Why the Khans matter — they’re how you win an election

I’ve heard from people concerned that we’re spending too much time talking about the Khans. I disagree, and here’s why.

As you’ll recall, Khizr Khan and his wife Ghazala spoke at the Democatic Convention to pay homage to their son, U.S. Army Capt. Humayun Khan, who died at the age of 27, during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004. During the speech, Mr. Khan, who is Muslim, criticized Donald Trump’s hateful comments about Muslims, and suggested that Trump had never read the US Constitution.

Some of our readers felt that by continuing to report this story, we were giving hate too powerful a megaphone, and further energizing Trump’s intolerant base.

Others worry that we’re getting off-topic; that the controversy is preventing us from discussing other more important reasons Donald Trump shouldn’t be president, such as the Supreme Court.

You don’t always get what you want

I’ve spent much of my career as a crisis communications specialist — usually on the side of creating crises, whether for politicians or business. And one thing I’ve learned over the years is that you don’t always get to pick and choose which issue is going to work against your opponent.

Dan Choi, second from left, one of the many times he handcuffed himself to the White House fence in order to protest the DADT policy.

Dan Choi, second from left, one of the many times he handcuffed himself to the White House fence in order to protest the DADT policy.

I’ve had a large number of issues I’ve worked on go viral over the years. And many were campaigns I’d chosen to work on before they went viral — meaning, for example, I had first decided to push President Obama on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and marriage equality, and only later did I find the right levers to push to help the story go viral, and ultimately pressure the President.

Finding those levers, those pressure points, those perfect stories to engage the media, enrage the grassroots, and psych out your target, was a day-by-day process, rather than something we had plotted months, or even weeks, in advance.

It’s a common problem with online advocacy. It can be difficult to get someone to finance your work, when you can’t 100% spell out the details of the project beforehand. I, for example, am looking for funding to take on Donald Trump over the next three months. But it’s difficult to explain in advance exactly what issues I would hit Trump on, and in what manner I’d hit him. For example, would I solely pen cutting blog posts to help shape the media narrative (and what would I write about?), or would my campaign also include publishing a parody of the Trump White House Web site (and I do mean white), with a Russian-language version (that accepts donations in rubles) and a swimsuit competition for the next Supreme Court justice?

It’s difficult to know in advance what I’d write about, or what parody sites I might create, because no one can predict which issue is going to hit the public and the media just right in order to go super-viral.

Khizr Khan, with his wife Ghazala, talk at the 2016 Democratic Convention about their son U.S. Army Capt. Humayun Khan, who died in 2004 in a car bomb in Iraq at the age of 28.

Khizr Khan, with his wife Ghazala, talk at the 2016 Democratic Convention about their son U.S. Army Capt. Humayun Khan, who died in 2004 in a car bomb in Iraq at the age of 28.

For example, no one could have predicted that the Russians, and then the Khans, would have been the two big issues of the past month, or that the Khans (Muslim-Americans, no less) appear to have caused Trump the most damage yet of this campaign cycle.

And while a good advocacy campaign can attempt to make particular issues go viral, often times a good advocate jumps on an unanticipated issue just as it’s cresting and learns to ride, and feed, the viral wave.

That is to say, you can’t always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need.

(This is also why it’s important to try a lot of different approaches, and jump on a lot of different issues, to see which will ultimately draw political blood — then you really pounce on that one fertile issue.)

And this leads us into another response to those who feel these scandals are all silly-season. Even the silliest of scandals can bring a bully down. Now, I happen to think the Khan issue isn’t silly by any means. Trump’s mistreatment of this family goes to the core of who he is as a human being generally, and an American in particular. But even if it didn’t, it’s causing him political pain, and that is electoral gold.

But one critic suggested that 35% of Republicans will support Trump no matter what he says or does, so these kind of embarrassing issues don’t help us — or at least, they don’t truly hurt Trump. In fact, I think they do hurt him, and help us.

1. Trump energizes the Democratic base.

The recent, and incessant, outbursts from Donald Trump have now solidified Hillary’s support among Democrats more than they’ve shored up Trump’s base.

There this from Gallup:

Along party lines, 81 percent of Democrats and those who lean Democratic — and 8 percent of Republicans and GOP leaners — said they were more likely to back Clinton after the Democratic convention. But only 73 percent of Republicans and leaners — and just 2 percent of Democrats — are more likely to vote for Trump coming out of the Republican convention.

