Early this morning, the Associated Press published a piece by David Klepper and Ali Swanson, Trump openly embraces, amplifies QAnon conspiracy theories. “After winking at QAnon for years,” they wrote, “Donald Trump is overtly embracing the baseless conspiracy theory, even as the number of frightening real-world events linked to it grows… The former president may be seeking solidarity with his most loyal supporters at a time when he faces escalating investigations and potential challengers within his own party, according to Mia Bloom, a professor at Georgia State University who has studied QAnon and recently wrote a book about the group. ‘These are people who have elevated Trump to messiah-like status, where only he can stop this cabal,’ Bloom told the AP on Thursday. ‘That’s why you see so many images (in online QAnon spaces) of Trump as Jesus.’… By using their own language to directly address QAnon supporters, Trump is telling them that they’ve been right all along and that he shares their secret mission, according to Janet McIntosh, an anthropologist at Brandeis University who has studied QAnon’s use of language and symbols. It also allows Trump to endorse their beliefs and their hope for a violent uprising without expressly saying so, she said, citing his recent post about ‘the storm’ as a particularly frightening example. ‘The ‘storm is coming’ is shorthand for something really dark that he’s not saying out loud,’ McIntosh said. ‘This is a way for him to point to violence without explicitly calling for it. He is the prince of plausible deniability.’ Bloom predicted that Trump may later attempt to market Q-related merchandise or perhaps ask QAnon followers to donate to his legal defense. Regardless of motive, Bloom said, it’s a reckless move that feeds a dangerous movement. A growing list of criminal episodes has been linked to people who had expressed support for the conspiracy theory, which U.S. intelligence officials have warned could trigger more violence. QAnon supporters were among those who violently stormed the Capitol during the failed Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.”
Did you see David Brooks’ column, Why Is There Still No Strategy to Defeat Donald Trump?, in the NY Times yesterday? Brooks marvels at how the establishment— and he includes himself— has utterly failed to discredit him over the past 7 years. “Those of us in this establishment correctly identified Trump s a greave threat to American democracy,” he wrote. “The task before us was clear. We were never going to shake the hard-core MAGA folks. The job was to peel away independents and those Republicans offended by and exhausted by his antics. Many strategies were deployed in order to discredit Trump. There was the immorality strategy: Thousands of articles were written detailing his lies and peccadilloes. There was the impeachment strategy: Investigations were launched into his various scandals and outrages. There was the exposure strategy: Scores of books were written exposing how shambolic and ineffective the Trump White House really was. The new effect of these strategies has been to sell a lot of books and subscriptions and to make anti-Trumpists feel good. But this entire barrage of invective has not discredited Trump among the people who will very likely play the most determinant role. It has probably pulled some college-educated Republicans into the Democratic ranks and pushed some working-class voters over to the Republican side. The barrage has probably solidified Trump’s hold on his party. Republicans see themselves at war with the progressive coastal elites. If those elites are dumping on Trump, he must be their guy.”
Brooks is facing up to the fact that while “denunciation may be morally necessary… it doesn’t achieve the goal the denouncers think it does… You would think that those of us in the anti-Trump camp would have at one point stepped back and asked some elemental questions: What are we trying to achieve? Who is the core audience here? Which strategies have worked, and which have not?”
If those questions were asked, the straightforward conclusion would be that most of what we are doing is not working. The next conclusion might be that there’s a lot of self-indulgence here. We’re doing things that help those of us in the anti-Trump world bond with one another and that help people in the Trump world bond with one another. We’re locking in the political structures that benefit Trump.
My core conclusion is that attacking Trump personally doesn’t work. You have to rearrange the underlying situation. We are in the middle of a cultural/economic/partisan/identity war between more progressive people in the metro areas and more conservative people everywhere else. To lead the right in this war, Trump doesn’t have to be honest, moral or competent; he just has to be seen taking the fight to the “elites.” [Which is what DeSantis’ stunts are all about as well.]
The proper strategy in this situation is to scramble the identity war narrative. That’s what Biden did in 2020. He ran as a middle-class moderate from Scranton. He dodged the culture war issues. That’s what the Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman is trying to do in Pennsylvania.
A Democratic candidate who steps outside the culture/identity war narrative is going to have access to the voters who need to be moved. Public voices who don’t seem locked in the insular educated elite worldview are going to be able to reach the people who need to be reached.
Trumpists tell themselves that America is being threatened by a radical left putsch that is out to take over the government and undermine the culture. The core challenge now is to show by word and deed that this is a gross exaggeration.
Brooks identifies himself as a “DeSantis doubter” and warns that Trump can win again. He doubts “someone so emotionally flat and charmless [as DeSantis] can win a nomination in the age of intensive media. And then once Trump is nominated, he has some chance of winning, because nobody is executing an effective strategy against him.”