It was an iconic moment in American politics, the televised debate between Kennedy and Nixon where Kennedy was charismatic, telegenic, and comfortable in front of the cameras while Nixon was sweaty, frustrated, and wonky. A similarly iconic moment is occurring now between Trump and Jeb. Trump’s social media presence is humorous, natural, and relatable, while Jeb’s is stilted, calculated, and wonky. Donald Trump is more at home on the Internet while Jeb is more at home in yesterday’s politics.
To hear the establishment tell it, Trump’s reality television experience confirms that he’s a joke, a “clown.” Real candidates, to hear them tell it, rely on traditional channels of outreach to potential voters. For them, it’s all about purchasing the most television ads in precisely targeted markets, mastering your Iowa ground game, crafting precisely the positioning and messaging necessary to shore up all the relevant demographic interest groups.
An entire industry exists of technocratic statistical analysts who specialize in political campaigns, and they–more than illegal immigrants–despise Trump because he symbolizes an existential threat to their livelihoods. These quants make the same mistake technical analysis day traders make, which is assuming that sufficiently precise analytics are a substitute for rather than a supplement to genuine abstract strategic thinking and authentic human interaction. Like the maniacal genius in the film Pi, they’re convinced that there’s an “election code” buried in the mountain of electoral and demographic data waiting to be unlocked.
Jeb relies on precisely this language in his explanation of his current failure to his donors, describing Donald Trump as an unforeseen Black Swan event.
“It’s no secret that the contours of this race have changed from what was anticipated at the start. We would be less than forthcoming if we said we predicted in June that a reality television star supporting Canadian-style single-payer health care and partial-birth abortion would be leading the GOP Primary,” the memo reads.
Day traders use the same excuse when their bubbles pop, always describing macro-level phenomena as beyond comprehension. It is for them, as they can’t see the strategic forest for the tactical trees. They take contemporary political realities as inert inputs into their functions, and they lack both the curiosity and the capacity to consider that perhaps the constants in their formulae aren’t all that constant. Anybody paying even a modicum of attention at the strategic level would be able to confirm that a vast sea of disenchanted White working class voters existed who don’t give a damn about “Obamacare” and don’t care to align themselves with Big Pharma.
Generals always begin each new war fighting the last war, and Jeb is running a positively masterful 2012 campaign. His tweets are tupperware tight, consistently aligned with the rest of his campaign. His public statements are robotically precise, and even his flubs are minor missteps compared to Trump’s seemingly horrific gaffes, like mocking McCain’s capture in Vietnam. What Team Jeb fails to realize is that those errors are actually collateral damage in a superior campaign, one which leverages Trump’s reality television experience to construct an intimate relationship of mutual trust between himself and his constituents.
When you speak more frequently and more extemporaneously, you’re bound to misspeak more often. The pundits beholden to the old order will continue picking apart what Trump does wrong when he relies on this strategy, but they can’t grasp how he’s writing the new rulebook for 21st century politics. It’s one in which the voters, jaded as they are to prefabricated campaign machinations, demand that politicians rely on the latest technology to do what it’s meant for, which is bring the candidates’ true selves closer to the voters.
To state that @realDonaldTrump is winning on Twitter would be an egregious understatement. When you follow @realDonaldTrump on Twitter, you receive an experience (fabricated as it may be) that you’ve actually befriended and are riding along on the Trump train with The Donald. When you follow @JebBush on Twitter, you receive an all-too-familiar experience of having coupled yourself to a dehumanized arm of a mechanical campaign apparatus.
Jeb tweets at you. Trump tweets with you.
What would actually assist Jeb would be a complete reboot of his campaign, one where he starts leveraging his social media apparatus to develop a vulnerable and private relationship with his voters. He could even do the unthinkable, which is exclaim his frustration about his faltering campaign and crowdsource solutions from his supporters for turning things around. He can’t actually do this, of course, because Jeb’s congenitally not as sociable or likable as Trump and his campaign team lacks the anti-fragility and humility to tolerate such a break from convention.
All Jeb can do, and all Jeb will do, is engage in a pathetic Baghdad Bob-style farce of insisting that his campaign is still winning, that he’s not endangered in the least by Trump’s invasion, and that Trump’s gaffes are discrediting him. They’re not. In fact, Jeb’s lack of gaffes are discrediting him, confirming to voters that he’s a soulless and mechanical system politician playing by outdated rules.