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Is Trump Playing 3-D Chess?

Is Trump Playing 3-D Chess?

Tackling that oft-asked question

It’s not a copout to say, “it depends on what you mean by 3-D chess.”

If you mean something so advanced and esoteric it’s the equivalent of Einstein’s Special Theory (in the political sense), I’d have to say “no.” But I don’t think that’s what it means. I find playing 3-D chess means having a good grasp of strategy and advanced gamesmanship while working on several levels at once.

I say that for several reasons. The first is how Trump beat the odds of getting elected in the first place. It confounded nearly all the pundits and prognosticators. He either did it through luck, chance, or skill; at the time it wasn’t obvious which it was (and it could have been a combination).

But a pattern began, and then that pattern kept repeating over time. One can only describe it this way: Trump does something that his enemies—and even some people who support him—criticize. There’s a big furor. The media reported that now he’s put his foot in his mouth and now he’s sunk himself for real. And yet, when the dust settles (and sometimes it settles rather quickly), we usually find that one or some or all of the following have occurred.

  • Trump didn’t say what they said he said.
  • His opponents do something in response to what he said that makes them look like the fools.
  • The public, in general responds by agreeing with Trump, which causes his polls to go up.

Strange, isn’t it, if he’s such a fool, that these things keep happening over and over and over? Can anyone have that much good luck? The pattern points to a different explanation, which is that he’s an excellent tactician and strategist who acts in ways that flummox people and tend to have a result ultimately favorable to him.

That doesn’t mean he’ll always win. Not everyone who plays 3-D chess wins, right? Trump could finally make that big misstep many keep predicting. He could lose the 2020 election even if he doesn’t make that slipup. With the entire MSM against him, often distorting his words in various ways, it’s amazing he has any approval. But either way, it appears that he’s playing an intelligent game, given the situation and given his own particular set of gifts.

What are those gifts? One is a specific gut-level intuition that has stood him well over a long life of negotiating and maneuvering. The other is his experience in the art of the deal: Knowing when to press, when to back off, the psychology of the other side, how to bob and weave to get to a goal. Trump’s been doing that sort of thing his entire life and wrote (with help, but the ideas were undoubtedly his) a book on it.

Most of his opponents don’t have that particular background. Most of them are skilled at politics as it’s usually played, but Trump doesn’t play that way. So he is more apt to confound them—and the pundits, too.

I’ll close with a passage from a recent article by Andrew C. McCarthy that sparked this post. Often I agree with McCarthy, and in this case, I agree with much of his material, but not this particular passage:

I don’t believe Trump is a master strategist who did this to force Speaker Pelosi and other mainstream Democrats, at their electoral peril, to embrace the radicals. That’s just the lemonade that Trump supporters are trying to make of the president’s never-ending supply of lemons.

But what degree of mental gymnastics would it take to imagine that forcing Pelosi to defend her radical flank was indeed Trump’s goal? Is that reasoning so twisted, so esoteric, so challenging to believe, knowing the man and his history? I think it’s a relatively obvious thing to do, particularly for someone like Trump who thinks along strategic lines. Trump supporters don’t have to strain very much to think of that explanation, plus in the past, an awful lot of Trump’s lemons have gone to make a pretty tasty and tangy beverage for those on the right to drink.

McCarthy adds something that is in some ways a lot more telling [emphasis mine]:

In any event, while it is beneath a president to carp in Trump’s juvenile way, I have less heartburn in principle with a president’s attacking radicalism than I do with a congresswoman’s claim that any criticism of her is an implicit criticism of immigrants, women, black people, etc.

McCarthy has a fascinating history regarding Trump, and it parallels that of a lot of people on the right. He didn’t like him to begin with and doesn’t like him now, and some of that is for stylistic reasons. But he has come to appreciate what Trump accomplishes, while still disliking what one might summarize as Trump’s style.

I don’t think the word “juvenile” actually applies here. Trump can sound somewhat juvenile at times, in the sense of issuing tweets that resemble schoolyard taunts. I don’t think the tweets under discussion here were one of those times, but let’s say for the sake of argument that they were. The question is whether they (or other tweets) reflect a juvenile mind and emotional makeup, or whether they are part of a decision Trump has made that this is an effective way for him to fight in the dirty and vicious game that is politics. I think it’s far more the latter.

