Donald Trump is no idiot; he’s executing the blowhard gambit.

blowhard gambitA trusted correspondent objected to my characterization of Donald Trump as an idiot. He’s right; I was wrong. Trump didn’t succeed by being stupid. Not only that, his blowhard gambit has been remarkably effective at shifting the debate.

Donald Trump continues to make bunches of patently inaccurate statements. But in yesterday’s post, I forgot the first rule of analysis, which is to ask why people do things. If you evaluate the possible reasons that Trump is doing what he’s doing, you begin to see a strategy emerge. I’ll list some possible reasons, which are not mutually exclusive, and estimate the likelihood for each.

He believes that he can make up facts and still have a chance to be the nominee. Statements need not be true to be popular. Memes on Facebook prove that. But neither America nor the Republican Party are ready to nominate someone who continually makes stuff up. Likelihood: Low.

He wants to boost his future as a talk show host and book author. Many of the candidates who fail this time around will pursue this “Huckabee route.” But Trump doesn’t need the money from a book or personal appearances. He could bankroll his own talk show if he felt like it. Likelihood: Low.

He likes to hear the sound of his own voice and he relishes the coverage. This is a man who likes like play with the media. He actually seems to relish the criticism, which spurs him to continue in this vein. While this rings true, I don’t think it’s the only reason. Likelihood: High.

He is trying to get the other candidates to speak more boldly. Let’s try this narrative on. Trump is frustrated with the hedging and pusillanimity of the rest of the Republican field. He is trying to show, by example, that you can make a powerful statement and win adherents. He’s prodding them to be more courageous. There’s no way to prove this, but I find it plausible. Likelihood: Moderate.

He wants the Republican party to address his points on the issues. Trump thinks immigration is a problem and he’s not interested in compromises. He thinks our foreign policy in the Middle East is ineffective. And he thinks we treat veterans poorly. Now the rest of the field must respond to his statements and take a stand. He has shifted the debate. If this is his plan, it’s effective. Likelihood: High.

He wants to drag the candidates in his direction. The rest of the candidates are far more interested than Trump is in polls and financial backing. As they see how popular his positions are, they may take up those positions or at least move in that direction. This shifts the field and helps Trump to accomplish a goal of changing policies. Likelihood: High.

Put this all together and the picture become clearer. As a presidential candidate, Trump is not credible. But his performance has changed the style, the debate, and the positions of the other candidates. Call it the blowhard gambit. And it’s working.

Photo: John Locher/AP



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  1. How about this possible reason:

    He plans to run as a third party candidate and turn it into a reality show. Trump pisses off the GOP brass and decides to take his ball and go home. Runs as a third party and starts up a website to stream a reality show of the campaign. This is a win-win for him: he gets to run for president and re-establish his entertainment brand. Likelihood: Very high.

    1. You mean like Ross Perot did in 1992? We saw how that turned out.

      If this is true, then The Donald must realize that he’d be siphoning votes from the Republican candidate…whomever that winds up being…and giving the Democrat candidate…likely Hillary…the win.

      In this scenario, it would mean Trump doesn’t care about wresting control back from the Democrat party…or maybe doesn’t even want it to happen. Were it any other person, it’d be easy to speculate it was a stealth D candidate running as an R (it’s happened here in Arizona, on a local level, to split the vote of the other party in a competitive district)

  2. Or: Trump isn’t running for president. He is performing in a “media play.” The GOP directs the “script” for this play to establish and exile one candidate as a “clown.” Trump plays the clown while the other GOP candidates “take the high road.” And voila, the remaining clowns appear to accrue a relative gravitas.

    And the clown car is history.

    In exchange, Trump receives agreed-upon business benefits from the GOP down the road.

    1. I don’t think Trump would willingly play the clown just for the GOP’s benefit. I think he is doing so because he likes it, not because they put him up to it.

      1. He would not be doing it for the GOP’s benefit at all. He would be receiving assurances of “support” — influence — in states where he plans to develop new properties, etc. In other words, Trump takes the “clown heat” in exchange for agreed-upon “benefits.” Think of what we’ve seen from Karl Rove et al in the past.

  3. He wants to boost his future [period] – likelihood high

    Also – while the likelihood is low, I would not dismiss that Trump may just be an Idiot. According to Wikipedia he began his career at Daddy’s real estate company, where I am sure the only qualification was to not to be compete idiot. According to the same, Daddy purchased real property for $5.7 million and invested $500,000 under Donald’s direction/control (who knows how much oversight from Daddy). While Donald may be a genius his track record since does not support that conclusion. (he does know how to protect “his” assets) Donald may be an idiot, and his track record with his highly subsidized beginnings, cannot dispute this “possibility”.

  4. Your “Likelihood List,” which is kind of predictable and boring, omits two other worthy and much more interesting theories, so I’ll add them:

    1) Trump does not give a bleap about getting approval from the Repub High Command – he’s a rebel oligarch warring against Republican Republican oligarchs. The very consistent and even personal nastiness of his attacks on them (e.g., McCain) show he wants to topple and undermine and replace them with his own form of oligarchy. His constituency are white lower middle-class and deeply alienated prols, both men and women, but especially men. Such people look at the Repub mainstream oligarch fat cats and are repulsed, having no way of identifying with them. Trump – he’s rough, hard around the edges, gives not a damn about the polite ways of rich oligarchs, a lot like the prols and poor whites themselves. He’s someone , though very rich, they can identify with and thus, vote for. Likelihood: Medium.

    2) Go back to Trump’s recent past, you see he is buddies with the Clintons, especially Hilary. He has given money to their foundation and he was once a big fan of of Hill’s views on immigration reform. With his background, he’s a really a Demo in Repub drag covertly sullying and tainting the Republican BRAND both by endless accusatory charges against individual Repubs and by embodying in his person and message – in a very exaggerated way – the worst and ugliest dark shadows looming behind the Repub agenda. When people look at and listen to him, he implicitly reminds voters – in his very own personal example – that Repub pols are racist and way too rich to care about anybody but the rich, plus profoundly hypocritical, indifferent to the facts, etc. When they see/hear him hurl bitter accusations against other Repubs, he reminds them explicitly, like a Demo might, that Repub pols are are incompetent, hypocrites (e.g., not caring for vets), and religious nutjobs. He makes them look bad in his personal example AND what he directly says about them. Objective of this two-pronged approach: get enough people to be revolted by the sheer unattractiveness – on all levels – of Repub pols to vote Demo instead. Bingo, Hill wins. Likelihood: High.