A more energized base gives more money (see below), volunteers, and more generally talks the candidate up, which helps influence others. They also vote, which is no small matter in a country where half the population doesn’t.

2. Good GOPers, Indies and Berners are more likely to support Hillary.

Related to point 1 above, in addition to energizing the pre-existing base, Trump’s growing list of outrages also tends to push more Bernie voters, independents, and reasonable-Republicans further away from Trump, and closer to Hillary.

And even if many anti-Trump Republicans, like Ana Navaro, say they will never vote for Hillary either, they’re still traditionally-Republican votes that Trump has now lost. And they’re publicly expressing concerns about Trump, which only helps reinforce his negatives to I voters. All of this hurts Trump’s chances in November.

3. This can lead to more donations for Hillary, and fewer for Trump.

The more emphatically Democrats, and others, support Hillary, the more money comes rolling in. And the opposite is true for Trump — the more scandal, the more denouncements from traditional Republicans, the fewer Trump’s donations, especially from traditionally-large Republican donors, like the Koch brothers, who Trump recently snubbed.

4. Stealing the news cycle.

Every time Trump messes up, he steals his own news cycle away from what he’d planned. We spent the first two days of the Republican convention talking about Melania Trump’s plagiarism, rather than whatever issues Trump had devoted those first two days to (what were they anyway, Benghazi and something?) That’s a loss for Trump, and a gain for Hillary. There are fewer than 100 days between now and the election, so every day’s news cycle matters, increasingly so as the election nears. And rather than spending each day talking about some viciously-effective new attack Trump has made against Hillary, we’re spending it debating how much Trump hates the troops. Talk about dispiriting Republicans!

5. Psychological warfare.

There’s also a psychological element to all of this. To win this election, Trump and his staff (and his followers) need to believe that they can win. And the more Hillary supporters take advantage of these scandals, the more the media talks about these scandals, and the more Trump himself responds to these scandals in the most abysmal way possible, the more people around him are going to become pessimistic about his chances. To paraphrase something I heard on TV a while back: The man who thinks he’s going to lose usually finds a way to make it happen.

What matters is winning

The thing is, short of doing anything illegal, immoral or unethical, I don’t really care how I win, so long as I win. I don’t care if the way we beat Trump is by discussing the Khans rather than talking about the importance of the next few Supreme Court vacancies. What matters to me is winning; what matters to me is defeating Donald Trump. No issue is too silly or too off-topic if it works.

Every choice an advocate makes should be judged by whether or not it helps achieve your objective.


Full stop.

Now who wants to help me take on Trump over the next three months?

And if you’d like to support my work, please donate here – thanks!

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis 

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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24 Responses to “Why the Khans matter — they’re how you win an election”

  1. Alliebsimmons1 says:

    <<b:t. ★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★:::::::!!bc577a:….,

  2. navyvet50 says:

    Your party is controlled by racists, warmongers, antigay bigots, misogynists and union busters. You are a BIG FAT LIAR. you just described the Rethug Party. Bye we are done ….BLOCKED.

  3. I don’t nominate anti-gay bigots, or any other others you mention. Hillary and Obama and Bill Clinton have been the most pro-gay presidents and nominees in US history, and not just in a relative sense — each has done historic things for our community when it required them really sticking their neck out political for us. So I categorically reject your assertion. I’m also not a pacifist, so I have no problem with their views on foreign policy.

  4. Bill_Perdue says:

    Your party is controlled by racists, warmongers, antigay bigots, misogynists and union busters. They’re incapable of being reformed. But if that’s your preferred milieux be my guest.

    Democrats and Republicans and not open to reform. “A new scientific study from Princeton researcher Martin Gilens and Northwestern researcher Benjamin I. Page has finally put some science behind the recently popular argument that the United States isn’t a democracy any more. And they’ve found that in fact, America is basically an oligarchy.
    Comparing the preferences of the average American at the 50th percentile of income to what those Americans at the 90th percentile preferred, as well as the opinions of major lobbying or business groups, the researchers found out that the government followed the directives set forth by the latter two much more often. It’s beyond alarming.