Obama is a good contrast. He was strategic, too. But his overall style was to give at least the appearance of being lofty, intellectual, polished. Nevertheless he was more than willing to fight dirty, and he made no bones about it; after all, he’s the guy who said, “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun.”

No, politics are not beanbag. It’s a bitter fight, and although for the most part, the weapons are rhetorical (at least in this country, at least so far), they are meant to destroy. Each politician deals with the givens dictated by his or her personality and style. Obama appeared to many people to have that academic thing going; some perceive Trump as the loudmouthed wheeler-dealer. But I submit that, at least so far, Trump has proved to be a better chess master than his opponents.

[Neo is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at the new neo.]


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Honestly, I don’t think Trump does what he does intentionally. I think what he has are tremendous instincts that are perfect for our times. I think it also makes him Reaganesque in this regard. Reagan was a smart man himself, but he also had tremendous instincts.

I really hope Trump has caused the left to rush headlong toward a Thelma and Louise moment. We will know in about a year and a half.

OrJustThink | July 22, 2019 at 9:25 am

With only a few small details changed, this article could have been written by dems 8 years ago about Obama. Or 16 years ago about Bush by his supporters. Trump is only a different personality carrying out the same agenda as all the others. No more “genius” than any of his predecessors. The “bait and switch” tactics to keep US citizens focused on the wrong news article have been used too often, for too long, for Trump to claim as his.

    TrickyRicky in reply to OrJustThink. | July 22, 2019 at 9:47 am

    I heartily disagree that Trump is carrying out the same globalist, one world government agenda as all the others. He is simply not a member of that club, and he is giving hope to others around the world that don’t want to be serfs for the Bilderberg Group. See Hungary, Poland, and the resurgent nationalist sentiments in France and Germany.

Manyburgers | July 22, 2019 at 9:38 am

Second article this week on this topic.

We’ve reached a tipping point where Trump, warts and all, may be all that stands between what remains of America and her dissolution into hell.

    Eastwood Ravine in reply to DuxRedux. | July 22, 2019 at 4:40 pm

    I agree. The Democrats have pandered to their extreme activist supporters, moving their party further towards, if not firmly at, socialism. They next time they win and have both chambers of Congress and the White House, their wish list of ending private insurance and open unenforced borders, among other things, will be signed into law.

    It won’t matter how big a Senate majority they might have, the next senatorial tradition to be cast aside by the Democrats will be the legislative filibuster. Anybody with half a brain can see it. McConnell might as well be the one to do it himself, while a Republican occupies the White House.

JusticeDelivered | July 22, 2019 at 9:51 am

When Star Trek had a 3D chess set on the show I immediately built one for myself. I loved the game.

Then I discovered business, which was much more complex than 3D chess.

Clearly that is the game Trump is playing today, and he is very good at it, constantly treating the irrational left as pawns in his game.

I see him as a Lincoln, one who is bitterly despised by the ruling class as uncouth. Lincoln endured McClellan and then used the very uncouth Grant and Hooker to kick the coolest of the cool Lee’s rear flank…or was that middle? Whatever. He’s firing on the Red Coats walking down the lane and they are ticked cause ya ain’t supposed to do that.

“In any event, while it is beneath a president to carp in Trump’s juvenile way…”

Ah, the Mating Cry of the Lesser Punching Bag Republican, who believes it is somehow righteous and just to allow your despicable opponent to hit below the belt with brass knuckles, lie about your character, cheat at the voting booth, and all matters of terrible things, as long as you don’t dare to hit back.

Those days are long over. Punch ’em again, Trump.

    Barry in reply to georgfelis. | July 22, 2019 at 7:12 pm

    “Ah, the Mating Cry of the Lesser Punching Bag Republican…”


    We need to make those an endangered species. We have a long way to go. I believe we need an open season…

Yah that’s the ticket. A Never-Trumper ‘splaining to us why Trump isn’t ssmart enough to play 3-D chess.

Trump can sound somewhat juvenile at times, in the sense of issuing tweets that resemble schoolyard taunts.

He’s talking to whomever his audience is at the moment. When you talk to your dog, you don’t talk like Wm F Buckley, you talk in a language which will elicit the desired response from the dog. Remarkably, people who are nowhere near as clever as their mothers told them they were are still having trouble grasping this.

Poker, not chess. A more difficult game.

