Analysis

Trump a template for future CA campaigns?

Presidential contender Donald Trump speaks at a Costa Mesa rally on May 25. (Photo: Mike LeDray)

The fact is, he won.  He tweeted and bragged and insulted his way into the White House while Democrats talked about 23-point plans and fumed.

Politicians, despite the beliefs of many Americans, are not stupid.   They saw what happened.  So now the question that soon may be bandied about in offices in and around the Capitol is this: in the light of Donald Trump’s victory, will California campaigns now begin to look Trumpesque?  Will cool, blue, coastal California, home of Silicon Valley, start hearing that we need to “Make California Great Again”?

It may not be likely, but it could happen.

“Unless you’re a celebrity, campaigning like that wouldn’t work.” — Mike Madrid

As far as anyone can remember, California politicians haven’t belittled their opponents’ sexual prowess, boasted about grabbing women and uttered easily disproved falsehoods.  Jerry Brown did not refer to Neel Kashkari (remember him?) as “Lyin’ Neel,” not even once.  Nor did he comment on Meg Whitman’s pulchritude.  Until fairly recently, California campaigners tweeted not, nor did they conduct bromances with Vladimir Putin.

But now, could all that change?  Given Trump’s success, might we soon witness an outburst of campaign tweets ending with “Sad!”? Are things are going to start being “very, very great!”?

Taking a lesson from Trump Tower, the FSSS (Forcefully Saying Something Simple- — you saw it here first) principle may become used even more here in California with a heated Trump twist?

The experts have their doubts.

Despite the fact that whole forests have been sacrificed to punditry about the Trump campaigning phenomenon, Republican strategist Mike Madrid doubts that we’re going to see an outburst of Trump-style electioneering in California, with huge reliance on previously existing celebrity, tweets, and personally insulting one’s adversaries.

“Probably not,” he told Capitol Weekly in a telephone interview.  “All of those are very different things. They are a direct function of him being Donald Trump. Unless you’re a celebrity, campaigning like that wouldn’t work.  You can’t do that if you’re a candidate for the Assembly or the state Senate.  But because he’s been a celebrity for 20 years, it worked for him.”

All that tweeting is a result of technology, not Trump,” Madrid points out, even though Trump is now firmly associated with tweets.

“You may have lots of tweets, everyone re-tweeting your tweets, but that’s not the whole of it.” — Garry South

 It is also true that Hillary Clinton walloped Donald Trump in California.  She received 8,753,788 votes. Trump had 4,483,810.  So Hillary’s campaign worked in the Golden State, and Trump’s didn’t, even if she lost the Electoral College nationwide. The Electoral College, by the way, meets today (Dec. 19) to tally its votes.

Democrat strategist Garry South agrees with his Republican colleague.

“The reality is that in a statewide campaign in California, it’s not either or,” he said in a telephone interview. “You may have lots of tweets, everyone re-tweeting your tweets, but that’s not the whole of it.”

South said that relying on Trump-style tweeting and ferocity against an opponent who is using a full range of campaigning techniques and avenues, and using them well, is probably not going to be effective in California.

“There’s no doubt that he struck a responsive chord among a certain group of voters with his vitriolic tweets, but remember Hillary beat him in California by the biggest margin since Alf Landon lost 80 years ago.  I just don’t think it’s applicable,” South said.

Trump talked about values, Lakoff argues, while Hillary counted on ethnic constituencies.  Values resonated.

Nonetheless, if it is true that Trump did best among the less-educated constituencies, California does have targets of opportunity for any candidate who wants to emulate his campaign style.

For instance, Paul Granillo, who heads the Inland Empire Economic Partnership,  reported to the California Economic Summit earlier this month that of the 4.5 million people in the Inland Empire, only 20 percent have bachelor’s degrees and of the remaining 80 percent, more than a third, didn’t finish high school.  That doesn’t automatically mean that candidates henceforth will use Trump-style campaigning there, but that demographic is where he did best.

George Lakoff, a retired professor of cognitive science and linguistics at UC Berkeley, takes a deep dive into how the brain processes campaign language on his website. (georgelakoff.com) He says our world views are made up of mental “frames” that we use to make sense of things.  Trump, aiming at his core constituencies, tapped into frames better than Hillary did.

He talked about values, Lakoff argues, while Hillary counted on ethnic constituencies.  Values resonated. So we might start hearing even more about “values,” especially from Republicans, but “values” with pocketbook overtones, such as “Keep China From Stealing Our Jobs!”

At least a few candidates will be tempted to campaign in certain parts of the state as Trump Lite.

And language makes a big difference, Lakoff points out.

He cites, for instance, a case where a conservative might say we need “tax relief,” which makes taxes sound like an affliction from which we need “relief.”  When a liberal replies, using the word “relief,” it reinforces that mind-set.  The more often a word or phrase is used, the more it becomes ingrained in our neural pathways, and we act accordingly when we vote, Lakoff says. Trump’s campaign used language and key words that fired up his base.

The Clinton campaign “ … used negative campaigning, assuming they could turn Trump’s most outrageous words against him,” Lakoff said on his website. “They kept running ads showing Trump forcefully expressing views that liberals found outrageous.  Trump supporters liked him for forcefully saying things that liberals found outrageous.  They were ads paid for by the Clinton campaign that raised Trump’s profile with his potential supporters!”

Even with the experts saying it’s not likely, it still seems a real possibility that if candidates don’t do the Full Trump in future California campaigns, at least a few of them will be tempted to campaign in certain parts of the state as Trump Lite.

It might be a very, very wonderful campaign.


  • Gibarian

    The editors don’t seem to remember the 1934 Governor’s race with Upton Sinclair. It makes Trump’s media frenzy look like the grey lady.

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