Empathy the key to stopping Trump

With each passing caucus; with each passing debate; with each passing day, it seems, Donald J. Trump gets closer and closer to becoming the official Republican nominee. It also seems that, with the impending reality of a Trump nomination, liberal media (or, for that matter, all sane media) is starting to amp up their “Stop Trump” articles.

Michael Strain wrote a piece for the Washington Post entitled, “Donald Trump isn’t funny anymore, and we all have to stop him.” John-Thor Dahlburg of the Associated Press wrote an article entitled, “World considers a Trump presidency, and many shudder.” At Slate, Anne Applebaum and Jacob Weisberg each wrote pieces predicting the devastating effects of a Trump presidency.

These articles act effectively to reinforce the negative opinions of those already against Trump. The readers post them on their Facebook walls, where their like-minded friends comment on the article with funny memes about Canada building a wall to keep Americans out if Trump is elected. Everybody laugh. Roll on snare drum. Curtains.

Here’s the thing, though, we don’t see one lick of difference in the polls.

Clearly another angle is needed – an angle that can actually derail what looks to be a steam-roller right now.

Let’s go through some possible ways to sway Trump voters that will or will not work, noting that with a movement with as much momentum as Trump’s, will work may need to be called hopefully, may work instead:

Won’t Work: Reciting “But Trump can’t possibly win” in the face of growing evidence proving that he may

The New Yorker ran a cartoon last week depicting our past presidents gathered around, watching Trump on TV with incredulous looks on their faces. This narrative of disbelief has overwhelmed the media throughout Trump’s campaign. In reality, it’s clear that this disbelief among some has no effect on those who choose to support Trump. In fact, the “Trump-as-an-outsider” narrative is almost universally cited by Trump supporters as one of his main appeals.

This sort of disconnect from the media (across the board, too, just look at The National Review putting out an entire publication against the party’s leading vote-getter) is contributing to his support, and repeating the same misnomer over and over only widens that chasm.

Might Work: Keep your friends close and your enemies closer

Instead of posting that Huffington Post article to your Facebook wall, go out and find a Trump supporter. Actually engage him or her, and actively listen to why it is he or she is supporting The Don – try to empathize. Don’t interrupt half-way through to refute their claims; hear them out, and show that you are truly willing to come to the table. Cede a point or two here or there, “You know, you’re right, Trump actually does have a halfway decent tax plan,” or “Yeah, the PC police do go a bit far sometimes.” Mostly, just let them know they’re actually being heard. This may sound mighty condescending, but a major complaint among many Trump supporters is the impression that their opinions are not being heard. While this complaint is primarily waged against their elected leaders, it is also, to a point, being lodged against their friends and colleagues who don’t see eye-to-eye with them, and don’t care to engage in a two-sided political conversation. Blatantly ignoring the other side of the aisle is far from a stump that the Republicans have cornered, and I’m as guilty of it as anyone who participates actively in politics. It’s hard to find a middle ground, but when we don’t, men like Trump emerge.

Won’t Work: Using any sort of media portrayal of Trump

It’s becoming clearer and clearer that Trump appeals across numerous divides. It’s no longer simply poorly-educated, white, disenfranchised males comprising his sole demographic. That being said, I do believe analysis would show a strong correlation between Trump supporters and folks with a strong dislike for the media.

Showing your boy Travis a Mother Jones article skewering Trump won’t suddenly convince him to lock down a spot in the first row at the next Hillary Clinton rally. In fact, it will probably make him even more entrenched in his support of Trump, loving that his candidacy is driving “the liberal media” batty.

The distrust and disgust of the media that “Travis” and his like harbor even extends to sites like Politifact that show Trump as a wild and egregious liar. Where you and I might read the Truth-O-Meter and think, “Ok, now it’s obvious this guy has got to go,” Travis et al. might counter, “Typical liberal media spin.” Trump supporters are so out on media, as a whole, that showing them anything media-related against Trump has a reverse effect on them at this point.

Won’t Work (in some cases): Calling him wishy-washy or secretly a moderate

This has been conservatives’ top line of attack against Trump. At the top, opponents like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio have hit Trump on his about-faces on important conservative platforms – such as a woman’s right to choose – throughout the election run-up.

Trump has simply owned that. He steers into the skid, even publicly saying during last Thursday’s debate: “I’m changing. I’m changing. We need highly skilled people in this country, and if we can’t do it, we’ll get them in.” The changes Trump was referencing were regarding his immigration policies which first garnered him political attention last year.

Further, his supporters don’t mind the 180s, because a lot of them are actually moderate. Numerous states have released their post-voting results showing Trump to be the leader among self-described moderate Republicans, and a Quinnipiac survey in late January showed the same, with Trump nearly doubling up any other Republican candidate among “moderate” and “liberal” voters. As crazy as it seems that a man who classified Mexicans as rapists, drops casual misogyny bombs on the reg, and wants to make Mexico pay for a border wall can be considered moderate, that’s where we are.

