Now, I am no expert in spy stuff, so I reserve judgment as to whether President Donald Trump conspired with Russia during his 2016 election campaign. Maybe somebody knows the truth for sure, but I don't.
Instead, as a scholar of rhetoric – that is, the art of persuasion – I want to focus on one sentence from the House intelligence committee's draft report about Russian interference in the campaign. My point is to show, on the one hand, how people often respond to a message by hearing what they expect to hear, not what was actually said, and, on the other hand, how skilled persuaders often phrase their points carefully to encourage people to hear something different from what was said.
Although the report draws several conclusions, the one that has drawn public attention is this: "We have found no evidence of collusion, coordination, or conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians:"
That was very, very careful phrasing. They didn't say there was no collusion; they didn't say that there was no evidence of collusion. What they said is that they didn't find any evidence of collusion. That was not just careful; it was tricky.
Yet, people heard, not what was really said, but what they expected to hear. Let's see how the press has responded so far:
A CNN story by Jeremy Herb and Manu Raju reported the Committee's statement correctly. But the headline on their story reads: "House Republicans Say No Evidence of Collusion as They End Russia Probe."
NBC's Mary Clare Jalonick's carefully written article faced a similar fate, as she gave an accurate report of what the Committee said, only to have this headline appear: "GOP House Intel Report Finds No Collusion with Russia." The same thing happened to Maya Kosoff's story in Vanity Fair, which was headlined "Nothing to See Here: G.O.P. Abruptly Terminates Russia Probe, Claiming No Collusion." A similar fate befell Mary Clare Jalonick's AP article, which the Star Tribune headlined like this: "House GOP Report Says No Collusion Between Trump and Russia." A quick Google search will find many similar headlines.
Note that Fox News gave a somewhat more accurate headline: "Trump touts House Intel findings of 'no evidence of collusion' between campaign, Russia." That's still not right – the Committee didn't say that there was no evidence, just that they didn't find any – but it was better.
For the most part, people didn't hear that the committee found no evidence, which is what the Draft Report actually said; what they heard (what they thought they heard) is that collusion didn't occur, which is a much more dramatic claim.
Let's be clear that reporters don't write their own headlines. Headlines are written by editors. Headline editors read these stories and saw what they expected to see, not what the stories really said. I suspect that many readers reacted as the headline editors did, rather than looking at the actual facts and information.
Why didn't the Committee find evidence of collusion? There are two possible answers: (1) maybe they didn't find evidence because there isn't any evidence, or (2) maybe there is evidence, but they didn't find it because they didn't look for it.
Now, the Democrats complain that the House Intelligence Committee didn't actually look for evidence. Adam Schiff, the Committee's senior Democrat, said that the Republican majority, who controlled the Committee, "proved unwilling to subpoena documents like phone records, text messages, bank records and other key records so that we might determine the truth about the most significant attack on our democratic institutions in history." Schiff's position is that the Committee didn't find collusion because they didn't look very hard. Republicans disagree, of course, but:
Nothing in the Draft Report contradicts Schiff! The draft report's wording was clever indeed. People read that collusion didn't occur, but that isn't what the report said: but some people perceived that the report did say that. All that the Committee claimed is that they didn't find any evidence. This leaves open the question of whether the Committee looked hard enough to find it.
My late colleague, University of Akron Professor James Fee, used to wander the hallways and ask people, "where does persuasion take place?" If you didn't want him to lecture you, you responded quickly: "persuasion takes place in the reciever." Fee would say, "that's right! In the receiver! That's the only place persuasion can occur." The Intelligence Committee's draft report, and the public's response, seems to prove that Fee was right. People persuade themselves!
P.S.: There were some accurate headlines as well, for example, on The Hill. Refreshing!
After several weeks of trying to sound "presidential," whatever that means, Donald Trump reverted to campaign-style rally speaking yesterday in Pennsylvania. He was campaigning for Republican congressional candidate Rick Saccone, who faces an unexpectedly tough race against Democrat Conor Lamb.
