Sunday, August 22, 2021

Does Donald Trump Lead His Supporters, or Do His Supporters Lead Him? Oops, He Asked Them to Take a Vaccine

Donald Trump, White House Photo
In a lively, rambling speech at his political rally in Alabama yesterday, former president Donald Trump told the crowd that he recommended the coronavirus vaccines. Many in the crowd booed.

What? Trump’s loyal, slavish acolytes booed him? How can that be? For, it seems, we often hear that Trump’s supporters loyally believe every ridiculous thing he says. Maybe we have that backwards. Maybe they only love him because he says the ridiculous things that they want to hear. Yesterday, he outraged them because he said something true and good.

Leading into his comments about the vaccines, Trump told the crowd that they had their freedom. Of course, the main reason that conservatives cite for not taking the vaccines is that they have freedom. But, then, Trump said this:

“And then we developed a vaccine – 3 vaccines – in three months – in nine months. It was three days less than nine months.”

The crowd then rumbled their disagreeable disapproval. Isn’t that strange? Trump took credit for the rapid development of life-saving vaccines. Trump supporters love Trump and like to give him credit for everything. Three vaccines in nine months? Doesn’t that sound like an accomplishment? All the same, however, the Trump-loving crowd booed him. How can that be? Did they suddenly not trust him? Trying to recover, Trump continued:

“I believe in freedom. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. You’ve got your freedom, but I happened to take the vaccine. If it doesn’t work you’ll be the first to know – But it is working.”

The crowd continued to signal their unhappiness. Looking a tiny bit flustered, Trump then conceded:

“But you do have your freedoms.“

He quickly went on to rant about Dr. Anthony Fauci and mask-wearing, and also complained that the 2020 election had been stolen from him. His audience seemed happier about that nonsense.

The rhetorical tactic on which Trump depends the most is to say whatever gets the most cheers. It’s been rumored that his staff tracks which lines get the most applause. He could then repeat those lines in future speeches to get even more applause. He is known to have relied on polls. He adjusts his message to say whatever is popular. In that respect, he’s not much different from any other politician.

Of course, anyone with a working brain knows that the coronavirus vaccines are an absolute miracle that can save the world from the horrible pandemic that has already killed so many people. Johns Hopkins School of Medicine experts tell us that, “All three vaccines authorized for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have been thoroughly tested and found to be safe and effective in preventing severe COVID-19.” Nevertheless, anti-vaccine feelings lie deep in the conservative movement. When he recommended vaccination, Trump told his audience something they did not want to hear.

Sometimes a leader needs to tell people hard truths. Trump made a brief effort to do that yesterday. I don’t think he will do it again. As I mentioned before, Trump is a follower, not a leader: he follows the crowd. It is the crowd that steers Trump, not Trump who steers the crowd. Worse, liberals often think that the way to beat people like Trump is to point out when conservatives present silly ideas. That misses the target. Trump said one true thing, and the crowd turned against him. Trump, whatever his faults, isn’t the main problem. 



Research Note: Joel B. Pollak, one of Trump’s top campaign experts, talks about his use of polls and feedback in How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution.

If you want to understand how American politicians think, there is still no better source than Dan Nimmo, The Political Persuaders. Highly recommended. It's outdated, but you’ll never look at a campaign rally the same way again.

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