In the big picture, this is what makes Trump so hard to knock down. As noted before, his support comes from a vast array of different-minded people. His supporters are strict conservatives, moderates, the anti-PC squad, religious folks, and atheists. (And maybe even the KKK.)

Might Work: Know your audience

Tying in directly with the last point, knowing your audience could make your rebuttals stronger. If your Trump-supporting friend/acquaintance is behind Trump and an Evangelical, take the tack that Conor Friedersdorf at the Atlantic took this week, pointing out that Trump is as big or bigger a threat to the disintegration of the old-school values as anyone. The man referenced his dick size at last Thursday’s debate for crying out loud!

If your acquaintance is highly conservative, just show him/her Trump’s tax plan that doesn’t tax a single penny of single tax payers making less than $25,000 a year or joint households making less than $50,000 a year. This is sure to make their blood boil. If that doesn’t do it, how about his continued support of Planned Parenthood? That should do the trick.

If your acquaintance is a moderate, ask them what drugs they are taking and where you can get some of that ish. But seriously, point to his plan to ban all Muslim travel to the U.S. Point to the fact that it took him hours to disavow the KKK. Repeat: IT TOOK HIM MORE THAN LITERALLY ONE SECOND TO DISAVOW THE KKK!

Last year Christie Aschwanden wrote a piece for Five Thirty Eight entitled “Your Brain Is Primed To Reach False Conclusions,” in which she concluded,

“If you want someone to accept information that contradicts what they already know, you have to find a story they can buy into. That requires bridging the narrative they’ve already constructed to a new one that is both true and allows them to remain the kind of person they believe themselves to be.”


Creating the narrative bridge to get Trump supporters away from “The Dark Side” is something that we, as a nation, have failed to do. Knowing your audience, and possessing the right tools to build that bridge, is of the utmost importance.

Won’t Work: Implying inferiority

Hopefully no one is attempting to win over Trump supporters by straight-up calling them idiots to their face, but it’s amazing the undertone – and sometimes it’s more like an overtone – so many people take when dealing with Trump supporters.

It blows my mind that liberals, who pride themselves so much on not judging others, would then go and judge a broad swath of people simply based on whom they support. I mean, I get it to some extent. Trump appears to be an idiot, what he says appears to be idiotic, so why wouldn’t his supporters be idiots? Because that is oversimplifying the matter.

Trump supporters are frustrated, and frustrated people will make concessions if they believe the over-riding narrative. Sure, I don’t love the idea that Trump is a blustery, attention-seeking reality TV star, but man I really think he would take it to those stuffy Washington politicians. Implying that all Trump supporters are simply buffoons who can’t be bothered to be truly informed, and whose voices shouldn’t be heard is worse than condescending – it’s scary. The most important component of democracy is hearing everyone’s voice, even if we don’t necessarily agree with that voice.

Suggesting that one opinion is more important than another is not an idea we want to have creep into the national consciousness. Just imagine if the tables turned, and your voice was the one people wanted to silence.

Might Work: Offer an alternative

Come armed and ready to your local Trump conversations. This is not to say you need to bash Trump-ettes over the head with facts and figures (or God forbid, the truth), it should be clear by now that won’t work. But if you simply rebuke all Trump ideas, there’s still going to be the question of OK, but if not Trump, who?

And that’s a fair question for the folks supporting Trump, as there aren’t a lot of options beyond the man, the myth, the hairpiece.

Hillary is probably the hardest sell, as she is most most “establishment” of the remaining candidates, and sits across the aisle. John Kasich might be a tough sell because his low numbers make a vote for Kasich seem like a wasted vote. Cruz… Is a vote for Cruz really any better than a vote for Trump? (It may be worse.)

That leaves Bernie Sanders.

Bernie has been raging against the establishment since before it was cool, and he’s far from a typical Washington politician. Though he caucuses with the democrats and is running for their candidacy, Sanders has been independent since 1979, which should appeal to wide-ranging Trump supporters.

When it first came out that some people at the early primaries were torn between Trump and Sanders, this seemed mind-melting. How could these two men on seemingly opposite sides of the political spectrum be the two candidates of intrigue to a single individual? Well, we’ve learned better than to make assumptions about Trump supporters at this point, and if Bernie the best option to turn them off Trump – let’s embrace it. One less vote for Trump is a step in the right direction, and is worth the time and perspective won by sitting down with a prospective Trump voter and engaging in an all-too-rare across-aisle political discussion.

And if none of these tactics work to convince your (maybe-not-so) friendly neighborhood Trump supporter, remember, you can always…

Best Chance to Work: Actually get out there and vote. (I’m looking at you, liberals aged 18-29.)

Do your civic duty, young bloods!