I'll have more to say about this hour-plus long speech later. Right now, let's look at how the press covered it through an ideological lens.
Maxine Waters, official photo
Let's start with mainstream CNN. CNN's website lead about this speech focused on Mr. Trump's obviously racist dog-whistle against African American Congresswoman Maxine Waters, who suggested impeaching Mr. Trump. He denied that he had done anything wrong, and mocked her: "Did you ever see her? Did you ever see her? 'We will impeach him. We will impeach the president.'" He said that Waters had "a very low IQ." Since Waters is obviously a quite intelligent woman, there is no explanation for that comment except for its being a racist slur against her. (Many racists believe that people of African descent are less intelligent.) The idea of the dog whistle - communication professionals call this "multivocal communication" to make it seem more scholarly - is that Trump's audience understands the point, while other people can miss the racist undertone. Furthermore, Mr. Trump can, and probably will, deny that he said anything racist.
Fox, which is more conservative, has often been assertively pro-Trump, and likes to act as if they are not a mainstream source, published a web article about the speech that didn't mention Waters at all. They noted that Trump insulted CNN's Chuck Todd as "a sleeping son of a b----, I'll tell you." They also reported that he said that Lamb would vote the Democratic Party line and emphasized Mr. Trump's proposed tariffs on steel and aluminum, which he said would help Pennsylvania's steel industry.
Few people, comparatively speaking, will hear or read the entire very long speech. Most people get their information about important speeches from news reports. But since all news reports are selective, the public only finds out what their favorite news source tells them. Fox viewers presumably were happy to hear bad things about CNN, but didn't want to hear anyone say that Mr. Trump is racist. Fox gave them what they wanted. CNN focused on Trump's racist comments.
What can the viewing public do? Simple. If you are happy to hide in a hole and believe only your own ideology, get your news from your favorite source. If you want the truth, follow your junior-high school teacher's advice and get your news from multiple sources. Only then can you be an informed voter.
President Donald Trump ran on the premise that his negotiating skills would help him unite the country, end gridlock in Congress, and do things to help the nation. So far, that hasn't gone well. The Republican tax cut law was written behind closed doors with little Democratic input. The unsuccessful Republican Obamacare repeal was written with no Democratic input and failed to pass.
So, Mr. Trump called a bipartisan meeting of legislative leaders to talk about school safety. The problem is this: a good business meeting is based on the premise that everybody in the room wants the business to succeed, that everyone is trying to reach a deal. There is, to a lesser or greater degree, a common purpose.
This is not always the case in politics. Politicians often work in factions, just as our founding fathers feared. Working the group, Mr. Trump tried to get a consensus that something needed to be done, that both sides needed to compromise. Democrats would have to agree to better school security, while Republicans could accept basic gun control measures. From a deal-making standpoint, that sounded reasonable enough. It was an interesting exercise in group communication.
When Senator Pat Toomey commented that no bill had been passed, Mr. Trump responded, quite correctly, that "Do you know why? You’re afraid of the NRA." No question about it; the President was right.
Politicians, however, respond to constituencies and donors. Their constituencies and donors often push them to extreme, uncompromising positions. The NRA is a powerful political force with a strong political arm. Shortly after this meeting, Mr. Trump met with NRA leaders, and suddenly lost interest in even the most modest gun control measures. Guess what? It turns out that Mr. Trump was also afraid of the NRA. His business-negotiation style of meeting gained much attention and praise, but it was not enough to overcome factionalism. Government doesn't work like a business. Never has, never will. Instead, did the outsider president give us politics as usual?
See my earlier posts about this meeting here and here.
Will Congress respond to Donald Trump's business deal-making skills? After sending some tantalizing tweets about gun control, Mr. Trump called a bipartisan White House meeting of Congressional leaders. He told the attendees not to fear the NRA, and he suggested better mental health policy and improved school security, which have been standard conservative talking points in the past week, but also advocated banning bump stocks, improved background checks, and confiscating weapons owned by mentally disturbed people, none of which pro-gun advocates have been willing to consider.
