The Trump Revolution: where he is; where he needs to be

The Christie Endorsement

Governor Christie endorsed Donald Trump on Feb 26, 2016. A political revolution is well under way. That comes as no surprise when we consider that the American election process is a revolution every four years. Revolution has been institutionalized. Some folks are better at this than others. Enter Donald Trump.

Donald Trump is a revolutionary. He is capturing the Republican Party and the party does not know what to do. The party missed the first sign when Trump fired a shot across the bow of Senator John McCain. From that moment, every move that Trump has made follows revolutionary theory, as I understand it.

Revolutionary Theory

During the period 1974-1980, I led a team which developed an original framework for analyzing political revolutionary warfare. The framework combined the research of two individuals that few have heard of, Roger Darling and Tom Grassey. A detailed discussion of their work waits for another day. Here is the short version.

Roger Darling

In 1974, Roger Darling, dissatisfied with the direction of United States policy in Vietnam, published  “A New Conceptual Scheme for Analyzing Counterinsurgency,” in The Military Review, the house publication of the United States Army’s Command and General Staff College.

Darling provided a qualitative framework for analyzing revolution in an era when quantitative analysis prevailed. Darling’s framework included specific processes and dynamics that all successful revolutionaries follow. Darling later acknowledged an language distinction between insurgency and revolution and corrected himself with a republication of his work in 1976 under the title “Revolution Examined Anew,” again in The Military Review.

Tom Grassey 

In 1976, Tom Grassey, now Dr. Tom Grassey, Captain USN, retired, and former editor of the Navy War College Review published “Some Perspectives on Revolution” in the Review. Grassey’s significant contribution was that he defined the groups in a revolutionary situation—leaders, activists, nonparticipants (the populace), bureaucracy, government in power—and the ways in which those groups behaved.

Grassey, expanding on Darling’s work, unlocked the door to a holistic understanding of revolution, one that exceeded the sum of its individual parts. Donald Trump, so far, appears to have that holistic understanding and is in the process of conducting a revolution. The question is can he accomplish the tasks still before him? We begin with the primaries.

Dynamic of Social Political Participation

Darling identified two processes that combine to produce a dynamic to consolidate power. In politics that dynamic is the primaries.

A causal process defines the specific economic, social, and political factors that motivate leaders and give the revolution a reason to move forward. It helps if the revolutionary leader is charismatic and can carry the day with inspiring rhetoric. The rhetoric does not have to be true; it simply has to be believed as true. A simple slogan, such as making America great again, provides motivation and generates support.

All competitors must be eliminated and that is accomplished through an intimidation process. In revolution, that process is brutal—incarceration, exile, execution. It politics it is equally brutal, but the weapons are words and actions, not violence.

And here is the important point that Trump, alone, has grasped. The combination of cause and intimidation, a dynamic of social political participation, is aimed at those who would oppose the revolution in its formative stages. Yes, there is an ultimate foe, the government in a revolution, or the other party in an election. The ultimate foe can be acknowledged but the emphasis and focus must be on primary opponents.

Republican candidates who thought Clinton was the primary target for their rhetoric missed the point. Trump had no illusions. He knew who the enemy in the primaries was and he systematically went after all of them. He has reduced the opposition to just four individuals after only four state primaries. That task is unfinished.

Trump must now accomplish two things if he is going to emerge the standard bearer. First, he must eliminate the remaining four candidates. In revolutions opponents usually just disappear. The American political process has a different approach; opponents are co-opted.

And that is Trump’s second challenge. He must enlist all former foes in a united front as the party moves forward to the next stage of the revolutionary process. All former foes must sign up or be relegated to oblivion, not to be heard from again in this election. Governor Christie is the first to bend a knee.

Revolutionary Resource Dynamic

Once the consolidation of power is total then resources must be harnessed, a revolutionary resource dynamic according to Darling. Grassey provided clarification by identifying active participants as a key group in a revolution. In American politics these are the national committees, in Trump’s case the Republican National Committee (RNC).

So far, Trump has relied heavily on his own resources. He has also mesmerized the media so that he generates publicity and coverage simply be being there or saying something. His dominance is such that he can say things without regard to the consequences. That is a powerful position, one that gives the dangerous illusion of invulnerability.

The media and the Republican Party are assuming he will over-step and self-destruct. Trump is betting he is smart enough not to do that.

Whatever the case, Trump’s next necessary step is to harness the RNC to do his bidding, without qualification. Despite its best intentions the RNC may end up harnessed despite itself. The convention will tell whether or not the Republicans enter the final campaign united.

And united the Republicans must be. Trump knows that. The RNC knows that. They just don’t want to unite behind Trump, yet. However, successful revolutions are united when it comes time to directly challenge the opponent.

Grassey made a very important point about this direct challenge. Revolutionaries get themselves organized not to win, but to give the opponent every opportunity to lose. In revolution, cities fall before they have to be taken. In politics the opposition self-destructs.

Conventional wisdom is that the Republican Party, itself, will self-destruct. Trump’s only route to power requires the opposite to happen. Can Trump accomplish that, RNC in tow?

Collective Psychological Strategy

Darling used the term collective psychological strategy to describe the outcome of a successful revolution. To run the table, to get the other side to lose, Trump has to deal directly with the opposition, whoever the Democrats nominate, to win in November by taking the case to the people

Grassey defined the people as the non-participants, the ones who actually make the decision. Revolutions succeed or fail based on a compliant population. No one at this point knows how compliant the population is for a Trump victory.

But every politician knows what the final step is. No one should be surprised when Trump runs to the center, as he must.

In sum

So, there we have it. Trump has so far been successful in intimidating all foes. He must complete that process and then enlist former foes to support him. Christie has led the way. Who is next? Then he must harness the GOP writ large, specifically the RNC. Finally, he must run to the center in a way that causes his opponent to lose.

There is a cautionary note to Governor Christie and others who would support Trump. A successful revolutionary will cast aside anyone no longer useful. What has been heard lately from Sarah Palin?