Is Donald Trump playing a deep game?

Much energy and effort has been spent, not least by me, in trying to understand the Donald Trump phenomenon, what he stands for and why so many people are attracted to him. You would think that all possible theories would have been exhausted by now but I came across this article by Bobby Azarian, a cognitive neuroscientist at George Mason University, that sheds a possible new light on his motivations and methods.

Azarian suggests that Trump only pretends to hold his current views and his old, more liberal views are the clue to his strategy.

There is no doubt that the old Donald Trump sounds like a run-of-the-mill liberal. He was even registered as a Democrat in 2001 and remained that way for years. It’s really hard to imagine that someone like Trump, who is so utterly confident in everything he says and does, would do a complete 180 on such major issues. So if we are to assume that he hasn’t truly changed his beliefs in such a drastic manner, why might he be pretending that he did?

One thing we know about Donald Trump is that he loves to win. He does not at all try to hide this fact either. Trump was probably smart enough to know that if he wanted to have any sort of serious shot at becoming president in a short amount of time, he wouldn’t be able to do it as a democrat. This is because the average democrat tends to be well educated, and their judgment—relatively speaking at least—is based on rationality and reason. Conservatives, on the other hand, take pride in the fact that they often act according to gut instinct, and not measured, logical reasoning. And since their ideology is fundamentally opposed to change of any type, they live in a constant state of fear, which makes them easier to be manipulated. Trump likely knew that if he had any chance of becoming a party’s nominee, it would have to be as a republican. He could get conservatives riled up with emotionally charged rhetoric that played to some of their biggest fears.

Another possible reason why Trump has made such unapologetically bigoted statements could be because they are outrageous enough to take the focus away from his liberal past. His strategy may have been to come out as so right wing that his previous left-leaning positions would not become the main story, and that certainly seems to be pretty much what has happened. To most Americans, Trump is the guy who wants to ban Muslims and keep out immigrants—not the man who used to be pro-choice and a vocal supporter of the Clintons.

Azarian is not the first to suggest that Trump is just pretending to hold many of the views he has been expressing on the campaign trail. But he seems to have put in a lot of thought into the reasons why Trump might be doing this. Is Azarian correct? Is Trump really that shrewd to consciously pull off such a scheme? Who knows? But I thought the article was interesting enough to pass on.


  1. Nick Gotts says

    I’m doubtful if Donald Trump has any convictions aside from the greatness of Donald Trump. His previous liberal positions could well have been just as phoney as his religious pandering (for one thing) certainly is. I’m not so convinced with regard to the bigotry: someone who was genuinely anti-bigot would be extremely reluctant to stir up bigotry as Trump has done. So I think the most likely hypothesis is that he adopts whatever political positions he thinks will most benefit Donald Trump to appear to have.

  2. Holms says

    So, faking it to pander to the zero thought crowd to feed his giant ego? This doesn’t differ very much from the prevailing theory, except for adding the element of fakery. My thinking is that the simpler explanation is that he simply came to believe the years of flattery; it is after all very well documented that he has just the most astonishing levels of narcissism.

  3. hyphenman says


    Since last August I’ve followed the unlikely analysis of Donald Trump by Scott Adams. Yes, the guy who draws Dilbert.

    This week he posted a compilation of his posts from 5 August of last year.

    I know the list is long and dismissing him as “just a cartoonist” is easy to do, but I would encourage anyone to give him a fair read and then consider how they feel when they’re finished.


  4. Hank Tholstrup says

    Sad that today’s ‘conservatives’ are assumed to be non-reasoning and mainly gut-influenced types. Time was when conservatives could reason just as soundly as liberal or progressive types. You could actually HAVE an interesting debate. In England, classic conservatives like Edmund Burke, Disraeli; in the US, Lincoln was a Republican (amazes me every time!), Eisenhower used his brains when he spoke. etc etc Maybe the rot started with pervasive electronic media?!

  5. Numenaster says

    @hyphenman, I’ve read Scott Adams’ words on Trump before (probably right after he originally wrote them). He strikes me as being overly impressed with Trump’s reputation as a deal maker and with Trump’s alleged sales ability and business sense, ignoring the multiple bankruptcies and the fact that Trump would have more money now if he’d just invested his inheritance in index funds. He claims that Trump is telling us honestly what he thinks, without addressing the contradictions between Trump’s statements in the past and his statements now. And Adams wrote that Trump believes in and supports social freedom, a position he had to walk back a bit after the candidate began really stoking xenophobia in his stump speeches. I think Scott Adams is impressed with Trump’s persuasion skills because they work on Scott Adams, and he’s making the lazy assumption that he himself is the measure of a typical American. He is not.