President Trump handled this meeting like a business planning session. He began by guiding the meeting into an urgent purpose:
"We have to do something about it. We have to act. We can’t wait and play games and nothing gets done. And I really believe that the people — this is bipartisan. It’s a bipartisan meeting. We’re going to discuss safe schools and we can really get there. But we have to do it."
This opening statement stressed urgency and bipartisanship. He insisted on the need to end congressional gridlock on this controversial subject.He introduced both conservative and liberal talking points. He noted that most shootings occur in gun-free zones, leading him to advocate more armed response in schools. This is a common conservative position. He expressed agreement with Senator Chris Murphy's advocacy of background checks for gun buyers, a common Democratic position.
Mr. Trump also expressed a strong position about stopping mentally ill people from buying guns, another Democratic position; indeed, he advocated something like civil forfeiture in these cases:
"We have to do something about the mentally ill not being able to buy a gun. They have so many checks and balances that you could be mentally ill and it takes you six months before you — prohibit it. We have to do something very decisive. Number one, take the guns away immediately from people that you can adjudge is mentally ill. The police didn’t take the gun as way. That could have been policing. I think they should have taken them anyway, whether they had the right or not. You have to have very strong provisions for the mentally ill. People are saying I shouldn’t be saying that. I don’t want mentally ill people to be having guns."
After expressing hope that mentally ill people shouldn't be able to buy guns, he called on Senator Marco Rubio to give a position. After Rubio's vague statement, he asked Senator Chuck Grassley to speak. Grassley noted that many mentally ill people are not dangerous.
Mr. Trump told Grassley, "You’ll be a great help. I have no doubt." Grassley said, "To get a consensus." Many business leaders seek consensus, which means general agreement. Mr. Trump emphasized, "You’re going to be a great help. Thanks, Chuck. I would like to ask Joe and Pat, in your bill, what are you doing about the 18 to 21?" This made for an excellent transition, as Mr. Trump sought to encourage all of the different group members to express an opinion. This is good communication practice, is the leader, by calling on many different people to speak, can ensure that all different opinions are heard.
When Senator Pat Toomey asked Mr. Trump whether he would sign a background check bill, the president, not quite ready to commit himself, responded that he would give it "a lot of thought." After Toomey spoke, Trump offered encouragement and called on the next Senator, Steve Daines:
"I know where you’re coming from. And I understand that. I understand that. I think it’s a position. It’s a position. But I think we’re going to use you as a base, the two of you, I think you’re going to have to iron out that problem. I’m asked that question more than almost any other question. Are you going to 21 or not? Anybody? Yes, Steve."
At another point, Mr. Trump played off a comment by Senator Amy Klobuchar, saying that: "If you can add that to this bill that would be great. If you could add what you have also and I think you can into the bill —"
This meeting gave Mr. Trump a chance to showcase his business negotiating skills. The discussion could have been a little more freewheeling but, given the number of people involved, he was wise to maintain control and keep everyone on the agenda. He made sure that different people with different perspectives had a turn to speak. He maintained a friendly atmosphere, encouraged different ideas, offered corrections when he felt that someone had made a mistake, and encouraged people to reach a consensus.
What Mr. Trump did not do was to encourage interaction and debate among the participants. This might have brought their true disagreements into the open.
Unfortunately, politics and business are not the same. Politicians need to respond to different constituencies. Both parties need to respond to their voters, and both parties need to respond to their donors. Thus, although the individual members of the group probably shared fairly similar ideas, external pressure to disagree prevented them from reaching a lasting consensus. We will examine that phenomenon in my next post.
