How Donald Trump Used Lazy Voters to Win the Election and Why the Military Should Adopt the Same Strategy to Fight ISIS: A Mostly True Story
Part 1: Donald Trump and the Lazy Voter
Back against the wall with only months to go before the election, the Trump team was already coming up with ways to spin the imminent defeat. Pussy Gate, KKK endorsements, and in-fighting among top staffers were leading many to believe this was going to be one of the most lopsided presidential races in years. One for the dramatic, Candidate Trump used some last-ditch tactics from his time in the World Wrestling Entertainment to try to deflect attention away from what many considered a train wreck campaign. A man whose entire lifework was based on winning sure was starting to look like a loser. The Huffington Post’s election team famously put Donald Trump’s chances of winning at 2 percent1. Looking for a miracle, Trump reached out to the man he trusted most to salvage his election, his 35-year-old son-in-law Jared.
Jared, a real-estate tycoon in his own right, was given a seemingly impossible task, and that was to make one of America’s most unliked people President of the United States. Jared did what any son-in-law with hundreds of millions of dollars of campaign money would do, which was go to Silicon Valley and figure this problem out. The little known secret about Jared is that he has a younger brother who is quickly rising to the top of the global tech scene…more on him later.
While Jared was in Silicon Valley devising a plan, Trump and his Richard Nixon-era campaign advisor were hard at work sabotaging the campaign. In an effort to show his growing support from the black community, Trump, donning a camouflaged Make America Great Again hat, pointed out his “well behaved African American supporter.”2 Additionally, Trump was doubling down on his claim that the only people who come to the United States illegally from Mexico are rapists and thieves, but in the same breath noting that Mexicans were in fact Great People. All said, Trump appeared to be doing his best to alienate everyone except working white men.
Now in San Antonio, Jared was ready to brief his plan for victory to his boss and father-in-law. Not one for details, below are the executive talking points of the strategy:
In life there are networks. There are networks of people, systems, money…you name it. In this case, we need to focus on human networks. Human networks can be looked at in several different forms. These forms can include formal networks like work organizational charts or informal networks like social groups. No matter the network, there are nodes, connectors, and enablers. As a blank look covered the candidate’s face, Jared changed the message to what his father-in-law cared about most. To win, he said, we must focus on enablers. Think of a bell curve. On either end of the bell are the “diehards.” The 5 percent of a network that will vote for you, campaign for you, and talk you up. The opposite 5 percent end is true for your opponent. These people are NOT affected by target manipulation because they have already made up their mind. The middle of the bell curve is made up of the “sheep.” About 60 percent of the voting population doesn’t care about you or your opponent. These people probably won’t vote, and even if they did, we can’t target them because they don’t produce a truly swayable social network footprint. We must focus our effort on the 30 percent, which we have identified as vulnerable. These are the enablers who are going to define this election.
Traditional campaigning has focused on the sheep in targeting. Why wouldn’t they? They are the largest group, they have no sworn allegiance, and they are ripe for the picking. It was thought that whichever campaign could grab the largest share of middle voters would win. Campaigns would flood the airways with mostly negative ads that would be designed to both deter voters from one’s opponents and then bring them to their own team. This strategy attempts to achieve mass exposure when what should really be happening is microtargeting.
They had been looking at this all wrong; no matter how hard the Trump team tried they could not persuade people who don’t like Trump to like Trump. Additionally, they were not able to rally support from the undecided voters to their camp. They could however use the enabler model to target voters and dissuade them from coming to the polls at all. This strategy had never been done; find your opponent’s fringe supporters, precision target them, and win the election. Trump wanted to hear more.
Jared’s brother Josh, whose company has poached top talent from Google and Facebook, knew how digital social networks worked. Together, they came up with the following plan:
Step 1: Identify contested districts in battleground states like Ohio.
Step 2: Find the opponent’s enablers/lazy voters.
Step 3: Use social media dark posts to target opponents, and stop them from coming to the polls.
Step 4: Win the election.