  6. Rob Grigjanis says

    There’s nothing deep about a cunning egotistical man-child seeing opportunity for (what he sees as) glory in exploiting the modern conservative politics of fear, spite and scapegoating. No thought or policy required. Just finding the right words and tone to strike a chord with the eternal 25% idiot demographic. The mindless horse-race-obsessed media (hi, Wolf Blitzer) is guaranteed to hang on his every carefully chosen, and utterly empty, word.

  7. Nick Gotts says

    I think Scott Adams is impressed with Trump’s persuasion skills because they work on Scott Adams, and he’s making the lazy assumption that he himself is the measure of a typical American. -- Numenaster@6

    No, I think Scott Adams’s lazy assumption is that he’s a supergenius, so if he’s persuaded by Trump, naturally everyone else will be too.

  8. says

    So by Azarian’s hypothesis, when SecretGenius!Trump was incessantly demanding Obama’s birth certificate, what was his hidden agenda? Was Trump currying favor with wingnuts by just pretending to be a buffoon? To what, gain extremist loony cred in preparation for his future candidacy?

  9. machintelligence says

    Robin Lionheare@9 What was his hidden agenda? Obviously it was to eliminate Ted Cruz from the race for the Republican nomination! He is playing a very very deep game. 😉
    Or possibly he is succeeding in punking a majority of the Republican electorate. If he gets the nomination, and for his acceptance speech announces: “You might remember that I am an actor as well as a real estate developer. This last year I have been acting like the meanest most bigoted SOB I could conceive of — and you folks lapped it up! What is wrong with you?” They will know that they have been had.

  10. Jim B says

    Trump benefited from having an over-stuffed roster of candidates. Early on Trump wasn’t really doing all that well, then he started saying really outrageous things. Fine. That won him only about 25% of the R voters, but because there were so many in the race, he was the clear leader. The aura of being winner acts like gravity, drawing in ambivalent voters, increasing his winner aura. People love to back a winner so they can be on the winning team and tell everyone else “I told you so!”

  11. Michael Ball says

    The image on the screen is not the reality behind the stage. Theatrics are being employed so that both parties can reign in their carnival shows and engage in more pragmatic dialogue.

    Voters keep voting for the clowns, so Trump gave them a clown to vote for. That does not mean he intends to play the same foolish characture once in the office.

    I think it is time that both parties put down their clowns and act like adults. I hope that Mr. Trump realizes that the time for pandering is over, and that the time to talk business is at hand and he needs to deal with the real players not the loud mouthed facades of the parties.

    I dislike the image Trump has cast during this election season as little as the next progressive voter, but Donald in the office and Donald on the campaign trail are not guaranteed to be the same person any more than Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton represent the overall majority of their respective parties.

    I have a feeling that there is going to be a deeper game played by the real cores of each party, and that maybe both the neoliberal and neoconservative clowns have seen the end of their times in the front and center of the stage.

  12. says

    An angle from a Brit. Just suppose the newly elected President is not really what the mainstream media paint him to be and he is just acting like a chamelion. Just suppose that he makes many decisions in his first few weeks in office that make him hugely unpopular in the face of the media. He will be the only hot topic. Just suppose one day he decides to make a nationwide broadcast. Everyone will watch intently on every word he says. Behind the scenes all the mainstream media organisations are put in a lock down as a military coup takes place. During his defining speech he explains to a stunned American audience what really happened on 911 and who the real perpetrators and master minds of this heinous crime are backed up by high ranking military staffers and evidence. He will state how America had been taken over by a neo con plot that reached into all parts of the judiciary, federal, congress, intelligence agencies et al. etc and that the perpetrators had a globalist agenda to enslave America. As he speaks the military of which he has a 70% backing move to take down this cabal of eletists. Some will escape as the list will run into the thousands. Just suppose………
    Good luck America and i hope you and this President does the right thing and tries these truly evil people for crimes against humanity. Amen

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