"We have a case where can you buy a handgun at 21. This isn’t a popular thing to say in terms of the NRA but I’m going to say it anyway. . . . People aren’t bringing it up because they’re afraid to bring it up. You can’t buy a handgun at 18, 19 or 20. You have to wait until you’re 21. You could buy the weapon used in this horrible shooting at 18. You are going to decide, the people in this room pretty much, are going to decide. I would give very serious thought to it. The NRA is opposed to it and I’m a fan of the NRA. No bigger fan. I’m a big fan of the NRA. These are great people. Great patriots. They love our country but that doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything. It doesn’t make sense that I have to wait till I’m 21 to get a handgun but I can get this weapon at 18. I don’t know." (I added the italics.)
With that statement, Mr. Trump frankly contradicted the NRA's position. He went a step further, suggesting that some kind of civil forfeiture should be used to take guns from dangerous people:
". . . take the firearms first and then go to court. Because that’s another system. A lot of times by the time you go to court, it takes so long to go to court, to get the due process procedures. I like taking the guns early. Like in this crazy man’s case that just took place in Florida. He had a lot of firearms. They saw everything. To go to court would have taken a long time. You could do exactly what you’re saying but take the guns first, go through due process second."
When Republican Senator Pat Toomey said that Congress didn't move on gun control legislation, Mr. Trump responded: "Do you know why? You’re afraid of the NRA." That made headlines!
Mr. Trump actually started his comments by advocating stronger defenses in schools such as security provisions, and more armed guards; he later endorsed dealing with mental health issues. These are standard conservative talking points. The difference is that Mr. Trump advocated these approaches plus gun control. He avoided the either/or position that most Democrats and Republicans have taken. In our hyper-partisan era, that was unexpected.
So, as I commented yesterday, Donald Trump says unexpected things for two reasons: (1) to keep his opponents off balance, and (2) to make sure that he is defining himself and his own positions. He does not, and never has, allowed anyone else to define his position or person.
"We want to get something done," Mr. Trump said during the meeting. Will something be done? Time will tell. What will be done? Time will tell.
Stay tuned: I will soon post about Mr. Trump's communication techniques during this meeting and how the press and public have reacted to his unexpected position.
President Donald Trump's foremost strategy is to keep his opponents off-balance. His brief White House speech yesterday afternoon supporting historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) was a case in point. So, let us look at the unexpected praise that Mr. Trump offered to HBCUs.
Perhaps surprising to Mr. Trump's liberal critics, yesterday's brief remarks, delivered in a quiet, dignified style, were full of support and praise for HBCUs:
"Since I signed the executive order establishing this initiative in my administration, we have made great strides in strengthening HBCUs, a cherished and vital institution in our country. Very important."
Mr. Trump followed up with financial help. He explained that his budget request included "more than half a billion dollars for HBCU-focused programs." He called for loan forgiveness in connection with the HBCU Hurricane Supplement Loan program. He announced continued Pell Grants eligibility and funding increases. This would, he said, "greatly help the many students attending our wonderful HBCUs." He introduced his new Chairman of the President's Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Johnny Taylor, Jr., who he called a "great guy." All in all, this sounded very liberal, very conciliatory, very supportive: not at all consistent with Mr. Trump's overall image. During the event, Mr. Trump sought to greet personally all of the participants, most of whom were African-American education leaders.
Graphic retweeted by Trump
This minority outreach was just a bit unexpected. Let's recall the racial and ethnic animus that propelled Mr. Trump's successful 2016 election campaign. He retweeted a racist graphic falsely claiming that 81% of murdered Whites were killed by Blacks. He has appointed very few minority individuals to public office. His campaign theme, which was to reject political correctness and stir racial animosity, was pointed and successful. Hillary Clinton held an advantage of about 80 points over Trump in the 2016 voting, which means that Mr. Trump owed little to African American voters. Furthermore, conservatives often oppose preferential treatment or funding for minority educational institutions. In fact, some months ago, Mr. Trump questioned whether such treatment is even constitutional. The HBCU initiative had been in the works for some time, and was no secret, but it was distinctly not racist, not aggressive, and not hostile.