    As Gilens and Page write, ‘the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.’ In other words, their statistics say your opinion literally does not matter.” http://mic.com/articles/87719/princeton-concludes-what-kind-of-government-america-really-has-and-it-s-not-a-democracy

    ”The government we have is not a democracy. It’s nowhere close. Instead, a corruption in the very idea of a representative democracy has rendered our nation almost ungovernable. We have entered the age of the “vetocracy,” as political theorist Francis Fukuyama puts it, where very small numbers in America can block almost any sensible change. – Gridlock happens not because Americans want it. Gridlock happens because it pays — for that tiny minority.http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/lawrence-lessig-america-not-democracy-article-1.2374820

  5. navyvet50 says:

    Then work to make the Democratic Party more progressive or just stand on the sidelines and cry and whine.

  6. Bill_Perdue says:

    Socialist Action, but really there are lots of leftist and labor left parties emerging and as the radicalization deepens they’ll begin to merge.

    Here’s their program.

    Vote Socialist Action in 2016! Jeff MACKLER/Karen SCHRAUFNAGEL for U.S. President/VP

    What socialists stand for
    End military spending. Not a penny for war.
    •U.S. out of the Middle East
    •No to U.S. overt and covert wars, drone wars, oil wars, privatized death squad wars.
    •Self-determination for Puerto Rico. Fight against US imposed austerity in Puerto Rico. Abolish Puerto Rico’s debt to U.S. banks and speculating hedge funds.
    •Self-determination for Palestine and U.S. hands off the Cuban Revolution.

    Save the environment
    Immediate conversion to 100% renewable power: sun, wind, geothermal and micro-hydro! Keep all fossil fuels in the ground
    •100% tax on all fossil fuel corporations. Zero profits for the polluters.

    Jobs for all at top union wages
    •Shorten the work week by 25 percent with no cut in pay so that everyone can work and enjoy more free time. Modern technology should benefit the 99 percent not the boss class one percent.
    •Create a massive public works program to provide jobs at top union wages through building homes, converting to 100% renewable power, expanding mass public transportation, constructing hospitals, parks, schools, and other social necessities. Priority should be given to projects where they are most needed—especially in Black and Latino communities.
    •Raise all pensions, Social Security benefits, unemployment and disability compensation, welfare, and veteran’s benefits to top union wage scales and protect them with cost-of-living escalator provisions.
    •For $15 and a union now as a first short step on the road to a much higher minimum wage to sustain a quality standard of living.

    Quality health care, education and housing for all as basic rights
    •Close down the profit-gauging “healthcare” insurance companies and establish a single-payer system in rapid transition to a universal and free national system, that is, socialized medicine.
    •Free quality public education at all levels from the cradle to the grave.
    •Establish and expand rent-control to combat the mass-displacement of poor and oppressed communities through gentrification and begin massive government funding to repair, modernize, and build homes – starting where need is greatest.

    End the racist, slave labor for profit prison-industrial complex supported by Hillary Clintons campaign bundlers http://aravosis.wpengine.com/2015/07/private-prison-lobbyists-hillary-clinton.html
    •End the racist school-to-prison pipeline.
    •Prosecute and jail killer cops
    •Decriminalize all drugs. Take the profit out of drug trafficking. Rapidly empty the prisons while immediately organizing quality, humane rehabilitation facilities to rebuild ruined lives.
    •For Black and Latino-organized control of Black and Latino communities.

    Immediate amnesty, legalization and equal rights for all immigrants.
    •End all deportations now
    •Repeal all anti-immigrant legislation.

    Abolish racist, sexist and homophobic discriminatory laws and practices
    •Equal pay for equal work.
    •Affirmative action with quotas to remedy past discrimination and prevent future discrimination.
    •To assure economic independence for women, government-financed, free 24-hour child-care centers and maternity leave with full pay. Guarantee the right of every mother to raise a healthy child.
    •End violence against women and the LGBTQI community.
    •Repeal the Hyde Amendment. Free unrestricted abortion on demand. Reproductive justice now. End coercive contraception projects targeting low income women and women in prison. End the criminalization of pregnant women.

    Defend civil liberties – Abolish the “national security” state
    •End all government surveillance. Abolish the National Security Administration and all other secret and repressive government spy agencies.
    •Repeal the Patriot Act and all other anti-democratic legislation.
    •End all restrictions on the right to organize, assemble, and protest.
    •Stop the persecution of all whistle blowers like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden!

