Trump, not Reagan, is the real Mr. Teflon

Democrats and their allies have perfected the art of the "attack ad." I remember two years ago, when now-Sen. Joni Ernst was running, how Iowans were treated to an ad showing a couple of corrupt capitalists chortling about how "Joni signed on the dotted line," supposedly pledging to protect tax breaks for companies that outsourced jobs overseas.

In fact, the pledge in question was merely a promise to fight all tax increases on anybody. The ad totally misrepresented its content. Fact checkers uniformly rated the charge "false," just has they had throughout the previous election cycle when Democrats and their allies tried to use the same pledge in the same way against Republicans all over the country.

It didn't work; Joni handily defeated Democratic Congressman Bruce Brailey. But the strategy is usually more successful. Four years ago, a series of misleading and in many cases near-slanderous attack ads on Mitt Romney define him in the public's eyes as a heartless plutocrat who valued money over people's lives. Frustratingly for many of us who supported him, Gov. Romney followed the conventional wisdom back then and ignored the ads rather than answering them on the theory that to do the latter would merely give the charges more publicity. It didn't work. Romney the Heartless was the image that stuck even though the ads were riddled with outright falsehoods. He was stuck with that image and lost the election in large part as a result.

Every boy who has ever played baseball knows about the fatal "blooper pitch-" a slow, arching, underhanded softball-like lob that looks like a beachball coming up to the plate, and is as virtually impossible to resist swinging at as it is to hit (the pros and even high school players have developed the discipline not to fall for it, knowing that it will probably end up outside the strike zone anyway). Well, Donald Trump is something of a "blooper pitch." The guy is so outrageous, so off-the-wall, so out of control, so absolutely horrific that there's nothing you can say about him that isn't already obvious to anybody who's paying attention!

Trump's supporters have long since shown themselves immune to facts or reason. Confronted with an unpleasant truth about The Donald, they simply and willfully refuse to believe it no matter what the evidence. And as David Catanese writes, audience-testing of attack ads on Trump seems to show that they're not going to work because exposure to his outrageous antics has immunized voters to the effects of having them pointed out!

There is, it seems, an advantage to running a notorious clown for president. No matter what anybody says about him, it's no surprise to anybody. As Catanese points out, Trump has already defined himself so clearly in the public's mind that nothing the Democrats can do is going to change much. And Trump's cult-like supporters have long since lost contact with reality where he is concerned in any case; while everyone else is immunized by reality, they are protected from it by their own willful decision to ignore any evidence that contradicts their conviction that Trump is a kind of American messiah.

No, on reflection, I don't think that's quite it. In "Game of Thrones," one of my favorite characters, Tyrion Lannister- dwarf, political genius and one of the most likable characters in the series- says at one point that once a person accepts his weaknesses, his enemies can no longer use them against him. And there's a great deal of truth in that.

To use another pop-culture parallel, in the movie "The Untouchables" Chicago cop Sean Connery accepts Kevin Costner's statement that he's a member of the Federal unit that has made public fools of themselves by making several early and ill-advised moves because "Who would claim to be that, who was not?"

If you're Donald Trump, there's not much people can say about you that will make you look more like an irresponsible, utterly unqualified and rather nutty doofus than that very fact. So what harm can attack ads do you by simply affirming that you are, indeed Donald Trump?

Catanese's article scares me a little. We already know that Donald Trump is Donald Trump, so pointing that fact out won't change anybody's mind. It makes sense that those attack ads shouldn't work. Those who are for Trump will be for him even if, as he himself remarked, he were to commit murder in broad daylight on New York's Fifth Avenue. Those who are not already know everything they need to know about him. The Donald is a modern wonder: a candidate who is immune to attack.

Now, I still think he's going to lose decisively. I think that, first, because the second group is easily the majority, and as time goes on the implications of electing the man they know Donald Trump to be are going to become clearer and more real. But more than that, what worked in a series of primary elections and caucuses involving to a great extent voters who were voting out of anger and were politically rather far out in right field to begin with isn't going to work in with a general election electorate who are more centrist and angry about different things.

But Catanese has hit on one of the most frustrating things about Donald Trump: nothing you can say about him, however bad and however truthful, is going to have any effect on anybody.

They either will refuse to believe you no matter what the evidence or they already know.

HT: Real Clear Politics

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