No one can expect either this initiative or this brief speech to change race relations in the United States, nor does it undo Mr. Trump's long history of racially-tinged rhetoric. Nor is it reasonable to think that he is proposing anywhere near the amount of funding that these colleges and universities really need. The entire project could be largely symbolic. Still, even symbolic gestures mean something. Sometimes they mean a lot.
The question again comes up: are there two Donald Trumps, one who is outrageous and one who is presidential? The answer is no. The outrageous Donald Trump who offends people left and right, and the conciliatory Donald Trump who reaches out with compassion and understanding, are one and the same person. Mr. Trump is acutely aware that he needs to appeal to different audiences, and even more acutely aware that he wants to define his own image and won't let others define his image for him. On the coattails of his aggressive CPAC speech, yesterday's brief talk created a contrast by being calm, presidential, and helpful. This was not a speech for his conservative true believers.
Once again, Mr. Trump's public speaking has taken an unexpected twist. This brief event got little press attention, as the President's even more unprecedented comments about gun control took precedence. I'll write about that issue in an upcoming post.
1. Mr. Trump claimed, as he repeatedly has, that the recent Republican tax cut is the largest ever. It is a big tax cut, especially for the wealthy, but not anything close to the largest ever. The 2012 tax cut was bigger.
2. Mr. Trump claimed that "This guy came in through chain migration. And a part of the lottery system. They say 22 people came in with him. In other words, an aunt, an uncle, a grandfather, a mother, a father, whoever came in. A lot of people came in. That’s chain migration." It turns out that the driver did come in through the diversity program, so, fine, Mr. Trump had a point there. But there is no evidence that "22 people came in with him." Note that "They say" is not a source. As President, Mr. Trump has access to vast amounts of information about the federal government. There is no excuse for him to cite "they say" as a source.
3. He claimed that "I want people that are going to help and people that are going to go to work for Chrysler, who is now moving from Mexico into Michigan." Actually, the Mexican plant is still open and expects to continue employing the same number of workers. More workers are being hired in Michigan, which makes Mr. Trump's claim only partially true, and quite misleading.
And so forth.
Why do politicians exaggerate? The obvious answer is that it works. When Mr. Trump repeats, over and over, that he signed the biggest tax cut in history, he gains political points - at least among his supporters. There is power in repetition.
Note that too many people claim that PolitiFact is biased. Not true, and also not the point. Everything you say should be true and accurate. If you speak accurately, you don't need to worry about fact checkers.
Rhetoric involves an audience, whom the speaker wants to persuade, and how that audience responds is always important.
Former White House speechwriter and thoroughgoing conservative Mona Charen was booed and heckled when she appeared on a panel at the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), “Left Out by the Left,” yesterday. The topic was how the left wing mistreats, ignores, or abuses woman. In a brief, extemporaneous speech during the panel discussion, Charen turned the topic around and said:
Mona Charen in 1986
“I am disappointed in people on our side for being hypocrites about sexual harassers and abusers of women who are in our party, who are sitting in the White House, who brag about their extramarital affairs, who brag about mistreating women, and because he happens to have an R after his name, we look the other way; we don’t complain.”
Charen complained further that the Republican Party who supported Roy Moore for the United States Senate even though there were credible accusations that he was a predator. Charen said: “we cannot claim that we stand for women and put up with that."
Audience members booed and heckled loudly: “Prove it!” “Witch hunt!” That is, they angrily denied that Charen was right.
So, before we go further, let’s put to rest any thought that Charen was wrong. After being accused of dating underage girls, Roy Moore told Fox News host Sean Hannity that he never dated “any girl without the permission of her mother.” Enough said.
Since what Charen said was obviously true, why did the audience boo? To understand that, we must revisit the ancient concept of heresy. In religion, heresy is a belief contrary to official teachings.
