How you can win an election despite being seen as incompetent

Donald Trump in front of a huge flag

Photo by History in HD on Unsplash.

Written about the forthcoming US Presidential election, this point from The Message Box newsletter about how perceived strength can trump competence comes with some obvious echoes for British politics too:

Trump conducting his convention illegally from the White House was a very specific choice. In addition to providing images that would have made Hugo Chavez blush, it reminded voters that norms and institutions are too weak to stop Trump from doing what he wants…

Progressives sometimes confuse competence with strength. George W. Bush was one of the most incompetent people to ever walk the face of the planet, but he was reelected because he convinced voters that he was strong and John Kerry was weak. As former President Bill Clinton once said “When people are insecure, they’d rather have somebody who is strong and wrong than someone who’s weak and right.”…

Most of us respond to Trump’s dictatorial cosplay by expressing horror at his power grabs and worrying (often publicly) about the fate of democracy. While this reaction is logical and understandable, it is also counter-productive. The more we describe Trump as an authoritarian capable of anything, the more we reinforce his appeal with a core set of voters.

None of this is to suggest that we should ignore Trump’s offenses against democracy. Far from it. It’s not IF we talk about Trump’s authoritarianism. It’s HOW we talk about it. The key is to emphasize that Trump operates from a position of weakness, not strength.

Listen to the Liberal Democrats and British politics being discussed by myself and a wide range of experts from inside and outside the party on my podcast, Never Mind The Bar Charts.