"Dilbert" creator Scott Adams: Trump is landing "linguistic kill shots" that will sweep him to the presidency

Via Reason TV, never have I heard so many words spent to compliment someone on being a talented BS artist. Somewhere Don Rickles is watching this and thinking that if he’d ever run for president, he would have won 49 or 50 states. Which is not to say that Adams is all wrong: Branding Jeb Bush as “low energy” really was a brilliant bit of image-making by Trump, as it captured Republicans’ angst about centrist milquetoasts in one polite euphemism. The problem here is that he’s overstating the effect of many of these “kill shots” while understating other, more important elements of Trump’s appeal. For instance, here’s Adams writing on September 6th after Rolling Stone had revealed Trump’s “look at that face” wisecrack about Carly Fiorina.

I’m going to come right out and agree that Fiorina’s face was bothering me. But I never would have voiced that opinion without Trump going first because it sounds terrible. I wouldn’t want to be associated with the thought. [Note to Outragists: The first sentence in this paragraph is the one to take out of context. You are welcome.]

When I say Fiorina’s face bothers me, I am not referring to her looks in general. She looks fit, stylish, and attractive to me. But she does have what I call the angry wife face when she talks politics. Guys, you know the face, which is usually paired with a tone of disapproval. It is your greatest nightmare. It is the face that says you did not do a good job, at whatever…

My guess is that the majority of American voters chuckled at Trump’s comment and muttered to themselves some version of “We don’t have to worry about him lying to us.” 

And his popularity grows.

Another “kill shot” landed by Trump. Ten days later, Fiorina won the second GOP debate going away, partly by rebuking Trump for his insult. She’s gained roughly 10 points in New Hampshire since then, good for second place, and trails Trump by as little as five percent there in some polls. The Koch brothers, among other hyperwealthy right-wing donors, are suddenly interested in donating to her. One more “kill shot” like that and Trump will be finished. The same goes for Adams’s curious admiration for Trump’s alleged dismissal of Ben Carson as “nice.” He wrote in the same September 6th post excerpted above, “Ben Carson does seem ‘too nice’ for the difficult job of staring down foreign leaders.” It’s another case of Trump shrewdly sizing up an opponent and planting the seed of doubt in voters’ minds that will eventually grow and overrun the Carson campaign. Except … who needed Trump to call Carson “nice” before concluding that he is, in fact, nice? The whole reason his favorable ratings are off-the-charts positive (much more so than Trump’s numbers) is because he radiates soft-spoken “niceness” and Christian piety. Without that visceral appeal, Carson likely wouldn’t be anywhere near the top of the polls; as it is, he’s reliably threatening Trump as a top contender and even led him in an IBD poll published last Friday. (Even if you are worried about Carson being overly “nice,” his refusal to retreat on whether he thinks Islamic law is compatible with the Constitution should have helped ease those worries.) Meanwhile, Trump’s spent the last two weeks calling Marco Rubio a “clown” who’s shirking his duties in the Senate and Rubio seems none the worse for wear. He’s attacked Megyn Kelly repeatedly, calling her overrated and a lightweight, and she just became the first cable news host to beat O’Reilly in the key ratings demo for a full quarter in more than 10 years. How many of these “kill shots” are actually killing anyone?

Adams’s best argument has to do with the Trump’s rhetoric about his own persona, the idea that he’s a superhero who’ll solve the intractable political problems that have bedeviled mortal men in Washington. Winning is what he does. Doesn’t matter how difficult the problem is. And implicit in that pitch, as always, is the idea that you can share in his greatness by giving him your money or, in this case, your vote. “There is a certain prosperity-­theology aspect to Trump’s appeal,” Mark Leibovich wrote, “the idea that you follow a minister because he is rich and has his own plane and implicitly and sometimes explicitly promises that you, too, will be rich.” (Not coincidentally, preachers of the prosperity gospel seem to like him a bunch.) This time it’s going to be America that’s made rich and great, not the individual voter. That is appealing. But would it be as appealing without Trump’s hawkishness on the border? And if it’s so appealing, why does Trump seem suddenly to have a ceiling of about 25 percent in national and state polls despite the fact that the’s allegedly landing “kill shot” after “kill shot”? To buy Adams’s theory, you need to accept that the majority of Republican voters and the majority of general-election voters somehow don’t and can’t see through Trump’s shtick, even though they’ve been digesting it in various formats for the past 30 years and are already showing signs of getting tired of it. What’s the evidence currently that he’s kill-shotting his way to victories in either race?