Ask the computer programmers who have tried to beat it.

pablo panadero | July 22, 2019 at 10:45 am

What Trump is doing is very simple logically, but difficult for both his supporters and opponents to comprehend. He recognizes that the Democratic agenda is based on inherent contradictions (i.e. open borders AND rapid expansion of the welfare state WILL NO cause a mad rush of illegal immigrants) and outright falsehoods (criticizing someone farther up the intersectionality chain is by definition racist). What Trump does is force the Democrats to confront these lies and contradictions publicly with each tweet. It backs them into a corner that the cannot extract themselves.

    OnPoint in reply to pablo panadero. | July 22, 2019 at 5:33 pm

    I very much agree with this. Is Trump gaming-out his moves twenty in advance? No, I don’t think so. He just smells BS, tweets it, and the Dems can’t help but defend whatever he’s just criticized, because Orange Man Bad. This drags whatever festering boil the Dems have been trying to hide (e.g. Omar) into the light and America rightly says, “That doesn’t work for me,” and Trump wins. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Not sure which game the President is playing with these unhinged, null-set, lefty tools, but it’s clear that they’re playing with nothing more than tiddlywinks.

“But what degree of mental gymnastics would it take to imagine that forcing Pelosi to defend her radical flank was indeed Trump’s goal? Is that reasoning so twisted, so esoteric, so challenging to believe, knowing the man and his history? I think it’s a relatively obvious thing to do, particularly for someone like Trump who thinks along strategic lines. Trump supporters don’t have to strain very much to think of that explanation, plus in the past, an awful lot of Trump’s lemons have gone to make a pretty tasty and tangy beverage for those on the right to drink.”

Interrupting the Dems Civil War and giving Pelosi a chance to defend the Democratic Derp Quartet against an off-the-cuff and factually incorrect attack, while being able to side step the issue of having to defend their radical insanity, is hardly “relatively obvious”.

As a business student back in the late 80s I bought The Art of the Deal because I thought I might learn something. I learned that Trump was no smarter than most people, confirmed by listening to him on Stern over the years. He desperately wants folks to think he is smarter than those around him and he suffers from a complex that makes him put everything into comparatives and superlatives that are mostly ridiculous. “No one’s ever seen anything like this; No president has ever…;etc.” That said, he’s not afraid of wading into controversy in order to get done what he thinks should be done. That is his strength, not a towering intellect. And, he’s not Hillary.

    Valerie in reply to Obie1. | July 22, 2019 at 3:14 pm

    DJT is quite intelligent. That is observable. He has a greater advantage than his intelligence, however, namely the way he has used his time over the last 70+ years.

    He’s a teetotaler, and he likes to read, including the news of the day and history. My theory is that DJT has lived maybe ten years more awake time than the vast majority of his peers. That is why he looks better, has more vigor, and has a better grasp of history.

    He has a good strategic mind, too, which looks better than it is, again because of his experience. He can spot the tactics of a situation and turn it to his advantage quickly, because he’s seen it, before.

    Add to all of this the pluperfect stupidity of the remnants of the Democrat Party, and he looks like a sparkling genius.

    You’re a perfect example of someone repelled by Trump because he talks to ordinary people not down at them. He doesn’t behave appropriately for his “class”/ wealth status. You also don’t see that it’s fantastic marketing. Your loss.

    Note that I couldn’t do it. I’m too fond of more decent if not perfect grammar.

Clearly, his and the GOPs implementation of open borders and zero border security was masterful. What a disappointment.

For better or worse, he appears to follow his instincts. That leads to the perception of a grand strategy. “Why would he have done or said that if there wasn’t a strategy behind it?” What matters at the end are the results. The odds are stacked against conservatives – maybe this is the only way.

When the media or the Democrats make a mistake, it is almost always with one direction: Anti Republican, or anti-America. When Trump makes a mistake (cough) the results, again, are in one direction.

When we are basing our choices on past results, the choice is getting more and more obvious.

I have a bigoted response to anybody from New York who is full of bravado and bluster… But the choice is now between a loudmouth uncouth NY caricature, and 31 flavors of slavery through Socialism. And the loudmouth gets the results I want.

I think of it this way: when an International Situation gets so bad I support sending in armed troops… Do I send in the polite squad, or do I accept that the guys at the point of the spear are a little crude in mixed company?

I can deal with crude; I just won’t hold a Politician up as a role model for the kids. This is the adult world he’s working in… Better him than me, God Speed you to Victory, Mr. Trump.