Keep these points in mind:
1. Heresy is not ordinary error. If I say that the Texas sky is never blue, this isn’t heresy. It’s just wrong. If I were to deny that God created the world, this is, in Christianity, a heresy.
2. A society, group, religion, or social movement can encourage people to believe many things that cannot be proven, or that are just wrong. These beliefs can become dogmas, and to disbelieve them turns into heresy.
3. Accusations of heresy are used to enforce social conformity. When a church calls someone a heretic, this is to enforce the person’s conformation to standard beliefs.
4. The usual punishment for heresy is to expel the heretic. A heretical Catholic can be excommunicated, which means to be denied access to the sacraments: “Faithful to the Apostolic teaching and example, the Church, from the very earliest ages, was wont to excommunicate heretics and contumacious persons.” Expelled heretics might seem less dangerous than heretics who remain in the group.
5. Different groups, different heresies. Martin Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith alone is a heresy to Catholics, but standard belief in many Protestant churches.
So, first, Charen was right. Second, she said things that were heretical. She was disloyal to the conservative cause as certain audience members understood that cause. Third, she is not likely to receive a CPAC invitation next year. That, I suppose, is something like excommunication. In fact, she needed a security escort to leave the building safely.
Reinforcing her heresy, Charen later wrote about "this brainless, sinister, clownish thing called Trumpism, by those of us who refuse to overlook the fools, frauds, and fascists attempting to glide along in his slipstream into respectability." That, I guess, should complete her expulsion from the conservative movement.
But Charen was right, and there lies the problem. Her beliefs, although true, caused her audience to feel uncomfortable—in psychological terms, she probably created cognitive dissonancein them. One way for the audience to reduce their cognitive dissonance would be to change their wrong beliefs. But they decided that is was much more straightforward to shout down someone who pointed out their wrong beliefs.
A good way to convince people to conform to standard beliefs is to give them good reasons to do so. Another, not-as-good way to convince people to conform is to exclude them if they do not. Charen was not wrong, but she was heretical, and heretics are unwelcome.
However, conservatism is not a religion, and excommunicating people who speak the truth can only lead true believers to falsehood.
P.S.: Everyone at CPAC knew about Trump's escapades and Moore's personal issues, not to mention Rob Porter's alleged history of spousal abuse, so scheduling a panel about how the left wing treats women was probably a badly timed idea. Ah, hindsight is truly 20-20.
In the wake of the shooting at a Parkland, Florida High School, students have been speaking out to advocate gun control and better school security. School shooting after school shooting, people complain about the problem but gun control remains the third rail of American politics. Congress quickly kills even the most modest gun control legislation. Parkland survivor David Hogg, seventeen years old, has become one of the most prominent advocates of gun control.
Hogg made one of his most dramatic statements on Meet the Press. In one of his infamous tweets, President Donald Trump had complained that Democrats had been unable to pass gun control when they controlled the House, Senate, and White House. Mr. Trump's implication was that the Democrats didn't want to pass gun control legislation. This further implied that the failure of gun control was the Democrats' fault, not his. Nothing new there; politicians rarely take responsibility for anything. But Hogg turned the tables on him.
Hogg's direct response, which occupied less than a minute, said:
"How dare you? You are in that exact position right now and you want to look back on our history and blame the Democrats? That's disgusting. You're the president. You're supposed to bring this nation together not divide it. How dare you. Children are dying and their blood is on your hands because of that. Please, take action. Stop going on vacation at Mar-a-Lago. Take action, work with Congress; your party controls both the House and Senate. Take some action, get some bills passed..."
In the debate tactic of turning the tables, a speaker turns the opponent's argument to support the opposite point. Mr. Trump's position was that gun control failure was the Democrats' fault. Hogg pointed out, quite sharply, that the President's party now controlls the government and should be able to pass whatever legislation they want. Responsibility shifts back to the accuser. This argument gains power because it uses the accuser's own reasoning and evidence. Mr. Trump cannot reasonably complain that Hogg's point is invalid, as it was the same as his own point.