Now the How. The brothers knew that this was a radical idea, and that if it didn’t work, not only would Trump lose miserably, he might not even win one battleground state. Jared mulled over the last two elections and identified about 200 counties in which the number of votes President Obama won by was less than the number of lazy Clinton voters that were registered in those counties. While Jared went county by county, his social network team went user by user to define the opponent’s enablers. The team did this by creating a database of 220 million people in which they dissected each one’s digital identity. For example, if you are a female, with 300 Facebook friends, your likes include: Whole Foods, Amnesty International, and the local no-kill animal shelter, education was at The Ohio State University, and you recently liked a video of a cat getting saved out of a tree, then you were likely identified as a Clinton enabler. Add a “like” of Hilary 2016, then you would be identified as a diehard and subsequently left alone. This database is not the unique part of the strategy, but how it was exploited is what makes it genius.3
Now that the brothers identified the Who, they subsequently shifted their attention to the What and How. The tech team knew how to manipulate Facebook dark posts. Unlike bulk ads, these are specifically targeted videos or posts that show up in someone’s news feed. The team recognized that three groups made up the opponent’s enablers: Young ex-Bernie Sanders supporting liberals, African Americans, and young women. These voting groups traditionally voted democrat, but for whatever reason would only vote in this election if they felt compelled.
While the Trump campaign focused on microtargeting, his opponent’s treated their enablers as sunk cost. This is a classic mistake, lumping one’s diehards and enablers in the same bucket. This is a mistake because diehards are not swayable in their vote where enablers are. Because of this, the Clinton team spent the preponderance of their time and resources on persuading the middle 60 percent to vote for her. Additionally, Clinton and her team, in an effort to “win big”, spent an oddly large amount of time campaigning in democratic strongholds such as New York and California. Trump knew this was Clinton’s strategy and instead of trying to counter it, he chalked certain areas up to losses and hardly campaigned in those places at all.
What the Texas based team found was that of the three groups of enablers, all had different triggers that would send them to, or more importantly keep them from, the polls. The team found that young women would only vote for Clinton if they felt that it was a close election and the candidate needed their votes to win. The ex-Bernie supporting liberals could be kept from the polls if they felt Clinton was part of the establishment, and “no different” from Trump. Finally, African American voters could be kept from the polls if they felt Clinton was racist. Regarding young women voters, in the approximately 200 counties that the Trump team identified as swayable, they used Facebook dark posts to flood enabler news feeds with articles declaring victory for Clinton and highlighting news outlets, such as the Huffington Post’s predictions of Clinton winning in a landslide. This conditioning, they thought, would keep all the lazy voters at home and away from the polls. Next, for the ex-Bernie Sanders supporting liberals, the Trump team used microtargeting to flood the enablers’ Facebook feeds with Clinton’s Wikileaks emails and reports of how Clinton, as Secretary of State, purposely depressed Haiti’s minimum wage to raise money for the Clinton Foundation. This, they thought, would portray Clinton as a money hungry insider and thus leaving the ex-Sanders supporters without a candidate with whom to align. For the African American voters it was a little trickier. The question was: how do we make Clinton look racist? The team dug up an old video clip from 1996 where Clinton said the phrase "They are often the kinds of kids that are called 'super-predators.” Knowing this statement alone was not racist, the Trump team produced a cartoon entitled “Hillary thinks Blacks are Super Predators,” and imbedded the audio sound bite to play over the cartoon. This cartoon was published in African American voters’ news feeds in swing counties. A great deal of the money set aside for social media was focused on these ads, to these enablers, in these counties.4,5
The results of the election were nothing less than shocking. As polling places began to report, and swing states were calling the election early for Trump, mass hysteria began to fill the faces of the enablers but nothing could be done. They had been duped, and it was because a few people knew how to manipulate social media to identify enablers, and precision target them.
Part 2: ISIS’s Number Problem
There is a large disparity among sources regarding the number of ISIS fighters around the globe. Mostly concentrated in Iraq and Syria, this dangerous terror group has bled into many other countries including Libya, Afghanistan and Egypt. All told, the landmass that this group claims as their caliphate currently contains about 240,000 square miles. This causes a clear logistical problem. Even with the most liberal estimates, there are 80,000 ISIS fighters controlling this massive area, or one ISIS fighter for every three square miles. ISIS is able to hold this land for the same reason Clinton thought she was going to be able to hold traditional democratic counties—enablers.6,7
Just as voter networks can be broken down into Diehards, Enablers, and Sheep, community networks can be broken down into the same groups. To better illustrate this phenomenon, see the example below:
Idia, a small fictitious Syrian town has a population of 10,000 people. Idia knows that it is on the path of an impending ISIS takeover. Of the town’s 10,000 residents, 5 percent are pro-ISIS, and warn the entire town to get in line and prepare for their new ISIS leaders. On the other end of the spectrum lies the 5 percent of the town that are in opposition. This 5 percent is arming up, and developing a counter attack to the ISIS fighters. The 60 percent in the middle don’t want any trouble and will fall in line with whoever is in charge. Finally, the enablers are the 15 percent on either side of the curve that the extreme 5 percent rely on to further their goals and often take for granted. If an ISIS offensive came into this scenario, with no outside manipulation, they would tip the center of gravity to the Pro-ISIS 5 percent, their enablers, and ultimately the middle 60 percent, thus overmatching the town. This simplistic scenario shows how a few ISIS fighters can rely on enablers and take over a town with little opposition. What it also demonstrates is if the United States were to target enablers effectively, rather than the traditional target of ISIS fighters, the power could sway in the other direction.