Close The Fed | July 22, 2019 at 2:04 pm

If you approach Trump’s outlook and statements from the standpoint of an American of 50 years ago, from the age when Americans loved America, he’s utterly understandable.

He loves America, thinks like that and acts like that. Soooo perplexing to those that don’t.

GlobalTrvlr | July 22, 2019 at 2:12 pm

Some of the first lessons in statistics are to recognize patterns, but not be fooled that correlation is causation, and to separate noise from real data.

In the case of Trump as described here, you cannot have 20-30 instances all turning out the same way and call it luck or random chance. With random chances they go both ways – randomly. As the author points out, nearly every time Trump does this, he gets the same results.

I also disagreed with McCarthy’s description. That was not even 2D chess to see that he was forcing Pelosi to them, and making them equivalent to the Dem party. He set it up a few days before by tut tutting about the Gang calling Pelosi a racist and clutching his pearls. I knew there was going to be another shoe drop in the next 48 hours.

There is a new sheriff in town, and it is not DJT. It is an educated and politically aware electorate. Both parties at the national level and Big Tech have taken aim at this sheriff, because it can control the actions of our government.

“Donald J. Trump didn’t create his supporters. They found him. They had been looking for someone like him to come along for decades. And here he was, in the flesh. He was here in their area. They were not going to miss this for the world. It wasn’t so much to hear a speech, in reality it was their chance to say thank you. They were there to express their appreciation to someone who had the courage to speak up and fight for things they had wanted for a very long time. “

BierceAmbrose | July 22, 2019 at 4:07 pm

Trump’s defining ability is a feral sense of navigatig through seams in superior forces, where their strength actually flips them. In real estatate development, the designated “owner” is the least powerful of the forces in play, and the first to get eaten.

A non-politician doesn’t “take over” an established party by playing force on force.

A minority-party candidate with tepid party backing doesn’t beat the ruthless heir-in-waiting to a multi-generational political machine by playing force on force.

A president with less than stellar approval, relentless media opposition, self-proclaimed legislative #resistance, and government-internal fifth-columns doesn’t stay out of jail, let alone get anything done, by playing force on force.

Along with his skills, I think it is the right moment for someone like him. Which pundit said it, more or less: “We tried the polite revolution, within the rules, with the tea party, n got smeared, stomped, IRS harassed and more. Well, now, we’re playing their way.”

Yeah, the crass opportunists are bugged that there’s a more crass better opportunist in the bame, who happens to have a “We win; they loose.” agenda.

/Moar Popcorn

The media reinforces the definition of insanity – expecting different results from the same action. This is great for MAGA and I’m continually appalled that the MSM is so stupid. They just can’t help themselves and Trump is taking total advantage of this.

President Trump is a follower of Sun Tzu: The Art of War. He doesn’t engage the enemy until the battle is already won, and he does this over and over. The enemy never sees what’s happening until far too late, if ever.

His seemingly casual tweets, complete with misspellings & faulty grammar, are carefully crafted & have the results of poisoning the media punchbowl. His opponents are still discussing his “idiocy” while spreading the poison that he’s enticed them to quaff!

He also has studied and mastered Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals, which the Left follows assiduously, but since Trump knows these tactics he can defeat them. Shades of Patton: “Rommel, you magnificent bastard, I read your book!”

The way he tied the entire Democrat party to the four farthest-Left, most insane & loudmouthed anti-American idiots, still fills me with wonder. He did it so easily, seemingly without any effort at all! Now Nancy Pelosi is forced to defend whatever madness comes from the Squad’s collective mouth, and has to defer to it, thus painting all Democrats into a corner and leaving them no way out!

The only thing I worry about now is the Margin of Fraud; the Dems have had years to prepare their dirty tricks, and CA is an example of what could happen: motor voter fraud, bundling votes fraud, counting fraud, etc. There is no way for a Republican to win any statewide office in CA anymore, and that’s what the Dems plan for the whole of America. That, plus the heavy hand of the Big Tech censors, really worries me; I do hope that Donald Trump is also working on that!

Oh how memories fade. Obama was marvelous, just fantastic, at defining his political opponents. Trump doesn’t trust other people to do the bad cop work for him, and he has to pay fewer people that way. However, Obama and Bill Clinton had plenty of highly qualified masters of the dark arts of sliming to define their opponents long before Election Day. It’s the moral outrage side – the “You can’t say that!!” side – that has blinded people to how this is 2d chess, they just think it’s so beyond the pale that it cannot be done on an ordinary chessboard.