Conservatives' response to Hogg's advocacy has not been at all rational; instead, he has been widely accused of being a crisis actor while various other absurd and revolting conspiracy theories have been raised against him.
Was Hogg's forceful language a bit over the top? Well, yes, but give him a break! His school was shot up and his classmates were murdered. He has far more cause to be emotional than any of the politicians or media pundits who complain about him. Maybe only forceful talk can lift the gun control debate out of its current morass of conspiracy theories and fake Founding Fathers quotes and back to solid ground.
P.S.: Sometimes very short speeches are the best. Make your point and stop.
P.P.S.: An earlier post noted a student who was disgruntled because TV wouldn't give him time for a long speech. Hogg didn't need much time. He made his point and, bam! he was done.
Also, for more thoughts about conspiracy theories, see this post.
President Donald Trump spoke yesterday at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). He tossed away any prepared script that he might have had, calling it "boring," and delivered an hour-plus, rambling speech that the crowd received with enthusiastic cheers and applause. The rambling may have bothered some neutral observers, but the crowd was fine with it: for Mr. Trump hit his usual talking points, established credibility with the audience, and criticized his enemies. That is what the audience wanted. His speech was utterly polarizing. He expressed no wish to compromise. He offered no appeals to unify the nation. He attacked.
A polarizing speech does not gain consensus. It does, however, strengthen support among the true believers. True believers never want compromise; they want victory. When liberals dismiss true believers as a fringe, they commit a terrible error: Mr. Trump's election proves beyond refutation that the true believers are many, that they are motivated, and that they are powerful.
So, in no particular order, here are some polarizing moments:
1. The crowd started to chant, "Lock Her Up," referring to Hillary Clinton's email scandal. With the Mueller investigation producing indictments one after the other, this chant sounds more and more like an attempt to distract public attention from the White House's growing legal problems. The point of locking Clinton up was that she was irresponsible and careless with highly classified material (which she was - my apologies to her Democratic supporters). It turns out, however, that many of Trump's staff can't get permanent security clearances, which Trump did not mention in the speech. If you live in a glass house, maybe throwing stones is a way to deter criticism. Attack is the best defense?
2. Mr. Trump listed plenty of conservative talking points: he praised the tax cuts, said that "We've ended the war on American energy," touted the withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, mentioned the end of the defense spending sequester, recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital, and so forth. These are accomplishments that the CPAC audience valued, and their cheers showed that they were happy to hear Mr. Trump review them.
3. He talked at length about ways to stop school shootings like the recent tragedy in Parkland, Florida, without restricting the Second Amendment. He advocated mental health care to deter school shootings and advocated arming teachers. There is a sharp liberal-conservative divide on this question.
4. Mr. Trump repeatedly attacked Democrats:
"We have to fight Nancy Pelosi. They want to give your money away . . . They want to end your tax cuts. They want to do things that you wouldn't even believe, including taking your Second Amendment rights away. They will do that." The audience booed at this.
"And I can't get the Democrats - and nobody has been able to for years - to approve common-sense measures that, when we catch these animal-killers, we can lock them up and throw away the keys." The audience applauded.
"The Democrats are being totally unresponsive. They don't want to do anything about DACA, I'm telling you."
5. As he had during his campaign, he quoted Oscar Brown, Jr.'s song "The Snake," which was about a woman who sheltered a criminal, but turned it into an attack on immigrants. In Mr. Trump's vision, immigrants became snakes. This was polarizing. Mr. Trump re-interpreted this song into "our kind of people" versus "immigrants." Only a step from white nationalism?
In this speech, Mr. Trump sought to motivate people who already agreed with him. Since Mr. Trump got many of his facts wrong, as I will write about soon, his speech was unlikely to persuade neutral observers.
Question for thought: a candidate can gain election with polarizing speeches. Mr. Trump has proved that. But can you lead a Western democracy with a polarizing style? That remains to be seen.
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