Thursday, August 4, 2016

Donald Trump and the Andy Kaufman/Tony Clifton problem revisited

As Donald Trump's poll numbers continue to slide, along with his odds in the betting markets, it is time to revisit the reference I keep making:  Andy Kaufman and Tony Clifton.

Tony Clifton was a caricature of a lounge singer, created by comedian/performance artist, Andy Kaufman, and performed alternately by Kaufman and Bob Zmuda.  That way, Kaufman could occasionally appear next to Clifton, and deny that Clifton was fictional.  Clifton was created as a terrible singer, convinced of his own greatness, who would antagonize the audience, with the joke being the audience's reaction to his arrogance and antagonistic behavior.  Here's a clip of Clifton antagonizing an audience member for the crowd's amusement.

When I started comparing Trump to Clifton, it was in the context of how the media should treat him (Trump).  How do you interview a man who is essentially an actor who never breaks character?

Recent events, particularly with the Khan family, show the Republican Party in a panic.  The polls show the Clinton campaign gaining, with the RealClearPolitics average putting her up by 5.9%, significantly higher than before, and reflective of both recent events and the growing trend of Republicans turning publicly away from Trump.  PredictWise currently gives HRC a 77% of winning in November.

We haven't seen this before.  The Trump campaign is a disaster of the kind that social science needs because in order to understand the value of normal candidates and campaigning, we need to see what happens with an awful candidate and an awful campaign.  Trump is an awful candidate, running an awful campaign, and he is doing it because he cannot stop himself.

Clifton was a character.  If Trump's public persona were an act, he would stop by now.  He can't.

Now, a reminder.  Trump can still win.  An economic downturn, a terrorist attack, or something like that, and Trump becomes president.  There are no certainties.  But, Trump isn't acting.  This isn't strategy.  There is no plan.  Trump isn't Kaufman.  He really is Clifton.

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