The Canadian Gambit (Trump Persuasion Series) - Dilbert Blog

The Canadian Gambit (Trump Persuasion Series)

I have to start by saying I love Canadians. If I have one complaint about our good friends to the north, it is their annoying tendency to politely offer me stuff with no strings attached. I find that off-putting. And it’s a slippery slope to free healthcare. In my experience, most Canadians are polite to a fault. But some, I assume, are good people. My point is that there is nothing wrong with being a Canadian. 

Now let us begin.

Yesterday, right on schedule for Iowa, Donald Trump gave Ted Cruz a big, sticky helping of Canadian face paint in the form of this Linguistic Kill Shot:

“Do we want a candidate who could be tied up in court for two years?”

Trump was referring to Cruz being born in Canada to an American mother and a Cuban dad. The legal experts say Cruz qualifies as “natural born,” for reasons you can see here on Snopes.

So let’s break down Trump’s kill shot and see how well-engineered it is.

Regular readers of this blog might recognize that Trump used what I have been calling the High Ground Maneuver. This involves elevating a discussion from the weeds (where everyone disagrees) to a higher point where everyone agrees.

I gave an example of the High Ground Maneuver from the Clinton/Dole presidential election. Clinton elevated the discussion from the weeds of supply side economics (where everyone disagreed on its value) to the high ground, by saying it was “risky” to make such a big change when things were relatively good with the economy. It was a complete kill shot. (He had good advisors.)

Likewise, Trump elevated the discussion of Cruz’ eligibility for the job of president to the question of whether the country could afford having a president in perpetual legal battles over something like this. Does anyone want to risk another eight years of wondering whether the President of the United States is American? It sounds like the worst waste of time you could imagine. And the hilarious part is that Trump helped create the problem he wants the country to avoid. As a bonus, it reminds you of Bill Clinton’s perpetual impeachment battles and how much people hated the entire government then.

I have also told you that the High Ground Maneuver works every time, in my experience. Most of the methods of persuasion have a statistical power, in the sense that they can move some people some of the time. But the High Ground Maneuver takes the wheels off the car. It ends debates that you thought couldn’t be ended. And that’s what happened here, but it will take some time for the public to realize it.

Ted Cruz (who is as smart as they come) quickly released a response that was nothing but a video clip involving the old TV show Happy Days and a famous scene in which Fonzi literally “jumps a shark” while on water skis. TV critics say that was the day the TV show went from a national icon to ridiculous. And since that day, the term “jumping the shark” has meant that someone has stopped being relevant.

By way of context, Dilbert readers have accused me of jumping the shark every week since about 1994. Logically, no more than one of those readers has been correct. "Jumping the shark” is used so often in the media world that it has become the equivalent of a Hitler analogy.

So how’d the defense work?

In the field of persuasion, the ranking of power looks like this:

1. Identity always beats analogy.

2. Analogy always beats reason.

Trump spoke to our identity as Americans. Cruz spoke to an analogy of a TV show. Neither appealed to reason. Cruz wants to end this conversation, not engage in it. He can’t get into the weeds of his legal status without drawing more attention to it. And Trump already had the high ground by saying it could be a huge distraction as president. If you are Cruz, what do you do?

What you do is settle for a shark-jumping analogy and hope the world is paying attention to something else this week. Because that’s the only move available to you. 

But what about the stink of being Canadian? Does that count for anything on the subconscious level?


If I read the mood of the American public correctly, you can be slightly Canadian and happily hold any job in the United States for which you are qualified. Except President.

Democrats probably don’t care that Canada’s dirt was located between baby Cruz and the center of the earth for a short period of time around the date of his birth. But Republican voters are not in the mood to settle for a president that is 99.9999% American in their minds

So yes, I believe the taint of being a CanadaMaybean (pronounced Cah-NAY-dah-MAY-be-an) will be enough to cap Cruz’ rise.

Prediction: Cruz is off the short list for Trump VP. The Master Persuader filter says Trump would not elevate this issue if he wanted Cruz to later be part of the ticket. And this won’t rinse off.

The Master Persuader filter works best when you are looking at large numbers of voters and longer time frames. With small, brief, squirrelly affairs such as Iowa, the filter has less predictive power. If I were clever, I would make no predictions about Iowa. But this is just for entertainment, so I’ll predict that Trump squeaks out a narrow victory in Iowa before running the table and going on to a landslide in the general.

I hope you noticed how I set myself up for a win no matter which way it goes. If Trump wins Iowa, I have another accurate prediction. If he does not, I have already told you it would be consistent with the filter’s predictive limitations.

Don’t hate it. Learn from it.

And if missing this prediction makes you talk about how I finally missed one, you will be reinforcing the idea of my uncanny powers of prediction while refuting them.

Welcome to the 3D world of persuasion.

I am also officially calling The Turn. Under the Master Persuader filter, I expected the media to slowly wake up to the realization that Lucky Hitler has real skills. All Trump had to do was successfully escape the inescapable fifty times in a row to get people’s attention. If you have a minute, watch this clip from Morning Joe, where he tells the audience that Trump’s method is all in The Art of the Deal.

From this day on, the media will talk about Trump’s skills in negotiating and persuading, because to do otherwise will make you look dumb. The Lucky Hitler meme is on life support.

Update: I forgot to mention that I don’t endorse Trump or anyone else. I am not smart enough to know who would do the best job as president. I am focusing on Trump’s persuasion skills.

If you like the topic of persuasion, you would enjoy my latest book and the discussion of Moist Robots. People tell me it is changing their lives in big ways.