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.
Damn near the only think the USA presidency is "needed" for is the power of executive veto; there is also the power of executive mandate. Why the hell cannot the USA just get rid of the presidency, and have the USA citizens do the same job via super majority? Make voting mandatory, and have a super majority perform checks and balances to curb legislative and senatorial abuses and excesses.
Or in other words, finally see if democracy is a good idea.
Well, actually, the executive does more than that, because other than trying cases (the judiciary) the other two branches don't actually *do* anything. The president is the head of the executive branch.
Didn't George W. Bush do something like this? I remember Christine Todd Whitman trying to pin him down on his position on CO2 reduction, and she never could.
I listen to the first debate. I liked what Trump had to say. I also liked what some of the other candidates had to say. Then I slapped myself in the head and remembered , after 40 years of "voting experience" , that these other candidates are polititians ... and lie. Second debate. Trump was more reserved, probably analyzing the situation for the 3rd debate, allowing the other candidates to say some pretty good stuff. I liked what they had to say, then I again slapped myself in the head and said to myself "These people are politicians, .. they say good stuff and never follow though. They LIE. Won't be fooled again. As for voting .... I have no idea which member of the electoral college I am voting for, or if they have been paid off by lobbyists. Our vote is a token joke. elimination of the Electoral College and term limits will make our country great again!
Thanks Greg, that's a very interesting analysis, and as an outsider it's a useful way to look at the whole exercise.
There was a post somewhere about how Trump has a big popular advantage over all the other candidates because he's been on tv making decisions and acting "presidential" for the last couple of years... How does that factor in to his chance of becoming president? (I don't know enough about the US system to understand whether winning the Republican primary means anything more than a marker on the racetrack.)
Winning the primaries is almost like locking the gates on all the other horses in the race. In the general election, it basically becomes a two-horse race at that point.
Americans like things "simple". There's no rule, but the populace is culturally programmed to "only vote for whoever wins the primaries for the two biggest parties".
A notable exception to this was the 1992 general election, where Ross Perot, running as an independent, won 19% of the popular vote.
(However, as we learned in 2000, winning the popular election does not guarantee winning the electoral college votes, which are what determines the winner...)
The Taiwanese Animators' tutorial on the debate:
Sadly, tells you more about the state of American politics than you probably want to know...
This behaviour, as you've described it, seems similar to my experiences in working in our northern regions with First Nation and Inuit communities.
We needed a guide to work on their lands so we would coordinate our work with our guide. He'd listen to our plans, nod, say "yes", be agreeable, then when we went to implement he'd say "here's what I'm doing", which meant we'd change things at the last minute.
What we eventually learned was that he wasn't saying, "yes, I agree with you and your plans", but was saying, "yes, I am listening to you".
As an aside, we spent five spring to fall seasons in the north (four of them with First Nations, one with the Inuit), and it was a rewarding experience as they shared their way of thinking and their knowledge with us.
One of our guides wouldn't say a whole lot for most of the day, but then would open up at an evening campfire and just start telling stories, talking, and we'd sit like little campers listening and not wanting him to stop.
One of his missions in life was to teach the old ways to the young people because their parents had lost that connection when they were forced into residential schools, so they couldn't pass on the knowledge to their children. His parents hid him every time the agents came to the village so he avoided the school.
That man had a wealth of knowledge passed on to him by his parents, and that is where we first had an inkling of the kind of negative impacts those schools had had and still had on their life--so much knowledge was lost for so many, so many connections to the land, to their history, to each other, were broken. We just had so much respect for him, it bordered on awe (he apparently liked us too because in our final year of work he heard we were passing through via the helicopter landing pad so he "stole" a truck to come out and chat with us for ten minutes). A remarkable man.
If you close your eyes while listening to presidential hopeful Donald Trump, you can see...