Commentary: The Futility Of Arguing With Donald Trump Fans
John Dickerson, the host of CBS' “Face the Nation,” on Friday asked a good question in a tweet:
Based on my conversations with Trump fans, as well as reading their comments in social media and listening to them in news interviews and on talk shows, I’d guess that 10 percent of Trump supporters know a lot about him, and maybe 20 percent could be dissuaded from voting for him.
If you don’t support Trump and have tried discouraging a Trump fan, you probably know that arguments can seem futile. Indeed, you will understand Trump’s boast that he could shoot somebody on New York City's Fifth Avenue and not lose the support of his followers.
Here are some of the anti-Trump arguments routinely ignored or rebutted by “Trumpkins” (as his followers are derisively called by many in the #NeverTrump movement):
Trump is not electable. You may cite polls showing that Hillary Clinton handily beats him in head-to-head match-ups for the general election. You might show maps that translate such poll results into an Electoral College landslide for Clinton. And you can ask questions like: Which swing state that Mitt Romney lost in 2012 could be won by Trump?
It won’t matter.
Trump fans are usually so blindly loyal to the candidate that they believe his assertions that Clinton would be easily defeated; that he’d carry Democratic states like New York; that because of all the new voters he’s attracting in Republican primaries, he’d change the political calculus so drastically that he would absolutely win. He’d win so big your head would spin, so be sure to tighten your neck muscles before Election Night. The problem in arguing about electability with Trump fans is that most aren’t familiar with, or even interested in, political analysis. They have only disdain for politics because it’s something practiced by “politicians.”
Trump is a narcissistic, lying, boastful bully. Trump fans are repulsed by such name-calling and insults … unless it’s by The Donald, in which case it’s refreshingly candid. They see him as the reality TV star of “The Apprentice” (produced and edited so he was never seen as being anything other than honest, decisive and error-free). Therefore they feel they truly know him. After all, they saw him working behind-the-scenes to help contestants raise money for charities, and saying “You’re fired!” to people who were obvious losers. Why else would celebrities be competing to be his apprentice and willingly accepting the humiliation of being rejected by him if he were not a great leader?
Trump is too ignorant about policy to be a good president. The brash businessman has shown in debates and media interviews that he is quite unfamiliar with things like our “aging nuclear triad” and foreign policy issues. While many policy experts are alarmed and appalled by his inability to talk with any depth about policy, his supporters don’t seem aware of, or concerned about, his ignorance. Their answer is usually that he will surround himself with smart people, which they are certain he would do because Trump promises to do that. He says those running the federal government are "stupid and incompetent," whereas he would bring in the best, smartest people -- to be named at some uncertain date, like maybe when he’ll release his tax returns.
You can point out that his campaign manager and campaign spokesperson don't have reputations for being the best or the brightest, but that doesn't dent their confidence in The Donald.
Trump appeals to prejudice. This is a losing argument with the many Trump fans who are themselves racist and anti-Semitic. It’s impossible to determine how many are obvious bigots, but it’s equally impossible to read comments by Trump supporters on social media and not realize that no candidate since George Wallace has attracted so many white supremacists. Many people who hate based on race, nationality and religion don’t think they are being hateful; they rationalize their fear and loathing as just common sense. So you can’t convince them that they are wrong to feel the way they do. It’s like trying to convince people who are humor-impaired that they don’t have a good sense of humor. They see the world in a certain way and can’t imagine another perspective.
Trump would try to be an authoritarian president. He has made so many menacing comments at his campaign rallies that some compare Trump to Mussolini. “Mussolini is Mussolini,” Trump said in response to being asked why he retweeted a quote from the Italian fascist dictator. And Trump reportedly had kept a book of Hitler’s speeches by his bed.
Trump fans want “strength,” so they are not put off by the argument that he’d be a “strongman” like in a banana republic. They don’t have much faith in American institutions, except for the military, so they are looking for a personality that will trump the “insiders” who have “rigged” the political system. Since many of his supporters feel that “the establishment” has tilted the economy against them -- in effect, shipping manufacturing and other jobs overseas because of bad trade deals -- they only trust a man who is decidedly anti-establishment. Being anti-establishment is a badge of honor for those who feel betrayed by that establishment, and Trump claimed that turf early.
Moreover, the attacks on him by mainstream media just gave him more credibility as supposedly being the candidate most feared by the establishment. For Trump supporters, that alone makes him well-qualified for the job … and reason enough to filter out arguments to the contrary.
Todd Domke is a Republican political analyst and regular contributor to WBUR Politicker. He tweets @ToddDomke.