter how excited your fans are, if nearly twice as many people don’t like you than those who do, you are not going to win the election.
Trump’s candidacy has always been an anti-gravity affair. Pundits confidently predicted he would implode early and not get the nomination. He has been defying these predictions for months now. And if recent polls are correct, Trump will handily win 4 out of 5 of today’s primaries (3/16) including all 99 of Florida’s winner-take-all delegates. This will put Trump way out in front and give him well over half the total delegates needed to secure the Republican nomination. It will also knock Marco Rubio out of the election for being unable to win his own home state.
It will also propel us on the rocky road to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland July 18 thru 21 where we may well see more violence than any convention since Chicago in 1968.