I believe the last several Presidents out for re-election were quite busy defining their opponents during the summer in the year preceding the election. Were it not for a firm, persistent belief in Trump being an utter imbecile, people might remember such a fact. Alas, that is rarely the case.

There just might be a savory madness to Trump’s method:

“Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it. Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions. (This is cruel, but very effective. Direct, personalized criticism and ridicule works.)” ~ Saul Alinsky

The problem that people ace, when trying to analyze the intelligence of Donald Trump, is that they do not understand what he is. Donald trump is the current political equivalent of Mohammad Ali.

First, Trump dances around his opponent; dodging, ducking bobbing and weaving. Then, when he trows a punch, it is often a counter punch against an opponent who is over extended. He often goes to the body, to slow them down. Then he goes back to bobbing and weaving and lets them continue to tire themselves out throwing punches that either miss or an slipped. If cornered, he simply resorts to a political rope-a-dope. Then he punched back on the break. So, as the fight progresses, Trump ends up ahead on points, due to landing better punches and he wears out his opponent. Sound like a certain heavyweight fighter we know?

Trump is not a genius. He is a smart guy, or he wouldn’t have what he has today. He is not Moriarty or Machiavelli. He does not set his opponents up for the knockout blow. He takes advantage of their mistakes.

The other advantage, that Trump has, is that he is not playing the same game as the rest of the political world. And his goals are no the same as theirs. Where most politicians are working to benefit themselves financially or in exercisable power, that is not Trump’s objective. He is rich enough that he does not need money. As for exercisable power, Trump has never really shown any desire for that. He does enjoy attention. But he can get attention elsewhere. And he has. Trump seems to sincerely wish to salvage the US economy and make America great again. As long as he is moving toward this goal, he simple floats like a butterfly until he has to sting like a bee.

When PDJT is done with his eight year in office maybe he’ll tell us when he really decided to run. I don’t for one minute believe it was because that idiot elected before him had all those jokes.
He was asked years ago more than once if he was thinking of running for office. He’s a planner, I think he’s been planning and figuring out when the time was right. Search out his interview on oprah back in the 80’s. He’s much more politically sharp than anyone gives him credit.
He’s done too much for a rookie with no background. In appointing judges alone he’s way ahead of obama who was supposed to be so brilliant. He’s also wiped out regulations by the train load.
He didn’t run because obama embarrassed him at some press party though that may have helped spur him on a bit. He’s been looking and planning for a long time in my opinion.

On the other hand . . . one really doesn’t have to be thinking twenty moves ahead to play this game. All one has to be is honest, courageous and patient. When the Party isn’t wearing any clothes, someone has to have the courage to stand up and say the simple truth, that the Party isn’t wearing any clothes; needs to stick with it when the Party screeches that it is wearing clothes; and needs the endurance to not back down.

So in the latest excitement, Trump calls his D’rat attackers racists (or, more accurately, points out that they’re racists). And about time too. The D’rats are America’s racist party and have been since coming to national prominence circa 1800, and it’s long past time somebody with a big bullhorn said so. And says it repeatedly.

There’s nothing subtle or terribly crafty involved. And that may be why workaday Washington (a.k.a. The Swamp) just can’t figure it out.

It’s fascinating to think about Trump on day one of his presidency: he was figuring it all out. Lots of misteps, but not an ounce of timidity.

Trump really is a genius. And man, has he got it figured out.

BerettaTomcat | July 23, 2019 at 5:51 am

Trump is like a Hall of Fame athelete. He acts and reacts instinctively, and usually comes out the winner. He needs to stir the pot and get his enemies roiled so the say or behave stupidly, then Trump perceives the weakness and closes in for the kill and scores points. The worst thing his detractors could do is ignore him, but they can’t. And, Trump stood out in the Republican pack of 17 in 2016, because he was the only one, and is still the only one, willing to fight to save what’s left of this country. That alone buys him a lot of loyalty.

The only thing he’s “playing” is dems.

The smartest dems right now are the quiet ones.

Heard Patty Murray open her pie hole lately? NOPE. Not even in her homeless drug addicted capital of the west (Seattle) do you see her quoted.

Calling her smart is a leap, but that’s where the party is right now.