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Category Archives: Rationalism

It is quite something to watch as Trump wipes out the relevance of the other Republican candidates.  While effective usage of the media is considered a critical success factor in campaigning by any candidate, the rest of the field seems unable to compete with Trump at this level.

Having gone through the list of reasons generally cited by pundits, the most credible one seems to be Trump’s tapping into the public’s and particularly Republican anger with the establishment.  I am sure that is a key reason, but I believe there is something more fundamental at work.

I agree with Jonathan Haidt (author of, The Righteous Mind) that we are 90% intuitive and 10% rational in forming our opinions, and that after forming an opinion our rational mind rationalizes our position.  Haidt refers to these as the “(intuitive) elephant” and the “(rational) rider”. 

This aspect of psychology is key to many things, but its political effect is profound: campaign messaging, expression of policy, marketing tactics, voter turnout, voter involvement and advocacy, etc, etc.

What I have noticed over the years, is how rational and homogenized campaign consultants have made candidate dialogue (and candidate selection by the donor class).  And how as that has increased, the focus on celebrity, appearance and gaffs has increased. 

Omitting the aspect of rationalism in academia for the sake of brevity, my first point is that rational arguments in campaigning which target the broader public, inevitably meet the intuitive elephant (who has the lead in decision-making) and the elephant often hears little or nothing when this happens.

The second, is that cognitive dissonance among Republicans has been building since at least the 2008 campaign as they watched celebrity and elephant talk elect Obama twice while their candidates (and their rational arguments) were ineffectual.

Trump has popped this balloon of tension by going straight to the elephant (as does Hillary).  He has stolen the march and competing candidates and their consultants, along with their traditional models of campaigning, are sputtering and confused.  When attacking they now come across as ineffectual.  A fatal situation for many of them.

Rational argumentation meets the decided intuitive elephant and fails.