Many of us still remember that epic battle called the “Rumble in the Jungle”. It pitted the young, mighty George Foreman against Muhammed Ali, the larger-than-life human being who was clearly on the downside of a brilliant career. Ali was still a man of controversy on two counts. First, he had converted to Islam and more importantly, he had used that conversion to take a religious stance against joining the army at the height of the Viet Nam war. That non-negotiable position cost Ali the period in his life when his ring skills were at their highest pitch. He was forced to vacate his title and the many bouts that never happened at an incalculable cost to him in terms of purses and endorsements.

Kinshasa, Zaire was alive with anticipation that October night in 1974. While Ali was clearly the sentimental favorite, most analysts predicted his complete destruction at the hands of the seemingly invincible George Foreman. After all, Foreman had soundly thrashed both Joe Frazier and Ken Norton who were the only men who up to that moment had beaten Ali. It was a bleak outlook for Ali. But no one had considered Ali’s craftiness.

In an earlier fight between Foreman and Joe Frazier, Foreman knocked Frazier down six times. When he went to a neutral corner so the count could begin, Foreman draped his arms along the top rope, a gesture not lost on Ali when Ali watched the tapes of the fight. According to one account when Ali saw that he said, “No stamina. Wait till he hears round six, round seven, round eight.” Months later, Ali would knock out Foreman in the eighth round.

So how did Ali do it? He simply goaded Foreman into a slug fest with Foreman throwing all of the leather. He pounded Ali for eight rounds as Ali performed his now-famous “Rope-a-Dope”, an easy target for Foreman with Ali using the ropes for support while his arms formed a shield against Foreman’s blows. The enormity of the onslaught is best described in the astonishing punch count by Foreman. They totaled 462 with a per-round average of 59, a barrage more emblematic of lightweights than heavyweights. Foreman was spent and when Ali chose to strike back in round eight, it took only a couple of well-placed punches to put the exhausted Foreman to the canvas for good.

So what’s the lesson and why should we care in 2017? It is relevant because the Trump Republicans and a few of the main-stream Republicans have adopted the Rope-a-Dope tactic brilliantly. They may not be aware of it but it is effective and working just like it did for Ali in Zaire. Since early in the primary season Trump has goaded his opponents both in the Republican primary and most assuredly the Democrats in the general election to attack him in ways and for reasons for which they were woefully ill-prepared. The non-Trumpians were ready to take on opponents in matters of policy through civil discourse but were simply not equipped to engage in combat on a personal level by a policy-free opponent who simply called them names. That combative style which proved so successful in the primaries was carried forward during the fall election with Trump toying with his opponent using nicknames like “crooked Hillary” and promises to put her in jail. Throughout the election cycle he would provide plenty of reasons for his more powerful opponents to clumsily attack while he leaned against the ropes and covered up.  He simply doubled down on or simply ignored their assaults while Republican primary opponents and later Hillary and the Democrats tried flailing away at someone on a personal level, an unfamiliar tactic, rather than engage in a policy discussion for which they were better trained and fully competent. It was a contest between a savvy street brawler and an Ivy-league debate team. And since most voters understand the language of the street, they could easily relate to Mr. Trump and his style. He was one of them.

The Democrats continue to be suckered into the Trump rope-a-dope strategy as he continues to goad them into a never-ending onslaught over his known character flaws. And in doing so, Mr. Trump dominates the terms of the fight and in the end, the fight itself. They hit Trump with everything they have including spending huge sums of money on weak or little known candidates in the hope of gaining control of Congress. Lots of wasted energy; lots of wasted money all of which not only weakens them and their cause but it saps their resources to the point of making them vulnerable to a full-out retaliatory attack by Mr. Trump whenever he feels ready to strike back. The whole scenario has been beautifully orchestrated by Trump. He wants Democrats to attack him personally. He knows they are not very good at it but more importantly they do so at the expense of playing to their own strength, policy and the public good. Does anyone know what the Democrats stand for other than their visceral and easily understood hatred of Mr. Trump? What is the Democrat position on tax reform? What are their ideas on ways to improve the ACA? How should we approach issues like immigration? How can we best deal with the random slaughter at the hands of gun-toting lunatics in streets and places of worship across the land? Simply being against the Trump is not a policy. A policy is a policy and any party without clear policy stances on key issues is on its face a party unworthy to lead the nation.

We all know that Donald Trump is a troubled soul with limited abilities and yet the Democrats keep pounding on that theme in ways that for some make Trump appear like a victim while leaving his detractors open to various forms of criticism including piling on and fake news. Instead of attacking the Republican tax proposals or their endless fantasies with Obamacare, the Democrats have chosen to go the Trump route of character assassination, a skill that they are not very good at and even if they were, whatever they say, whatever attacks they mount are so obvious that they get few points by undecided voters across the political spectrum. In the end voters are not interested in things candidates don’t like; they want to know what candidates do like and that is what will bring them to the voting booths from Augusta, Maine to San Diego, California.

Governing and law-making is about policy and everything the Trump crowd has proposed is flawed in so many ways and can be best countered with a thoughtful, better policy on all issues with the overriding purpose of creating a more perfect union, establishing justice, insuring domestic tranquility, providing for the common defense, promoting the general welfare and securing the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. It’s that stuff in the Preamble to the United States Constitution, a document that Mr. Trump has probably never read since it has no pictures.

The Democrats and others who are appalled at the specter of Mr. Trump need to go after his weaknesses and attack him on policy issues. He doesn’t know how to do policy and his unwillingness to read and pay attention to details will expose endless reasons to end his reign. His depth of understanding comes at us in random, middle-of-another-sleepless-night, 140-character increments. But stop attacking him on issues of character because he wants you to do that. He’s good at that not only because it back-burners discussion about actual policy but he knows that there is not a detractor on this planet that doesn’t have a character flaw or two of their own just waiting to be exposed in a media-driven food fight.

The Democrats seem to hope that their everyday pounding of Trump will bring victory in 2018 and beyond. It won’t and because Democrats will wear themselves out trying, they will be vulnerable to a few well-placed counter punches. Democrats may not see it coming but round eight is approaching faster than they think!


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