Reality TV star and real estate mogul Donald Trump’s performance at last week’s Republican Debate was widely panned by rank and file Republican strategists across the board. True to form, Trump’s diatribes were bombastic in nature and tended to skirt specifics in relation to substantive policy initiatives. Upon conclusion of the debate, virtually every major media outlet seized upon the opportunity to position the following exchange between Trump and Fox News moderator Megyn Kelly as the defining moment of the night:
KELLY: Your Twitter account has several disparaging comments about women’s looks. You once told a contestant on Celebrity Apprentice it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees. Does that sound to you like the temperament of a man we should elect as president, and how will you answer the charge from Hillary Clinton, who was likely to be the Democratic nominee, that you are part of the war on women?
TRUMP: I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct.
I’ve been challenged by so many people, and I don’t frankly have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time either. This country is in big trouble. We don’t win anymore. We lose to China. We lose to Mexico both in trade and at the border. We lose to everybody.
And frankly, what I say, and oftentimes it’s fun, it’s kidding. We have a good time. What I say is what I say. And honestly Megyn, if you don’t like it, I’m sorry. I’ve been very nice to you, although I could probably maybe not be, based on the way you have treated me. But I wouldn’t do that.
Immediately following the debate, Fox News aired the opinions of a focus group presented by Republican pollster Frank Luntz. The panel almost unanimously spurned Trump’s exchange with Kelly as well as his overall debate performance.
“The one thing that Trump did-he’s brought all the attention on himself. He sucked the wind out of the room and all he did was point at himself and have no solutions for anything”, said one participant. Luntz’s Partisan Republican panel also expressed concerns over the fact that Trump was the only Republican candidate on stage who would not commit to ruling out a run as a third-party candidate.
Early Friday morning, Trump responded to the criticism by deriding Kelly as well as Luntz in a series of Tweets:
“Frank Luntz is a low class slob who came to my office looking for consulting work and I had zero interest. Now he picks anti-Trump panels!”
In later follow-up media appearances, Trump continually referred to Luntz as a “slob” and a “clown.” On Monday, Trump showed no signs of slowing down when Business Insider reported that he said, “I watch this guy do a really negative report on me, and the only reason he did it, in my opinion, is because I didn’t want to hire him commercially.”
While criticism of Kelly, a generally insubstantial and apolitical pundit, may hurt Trump with Fox New’s typically low information voter audience, the dismissal of Luntz should be seen as alarming for policy driven Republican voters. Unlike Kelly-whose analysis often follows the hysteria driven format Fox viewers tend to embrace, Luntz has had a highly significant career in political science and engagement. In addition to serving as a pollster for former Presidential candidates Pat Buchanan, Ross Perot, and Newt Gingrich, Luntz’s research has been directly responsible for the messaging behind widely use terms like “death tax” and “climate change.” And while Luntz may be known for his contribution’s to the evolution of the modern right-wing lexicon, defenders of Israel on both sides of the political spectrum should be made aware of Luntz’s contributions toward shaping the messaging of Israeli advocacy in the mainstream media.
In 2009, Luntz was commissioned by the right-leaning Israeli advocacy group, The Israel Project, to put together a report designed to help pro-Israeli spokespersons use precise language designed to create more favorable outcomes with “persuadables” in regards to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the 18 chapter report, entitled “The Israel project’s 2009 Global Language Dictionary”, Luntz brilliantly constructs a framework from which any discussion of the conflict should take place. As a starting point, the report emphasizes the need to express empathy for victims of both sides and draw a sharp distinction between Hamas and the Palestinian people. And while much of the report continually stresses the need to engage political opponents in a compassionate but measurable way, some of more fascinating findings of Luntz’s research are actually revealed through raw statistics.
For example, when asked, “Which two of the following are the best reasons for the United States to stand with Israel?” voters chose “Israel is our most important ally in the Middle-East” (39%) and “Israel shares our values including freedom of speech, religion, press, and the right to vote” (33%). Incidentally, only 16% of voters chose “G-d gave the land to the Jews who had lived there for thousands of years” as a response. Luntz rightfully recognized this as a significant response and goes on to advise:
“Don’t talk about religion. Americans who see the bible as their sourcebook on foreign affairs are already supporters of Israel. Religious fundamentalists are Israel’s ‘Amen Choir’ and they make up approximately one-fourth of the American public and Israel’s strongest friends in the world.”
Other notable talking points suggested in the report that are regularly employed by current pro-Israel advocates:
- Avoid the use of Bush-era terms like “Islamo-fascism.” Use “Militant Islam” instead.
- In respect to Iran, use “prevention” as opposed to “preemption.”
- Stress the importance of Palestinian self-governance as Americans overwhelmingly support a two-state solution (78%).
- Identify Iran as the main provider of support to both Hamas and Hezbollah.
- Appeal to the global interest in keeping Iran non-nuclear. Emphasize that the whole world stands to gain from keeping Iran from attaining nuclear weapons.
The entire report can be read here:
Since publishing the 2009 report, Luntz has engaged in similar research periodically. Earlier this year he reported a series of findings that suggested Israel was losing the backing of Democratic elites and could no longer claim bi-partisan support in the United States. This alarming evidence, which came about as a result of Luntz’s extensive surveying, should raise a red flag for pro-Israel supporters in the age of the BDS movement. Pro-Israel voters must recognize the inherent danger implicit in the devaluation of major political consultant by an essentially fictitious Presidential candidate.
Questions remain as to how long it will take for the Republican establishment to dismantle Trump’s campaign but the end is a forgone conclusion. Expert statistician Nate Silver has correctly drawn a correlation between Trump and past outsider candidates like Hermain Cain and Michelle Bachman, both of who soared in the polls during the early election season but ultimately couldn’t sustain momentum beyond their initial base. Silver recently stated that he puts Trump’s chances of winning the GOP nomination at 2%. Republican voters should be cognizant of what public figures they are willing to watch get discarded in Trump’s scorched earth campaign. And more specifically, Pro-Israel Republican voters should be as strong in their defense of Frank Luntz as they are of apolitical entertainers like Megyn Kelly.