It is important to understand the difference of enablers and what the intelligence community often refers to as facilitators. A facilitator is a member of the terrorist organization who allows the terror group’s operations to take place. An example of a facilitator is a bomb manufacturer. Enablers on the other hand are group sympathizers who give the terror group the opportunity to succeed. Enablers can be many things—hospital managers, water purifiers, electricians, taxi drivers, etc. The one thing they have in common is that they are sympathetic to one group or another, and they provide skills or resources needed by the occupying force. Without these enablers, not only would the extreme group be unable to sustain growth, but they would be severely limited in gaining any new ground at all.
What the Trump team accomplished was impressive, and not just applicable to the political battlefield. Think back to the list the Trump Team used to win the election and tailor it the fight against ISIS:
Step 1: Identify contested towns in battleground countries like Iraq
Step 2: Find the ISIS’s enablers
Step 3: Use social media and other means to target them to supporting ISIS
Step 3a: Kill remaining ISIS
Step 4: Win the war
If this seems like an oversimplification of a concept, it is. However, this strategy should be considered alongside others to wage a non-traditional war against a non-traditional enemy. Almost 60 percent of the Middle East is on the Internet, with about half of them on Facebook.8 The United States should use this information during both preparation of the battlefield and execution of battle. Different from Clinton’s enablers, ISIS enablers perform physical and sustained efforts to allow the terror group to hold ground. For instance, if the identified ISIS enabler is a builder, then after the terror group takes over the town, that builder will continue to work for and more importantly in lieu of actual ISIS members. This would give the relatively small number of ISIS fighters a disproportionate amount of control relative to size. That is why identifying and ultimately neutralizing ISIS enablers should be one of the approaches taken by the United States against this adversary.
Also unlike the election, the ISIS enablers may need more than social media dark posts to influence them to abandon support for the terror group. For instance, if through social network analysis (SNA) it is determined that a vulnerable town’s Police Chief was likely an ISIS enabler, dark posts may not outweigh social influence elsewhere. In these cases, other measures may be necessary, including but not limited to: Social Media-led coups to overthrow the police chief, human influence of town leaders to fire the police chief prior to an ISIS take over, or kinetic events to force network sculpting thus leaving an opposition enabler in the vacant role. In any of these scenarios, a full understanding of not only the town’s formal and informal networks is necessary, but also a true knowledge of enabler groups.
Much like the database built by the Trump team, a database must be built in ISIS-vulnerable countries. While this would be a big undertaking, we must remember that the Trump team’s American only database had the digital ID of about 220 million people. Trump’s database was done by a relatively small number of skilled people. Also like the Trump campaign, the United States should solicit social network data miners not just to identify and target ISIS members, but more importantly potential ISIS enablers. For reasons already laid out, the enablers are the key to victory, and the United States would be wise to target them preemptively before a full occupation takes place. For when that happens, less lethal options to neutralize enablers and actors become much scarcer. It is also recommended that the United States and their allies focus a preponderance of SNA money on highly skilled people, in vulnerable places rather than more, less skilled, individuals across greater areas.
This is a daunting task, but a winnable one. The power vacuum produced after the ousting of Saddam Hussein, the death of dictators like Muammar Gaddafi, and the Arab Spring, are only now being realized. This is a different kind of enemy requiring a smarter strategy if the United States wants to achieve a clear victory. Candidate Trump and his team found a different way to address an old problem, and subsequently left a blueprint for the world to tailor in their fight against ISIS.
On Election Day, Candidate Trump, after receiving a concession from his opponent, said to an audience of his supporters “Sorry to keep you waiting, complicated business…complicated.” He may not have realized it at the time, but that phrase would perfectly capture the complex war that he inherited and should ultimately win. Relentless study and preparation, network mapping, and micro-targeting enablers could win the war against ISIS.
* While not completely verifiable, account is based on open source reporting, compelling journalistic accounts, and strong circumstantial evidence.