Eating your enemies is a time honored method for winning. It is rarely used by American politicians or their supporters.
Here is how you eat your enemy. I’ll use a generalized example based on several events during the GOP debates.
Moderator: Mr. Trump, you’ve said ‘bla bla bla bla’. Alternate Candidate, what do you have to say to Mr. Trump about this?
Alternate: Yada yada yada.
Donald Trump: [smiling, nodding giving thumbs up] I agree with all that.
More typically, a politician in this situation would find a way to separate themselves form Alternate Candidate, playing off the moderator’s suggestion of a difference, even if there isn’t much of a difference. But Trump, instead, simply takes Alternate Candidate’s position and indicates, “That’s great.” Eating your enemy.
This might seem odd or counterproductive because it would seem to muddle Trump’s actual policies and make it easier to claim that he is being inconsistent. But that doesn’t matter, because Trump has a voracious appetite and he can eat that too.
Moderator: Mr. Trump, earlier you said ‘bla bla bla’ but when Alternate Candidate said ‘yada yada’ you agreed with him. How can that be?
Donald Trump: [nodding during question] That’s right, I agree with him, he’s a smart guy. What can I say?
See what he did there? He ate the moderator.
Now, take this whole theme and imagine it happening in the board room, with Trump as Chairman of the Board.
Board Member One: I totally disagree with Two. Two has it all wrong, and here’s why. Yada yada yada.
Donald Trump: Great idea, thanks for bringing that to the table.
Board Member Two: One is wrong, here’s what we should do. Bla bla bla.
Donald Trump: You’r totally right about that.
[one month later, at a second board meeting, Board Member One and Board Member Two are missing]
Donald Trump: [on being asked where One and Two are] Oh, I fired those guys.
Board Member Three: But you agreed with what they both were saying, even though they were saying opposite things.
Donald Trump: That was then, this is now, I can do that. What’s the next item on the agenda?
Board Member Three: [grimly] Mr. Trump, I think we should not move on until we’ve resolved this issue about One and Two and why they were fired even tough you …..
Donald Trump [interrupting] You’re fired.
This is not Trump the Chairman of the Board being random. It is Trump not taking sides or getting in a fight, but rather, eating his board members one by one. He’s not asking them to go along with his ideas, and he’s not really going along with any of their ideas. He’s just letting the conversation go and eventually making his own decisions. Meanwhile, he he munches on them for a while, then spits them out and lets them live (minus some juices and a bit of flesh). Then, when it comes time to make a decision, he just makes the decision, unencumbered by any prior positioning on his own part.
I have to say, it is a little like how an experienced professor operates a seminar. Don’t take a stand, let the seminar participants yammer on here and there, encourage everybody even if you are encouraging conflicting ideas. When a real conflict emerges, deflect and shift focus, and so on, letting ideas go and go. But then, at some point, near the end of the seminar, the professorial voice of wisdom emerges, perspective is imposed on the conversation, previously ignored or undervalued facts are foregrounded, and smart things are said. Since everybody got a chance to be both smart and stupid, less butthurt, and an interim quasi-consensus on the nature of reality is accepted, at least until the seminar adjourned to the Rathskeller, where things heat up again until everybody gets too drunk to remember what the heck they were arguing about.
So this is Trump’s modus operandus, but what is it for?
One of the main benefits in a debate format of eating your opponents, instead of merely trying to not let them touch you, or for you to seem like them, is the commission. The commission is the little percentage you get when your opponent says something, their supporters cheer and applaud, then you agree with it. You get a percentage.
On a stage with 11 antagonists, the one antagonist that gets to eat each opponent once or twice, maybe three times for some, gets a lot of small commission payments. If none of the other candidates are doing that, then there is one broker getting paid off with every transaction, regardless of how that transaction goes. Trump took a little piece of every one of those conversations. In the end, he went home with his pockets stuffed.
Also, eating your enemies while your enemies are busy eating their own young (the exact opposite strategy) may be pretty effective.
The conflict between Trump’s strategy and what usually happens, and what is expected, caused the post-debate pundits to “give” the debate to a wide range of different candidates, including but not exclusively Trump. After the first debate, informal on-line polls indicated that the majority of everybody else, everybody who is not a pundit, gave the debate to Trump. This is because the politically astute observers didn’t even know what they were looking at, since it is so unusual of a strategy. It turned out that these informal online polls accurately predicted the ensuing formal properly done polls. Trump moved forward in his lead after that debate.
It is too early to say if the same pattern will occur with the second debate, but there are early indications it is the case. Among the numerous commentaries by the usual pundits, Trump took the win for only a few. But among the few informal on-line polls I’ve seen, Trump may have actually done even better in this debate than he did during the first. We’ll wait and see what the formal polls show.
It isn’t really true that Trump is the only person out there who eats his opponents. I think he is the only one among the current crop of Gops running for the nomination. Bill Clinton could eat his opponent, and President Obama had been known to do it too. Neither is probably as good at it as Trump, though.
This is not, by the way, an endorsement of Trump. I’m merely placing some of what I’m seeing in an anthropological perspective. I actually think Trump could be a better president than most of the other Gops. This is partly because some of them are religious fanatics, the last thing we need running the US right now. Others are strong political ideologues, and the only ideologue I want to see in the White House among those running is Sanders (because we share most ideologies). Others are bought and paid for by various nefarious special interest groups. Many are combinations of the above. I can imagine Walker doing everything he can while in office trying to eliminate unions, because his main support structures seems to come from anti-union forces. I can see Trump sitting down and working with unions. Paul would be horrible on climate change because he doesn’t believe it exists, and if it does, there is no Libertarian answer to climate change. I can see Trump, not owned by the Koch Konsortium, perhaps (maybe) doing something about climate change because, after all, shifting to clean energy is a huge business opportunity (but see this).
By the way, being both a Democrat and a Republican (which is true for Trump) is also a way of eating your own young.
One final thought: The most poetic version of a Trump candidacy would be having Ross Perot as Vice-Chairman. I mean, Vice President. If you understand why that would be poetic, then you probably get Trump. If not, think about it.