Negative Advocates for Trump
© 2016 Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.
One of the most interesting dynamics of high conflict legal and workplace disputes is the unique role of “negative advocates.” High conflict people (HCPs) are always recruiting negative advocates who will completely agree with their thinking, have equally-intense emotions against their “targets of blame” and will totally defend their negative behavior. They need these negative advocates to make them seem more reasonable, because the negative advocates generally have more credibility and do not appear (on the surface) to be as extreme as the HCP. Negative advocates are usually emotionally hooked, but uninformed, and passionately defend the HCP--unless they become informed.
We see this in high conflict family court cases, when an HCP brings their whole family to every court hearing. Most litigants don’t feel that they need to bring such a strong showing, as the facts of the case should get all the attention regardless of who is present. Surprisingly, if things start going sour for the HCP at court, their entourage often stops showing up, such as when the judge is expected to make findings and orders against an HCP.
However, in one of my most extreme cases, an HCP brought her whole family (at least 6 people) to the hearings, including when the court ordered $10,000 in sanctions against her for making false allegations of abuse. Then her negative advocates started yelling at the judge (perhaps trying to demonstrate how well she had been raised), then they had to be ordered to leave the courtroom. (Over time, some negative advocates often show that they are also HCPs.)
On the other hand, many others abandon ship when they see that their “poor victim” is actually the perpetrator. It’s not unusual in a court case involving a HCP that they go through several negative advocates and keep trying to recruit more. Sometimes lawyers are negative advocates, then they get fired when they resist going too far. Often, it is only family members who are left and still willing to continue defending their HCP (although some family members get out as soon as they can). Ivanka’s introduction to her father’s acceptance speech was a classic negative advocate’s whitewash of an HCP.
While there have been many high-conflict politicians throughout history, Donald Trump’s candidacy has been particularly good at demonstrating the principles of negative advocates for HCPs: Recruiting, making use of, then abandoning or being dispensed. Here’s a few examples:
Recruiting: Much of this is done through seduction. Take, for example, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who did poorly in the Presidential Primary against Trump. But his friendship goes back a long way and he was one of the first to jump on the Trump bandwagon—with expectations of being rewarded down the road. Over and over again, you can see him defending and justifying Trump’s behavior, while looking bedraggled and defeated when he turned out to be a water boy rather than a Vice Presidential nominee.
Another good example is Megyn Kelly herself. Even after he blasted her and skipped a debate allegedly because of her, she really wanted to reconnect with him and let herself be charmed back into his favor. Charm is one of the strongest emotions of HCPs and there are many people who yearn to be in an HCP’s favor (until they learn about these patterns). Loving people is one of the strongest ways to recruit negative advocates, and Trump calls his rallies lovefests. Most candidates aren’t looking for love. They’re looking for people who agree with them and will vote for them. But Trump wants love and says he will love you back (but it’s not really about you).
Using: One of the striking things about the Trump candidacy is how his family has appeared in force behind him at so many speaking events over the past year. Few candidates have relied so heavily on family members—especially family members who are not known to be politicians. Instead, it reminds me of the family court families which show up as a clump, as if showing you how many people love him will convince you that their HCP is really smart and competent at politics. (Can you imagine a brain surgeon showing up at the operating table with family members to prove his or her competency?)
Most politicians try to surround themselves with other successful politicians, rather than relying so heavily on their families. The Republican Convention has demonstrated this point exactly: Where are the successful politicians who can attest to Trump’s depth of knowledge of policy and breadth of political skills? Many of the most successful ones are boycotting this convention, such as former Presidents and Presidential Candidates. Could it be that he HAS TO rely on friends (Christie) and family (many of them speakers at the Convention) who are negative advocates, because those who are informed want nothing to do with him?
Abandoning ship: At some point most negative advocates who aren’t family members (and some who are) abandon ship or get thrown under a bus. In a striking example last week, Tony Schwartz, the ghostwriter for Trump’s book The Art of the Deal, says he regrets writing the book and now would title a different book about Trump The Sociopath. He tells the story of a classic negative advocate: he was seduced, spent a year and a half with Trump, felt uncomfortable with a lot of what he saw but stayed true to his HCP and continued his advocacy by writing a great book for him. It made millions of dollars for both of them, but he realized he sold out to do so. Trump could not have written this book without him, as Schwartz says Trump didn’t write a single word of it. A classic negative advocate who gave Trump credibility he wouldn’t otherwise have had. Now that Schwartz is speaking out, Trump’s lawyer has sent him a threatening letter demanding that he stop speaking out and give Trump all of the money he made from the book. Gee, thanks for all your help.
Dispensing with: Also last week, when Melania Trump, Donald’s wife, had her great moment at the Republican Convention Monday night, some of her comments were clearly plagiarized from Michelle Obama’s speech at the 2008 Democratic Convention. At first, most of the campaign’s negative advocates predictably said she did nothing wrong, as negative advocates repeatedly do—even in the face of a reality that everyone else can see. (It’s usually quite embarrassing to watch how predictable negative advocates can be.) Paul Manafort, the campaign manager, said there was no problem and that Hillary Clinton created the whole issue. Then, the campaign went through four different explanations, at least, as more reasonable people admitted it was a problem.
Then, Corey Lewandowski, the former campaign manager through most of Trump’s successful primary season said: “Whoever wrote the speech should be made accountable and fired.” Sounds reasonable, and others said the same thing. However, Lewandowski—a loyal and aggressive negative advocate for Trump—had been pushed out of the Trump camp after having conflicts with Paul Manafort, the professional campaign manager. In thanks for all his hard work, Donald Trump Jr. publically said Lewandowski was “bitter” and “I’m not going to allow nonsense to be perpetuated because someone’s looking to get on TV for a few minutes.” That’s the thanks you get for your incredible year of service.
If you’re not familiar with this pattern of recruiting, using and then abandoning ship or dispensing with negative advocates, just watch the next three months of campaigning. And in your personal and work life: Don’t be a negative advocate. There’s too many HCPs around who would love to seduce you.
Bill Eddy is a lawyer, therapist, and mediator. He is the co-founder and Training Director of the High Conflict Institute, a training and consultation firm that trains professionals to deal with high-conflict people and situations. He is the author of several books and methods for handling high conflict personalities and high conflict disputes with the most difficult people.