Sat on the porch
Listened to the rain
Smoked a cigarette
And counted to ten
Oh no, here it comes again, that funny feeling
Oh no, here it comes again, that funny feeling
Camper Van Beethoven, “Oh no!” (1985)
Three weeks ago, I didn’t see a narrative path for Trump to win a turnout-based election hinging on four or five swing states.
Today I do.
It’s the same funny feeling I got in 2016, but with a twist.
The twist is that I think the greater Dem team genuinely likes Joe Biden. I think that they are genuinely prepared to “sell out” for Joe Biden (using the term in the sports lingo, as a good thing) in a way that they were never willing to sell out for Hillary Clinton. I don’t think that stated Democratic apparatchik support for Joe Biden is virtue signaling, not in the least. I think it’s completely real.
The twist is that I think there are only two nationally prominent politicians in the United States today who instinctively understand social media and its ability to drive the common knowledge game to win a turnout election, and neither of them is named Joe Biden.
In an election where Covid-19 makes traditional, real world crowd-signaling difficult or impossible, social media provides an alternative narrative path to political success.
You may think that it is yet another example of political betrayal, yet another example of unconscionable sociopathy to hold large, non-socially distanced and mostly non-masked political rallies in the very middle of some of the hardest Covid-hit areas of the country.
Certainly I do.
But if you do not also recognize that the human animal is hardwired to respond positively to crowds of other human animals responding positively … if you do not also recognize that sweeping, cinematic video of large crowds cheering for something heroically framed in the middle distance will motivate highly positive reactions in the far larger crowd that watches that video … well, you’re missing one of the most powerful drivers of social behavior.
Donald Trump gets this.
Half a million people watched a live stream of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez playing a video game with a small group of friends the other night.
Sorry, maybe you didn’t hear me ..
HALF A MILLION PEOPLE WATCHED AOC PLAY A VIDEO GAME THE OTHER NIGHT.
AOC gets this.
Joe Biden does not get this. At all.
What is this? This is the power of the crowd watching the crowd. This is why China still bans any mention of Tiananmen Square protests, now 30 years gone. This is why executions used to be held in public and why coronations and inaugurations still are. This is why sports are played in front of a live audience.
The power of the crowd watching the crowd starts revolutions and wars. It builds cathedrals and tears them down, too. The power of the crowd watching the crowd moves markets. The power of the crowd watching the crowd wins elections.
Especially turnout elections.
Especially turnout elections in a handful of states.
It’s not the rally crowd itself that is politically effective for Trump.
It’s the larger audience of Trump-sympathetic voters watching these rally crowds that is politically effective for Trump.
It’s politically effective because this election will not be decided by changing the mind of some loosely affiliated voter on the other side. This election will not be decided by convincing some hypothetical “undecided voter” to join your fold. No, this election – just like the 2016 election – will be decided by motivating more of YOUR people to get up off their asses and get to the polls than the other guy does with HIS people. And nothing motivates your people more than seeing and hearing a good-looking crowd of people that calls them to action by example.
This is why sitcoms are funny. This is why beer commercials work. This is why CNBC exists.
This is why Trump has a narrative path to victory today that he didn’t have three weeks ago.
Q: Is this enough for Trump to win Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio?
I don’t know. I doubt it, although maybe that’s my political preference speaking. My sense is that this narrative reawakening for Trump is happening too late in an election where tens of millions of votes have already been cast. My sense is that Biden is still more likely to win than not. But the path for Trump is this: three in-person rallies per day in the five states that matter, use social media to distribute footage of those rallies as widely as possible to drive turnout in those states. That’s his best shot. That’s his only shot. It’s not a terrible shot!
Q: Could Biden counter this narrative path with a crowd-watching-the-crowd effort of his own?
Of course he could. And I don’t mean by holding big rallies like Trump. Even if Biden were a conscienceless sociopath who would risk his voters’ lives by encouraging them to gather en masse, I don’t think he has the draw or charisma to get a crowd anywhere near the size of Trump’s. But you don’t need to hold physical in-person rallies to create a “crowd” that can inspire the larger crowd of PA, FL and OH voters. What you need is imagination, like AOC showed with her Twitch livestream. What you need is creativity, like the NBA showed with their “crowds”. Go give an “impromptu” pep talk to a dozen “brave Americans” standing in a long, properly socially-distanced line for early voting (just be sure you’re not violating any electioneering laws!). Hell, do a series of those scripted town hall events in Florida. Just do that.
Instead we get this.
With one week to go in his campaign for President of the United States of America, the Democratic candidate is speaking in Warm Springs, Georgia to an impassioned crowd of at least … three? … non-reporters. I am not making this up.
The problem is that Joe Biden believes that polls are themselves an effective crowd signaling device. I mean, look at the Democratic primary. Biden’s entire early primary campaign was based on his “electability” as shown by … wait for it … POLLS. Then the actual voting started and Biden’s entire approach had to be scrapped for a just-stop-Bernie collective effort by all the other candidates on Super Tuesday.
Joe Biden loves to use polls as a signal to the crowd that the crowd is supporting Joe Biden.
Just like Hillary Clinton.