Trump’s critics complain about his relentless invoking of crisis — despite agreeing with him that the system is collapsing. Conservatives keep telling us that the American project is in mortal danger, that liberty itself is at stake. Liberals keep telling us that global capitalism is wrecking everything that’s decent in society, that the U.S. is institutionally racist, and America’s traditional values are so much hypocrisy. I think back to the rapturous reception accorded by the left in 2014 to Thomas Piketty’s “Capital,” which argued, you may recall, that capitalism is an engine of injustice, headed for self-destruction; progressives everywhere nodded wisely in agreement. Here’s what puzzles many of them today: Why does Trump have to be so negative?
Trump has the advantage of a fairly simple message, namely “Something has gone fundamentally wrong.” No, I do not think he will win, but “something has gone wrong and you will make it worse” is not as effective a rebuttal as you might think. Alternatively, the opposition could and will try “things aren’t as bad as you might think,” and also “yes something has gone wrong but we can fix it for you,” but those are also less compelling even when correct. And while the former of those two is correct the latter probably is not.
I am reminded of a 2007 post I once wrote which I formerly considered my worst prediction ever. I grimace again, but here goes:
I apply what I call The Angry Ape Test to the candidates. Imagine each mimicking an angry ape, and ask how pretty or appealing the resulting picture is. Most swing voters perceive America as being at war and so they demand toughness. They demand An Angry Ape, if not at every moment in time, at least in principle. Most Americans don’t find an angry Hillary to be a pleasant Hillary, whereas an angry, raging Giuliani fits his basic image. Americans claim not to be biased, but at their core they don’t much like angry women; being female remains Hillary’s biggest barrier, even when explicit prejudice is absent. Related prejudicial forces will keep Barack Obama from the presidency. Being black, he is supposed to sound reasonable and intelligent all the time. He is not allowed to mimic An Angry Ape. Americans want their first women President to be like Margaret Thatcher — firm, no-nonsense schoolmarmish strength without much radiation of anger — and they want their first black President to be like Colin Powell. We will allow “Magisterial” — I’m too strong to need to throw a tantrum — to trump Angry Ape, but Hillary can’t play that card. Barack is too young, too inexperienced, and doesn’t have the military record.
Mitt Romney also can’t do The Angry Ape. This same hypothesis suggests McCain still has some chance, though obviously his path to the top is no longer clear, given his limited resources. He can at least do The Ape. This is the main reason why I still think Giuliani will win.
Obviously I was quite wrong, but I no longer think it was one of my worst posts ever. Still, timing is everything…