Donald Trump and the Paradox of Choice

You’ve probably experienced some version of the Paradox of Choice. You’ve all, for example, had that torturous moment of indecision staring at fifty ice cream flavors while needing to pick just one of them. Our uncertainty freezes us like the very dessert we are so desperate to consume. Similar situations happen when looking at massive dinner menus, the many makes and models of cars, or the assortment of colleges to which we can hand thousands of dollars in tuition. The Paradox of Choice tells us that even when we finally do make up our mind, we often wonder what could have been had we made another choice. It also tells us that if our choices were limited to but a few flavors, cars, or universities, we could more quickly and happily discern between them and make a confident, relatively stress-free choice. Paradoxically, it seems more choice does not make us more content.

I wonder if the Paradox of Choice helps explain why the candidates and SuperPACs have not yet been able to take down Donald Trump. In politics, the most successful way to attack a candidate is usually to hammer him or her on one weakness, to characterize the candidate as one particular thing. You want your opponent to be automatically associated with one negative attribute (out of touch, in the pockets of the rich, a socialist, a flipflopper, etc.).

With Trump, however, there is so much potential fodder that it becomes impossible to choose what to target and embed in the minds of voters. Let’s take a look at some of the possibilities.

Trump the Liberal (Cousin of Trump the Panderer and Trump the Flipflopper)

I have expected this to be the main tactic used by other candidates to bring Trump down. There’s plenty of examples to make the argument that Trump is the last guy who should be representing the modern, conservative Republican Party. To start, I’ll make “liberal” use (pun) of this Washington Post overview of his past Democratic positions:

  • In a Meet The Press interview, Trump once said he was “very pro-choice.” “I hate the concept of abortion. . . . I hate it. I hate everything it stands for . . . but I just believe in choice.”
  • In Trump’s book “The America We Deserve,” he wrote that he “generally” opposed gun control but supported an assault weapons ban and a longer waiting period to purchase a firearm.
  • He once suggested we legalize drugs, another incredibly liberal position.
  • In a Larry King interview, Trump said he was “very liberal when it comes to health care” and that he believes in “universal healthcare.”

On the health care point, Rand Paul fired a salvo at Trump at the first Republican debate, but no one else backed him up. “News flash,” Paul exclaimed, “The Republican Party’s been fighting against a single-payer system for over a decade.” Trump retorted by poking fun of Paul’s general debate performance, and that was the end of that. As always, Trump’s confident lack of substance defeated a substantive charge against him.

On the economy:

  • He once proposed an enormous one-time 14.25 percent tax on the wealthy.
  • Proposals like that explain why the conservative Club for Growth calls him the “worst kind of politician” who, due to some of his past economic ideas, might be, “short of Bernie Sanders . . . the most liberal candidate in the whole field on fiscal policy.”
  • He also favored a government bailout for the auto industry, a Washington move wildly unpopular with Republican voters.
  • Most notably, he once praised President Obama’s stimulus package and described the President as “a strong guy knows what he wants, and this is what we need.”

Oh, and let’s not forget, until 1987, he was a Democrat, and then from 2001 to 2009 he was a Democrat again. probably summed it up most angrily: “Donald Trump is a Canadian health care system-loving big government liberal” who has “advocated for wealthy tax increases.”

Of course, a counterargument might be, “I don’t care what he said years ago; I care what he says now.” But how many candidates in the past had to answer to past positions or comments? All of them. Every single one.

If largely conservative Republican governors John Kasich and Chris Christie have to weather charges of liberalism, and if Mitt Romney faced endless challenges and surges from the right because of his only moderately conservative credentials, how is Donald Trump — the former liberal Democrat — skating by?

Trump the Immoral

We know that highlighting opponents’ personal indiscretions are often strategies for campaign managers and pundits of all political stripes. However fair or unfair that might be, it certainly plays a role in politics and has taken down many-a-candidate and -politician. In Donald Trump, we have a thrice married, twice divorced man. There are allegations of spousal abuse with his first wife. During that first marriage, he had an affair with an actress, whom he eventually impregnated before having the baby out of wedlock. His third wife is 24 years his junior. On top of all the personal stuff is his controversial business history, which includes bankruptcies, lawsuits, and potential deals with organized crime.

None of this has to be true, nor does it have to matter when weighing how good a president he might be, but there’s no denying that voters are often swayed by these types of controversies. Why is there no concentrated attack — especially from the conservative Christians base of the party — on his morality?

Trump the Insubstantial

I once wrote about his frustratingly repetitive, circular, and insubstantial responses to questions. Since then, we’ve had more of the same. He has become an expert at dodging questions, answering questions not asked, using ad hominem arguments, general obfuscation, and tossing enough red meat to choke every lion in the jungle. He’s perfected how to make his base swoon rather than actually explaining how he’ll do certain things. Just saying the country is too “political correct,” however accurate, is not a policy; it’s a dog whistle. Telling us that vaccinations cause autism is not grounded in medical findings, only in anecdotal alarmism. Insisting, without any evidence other than dubious hearsay or exaggerations on a theme, that thousands of Muslims publicly gathered to cheer 9/11 in New Jersey plays on people’s fear and anger and amplifies both. None of this should apply to the standard bearer of the Republican Party.

Trump the Unconstitutional

For a man who railed against Barack Obama’s presidential eligibility, Trump has had some profoundly unconstitutional ideas himself.

  • Rand Paul, perhaps the field’s foremost Constitutionalist, believes Trump’s plan to limit internet access is recklessly unconstitutional. He likened it to something North Korea might do.
  • More recently, Trump has raised the question of Ted Cruz’s citizenship due to him being born in Canada to his American mother. Cruz was considered an American since birth, and Trump used to be fine with that, but now political gain makes him a parser of the founding fathers’ words.
  • Trump’s boldest proposal of the campaign — blocking Muslims from entering the country — is likely unconstitutional and certainly unAmerican.
  • In his quest to undermine birthright citizenship, he suggests that it’s not he who is unconstitutional, but the 14th amendment instead. One more time — he thinks the 14th Amendment of the Constitution is unconstitutional.

Trump the Establishment Insider

In order to move inside political circles at will, Trump spent decades donating to powerful Democrats and Republicans. Estimates have these donations totaling $1.5 million. As a result, he’s been extremely chummy with politicians. So while Cruz has made enemies with the establishment, Trump was its best friend up until he ran for office.

As for his personal relationship with some of them, let’s tackle the two biggest names in politics. I’ll get to the Clintons below, but for now, let’s stick to the guy he’s destroyed in the Republican Primary — Jeb Bush. In “The America We Deserve,” he called Bush “a good man,” “bright, tough and principled,” and “exactly the kind of political leader this country needs now and will very much need in the future.” So he was a fan of the establishment family in his party and the field’s only dynastic candidate. As for the other party . . .

Trump: friend of the Clintons

This might end up being the most damaging of all. In an election where the GOP is desperate to keep Hillary Clinton from the White House, will they want someone who has consistently shown to be an ally of the Clintons? Consider the following:

So close was their relationship that a mid-December news cycle toyed with the idea that Trump, with his controversial ideas, Democratic history, and friendly relationship with the Clintons, might be a secret agent for said party and family. His role, the story went, was to assure a wounded-beyond-repair GOP and a Clinton victory in November.

Which Donald Trump should be attacked? With so many choices — and the possibility of regretting making the wrong choice — the party seems content to bide their time and hope Trump implodes. However, it’s increasingly clear that this implosion is just wishful thinking.

Eventually, rivals will need to pick one of the above and unload on the polling leader. In order to not allow time for Trump to respond, expect a barrage of negative adds as January fades out and February arrives.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to have some ice cream. Let’s see, which flavor…


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