    For a democratically-planned socialist economy where the banks, basic industries and all natural resources are the collective property of working people – the 99 percent – and democratically operated for human betterment not the individual profits of the one percent
    •Tax the rich and their corporations, not working people! End corporate bailouts
    •Close all tax loopholes for the rich. Nationalize all illegally “offshored” corporate profits.
    •100% tax on all incomes over $300,000. Zero percent tax on all incomes under $50,000.
    Vote Socialist Action for a worker’s government and a fully democratic society of, by and for working people and the oppressed

  7. navyvet50 says:

    Then who do you support…Green Party? Libertarian Party?

  8. Bill_Perdue says:

    It’s you Democrats and your Republican brothers and sisters who don’t care. Thats why you both nominated long time racists, union busters, antigay bigots and warmongers. It’s your political funeral.

    A victory by HRH Trump or HRH HRC won’t help working women, many of them single heads of households, who don’t get a decent minimum wage. They’re the enemies of working women. HRH HRC and HRH Trump don’t care, they’re both filthy rich and I do mean filthy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_lYgmen7f5c

    A victory by HRH Trump or HRH HRC won’t help the mothers of people of color
    murdered by cops. Their racist remarks encourage cops to kill.

    A victory by HRH Trump or HRH HRC won’t help the tens of thousands of civilians
    in Palestine, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan
    murdered by Democrat and Republican
    regimes. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fgcd1ghag5Y
    You and your Republicvan brothers and sisters are incapable of fixing anything.

  9. navyvet50 says:

    Like you care about any of those groups. You lie. If Hillary wins workers, people of color, women, the LGBT communities, and immigrants will win. Fixed that for you bagger.

  10. Bill_Perdue says:

    You Democrats and your Republican brothers and sisters have zero understanding of what workers need and want or where you’re going to end up.
    Sayonara, Whig

  11. Stanley_Krute says:

    What is amazing about you, Bill, is that you have no understanding of how supremely lacking you are in political discernment. Dog catcher would be far above your electoral abilities.

    Dunning-Kruger is as rampant on the loony left as on the rabid right.

  12. shirleyamccranie says:

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  13. emjayay says:

    No, Khan was viscious! Viscious! Viscious!

  14. With Hillary LGBT won’t lose. Immigrants won’t. Women won’t. Doubt POC will either, or workers. With trump they will.

  15. Buford says:

    Folks need to be reminded that Khan did not ‘attack’ Trump at the DNC… thus, Trump is not justified when he claims to be responding to Khan… even if Trump’s response had been mature and civil (which it wasn’t).

    Khan, himself, was at the DNC responding to Trump’s attacks on all Muslims in the US. Trump started this fight… and Khan fought back. Trump’s continuing to engage is simply petty narcissism.

  16. BeccaM says:

    To edge toward the scatalogical, if you fling a bucket of shit and it happens to really stick, first of all, you don’t go looking for a different type or consistency of shit to throw. Secondly, you don’t step away to give the flingee time and breathing space to clean himself off.

    Sure, many of us thought the Supreme Court would be a good angle to push, and among certain Democrats and independents, it’s a compelling argument. “Do you want Trump or Clinton replacing Scalia? And how about if or when Ginsberg and Kennedy, who are both very old, how about them — who do you want replacing them?” Trouble is, this requires a couple steps in thought and analysis. It’s too abstract.

    The Khans were perfect because their situation is both intensely relate-able and exceedingly simple. Their Bronze Star son died in combat, helping to protect his men. They are also this-generation immigrants from the UAE, thus precisely the kind of people from exactly the place Trump wants to ban immigration. Mr. and Mrs. Khan heaped shame and disdain on Trump, which is itself guaranteed already to get under his skin. Simplicity is key.

    In truth also, Ghazala Khan’s silence on that DNC stage proved to be more effective in the longer run than Khizr Khan’s angry remonstration. Why? Because Trump seized what he thought was an opening, saying Mrs. Khan wasn’t allowed to speak due to fundamentalist Islamic practices — giving HER the opening to respond by saying it was because her grief was so profound, she COULDN’T speak in public about her son. That’s called twisting the knife.

    In other words, an unwitting news cycle extending trap was set, and Trump walked right into it. Hell, he lunged headlong into it. Because his narcissism is so profound, he cannot ignore even the least criticism.

    Trump even went so far as to say Mr. Khan had no right to say the things he did, apparently forgetting entirely about this little thing called the First Amendment.

    Let’s be honest here: Clinton is no doubt highly qualified to be President, but she’s far from an ideal candidate. Ignoring the false (in my opinion) accusations and characterizations of her and her husband, the plain fact is there’s a lot of negative impression out there about her. It’s just there. Had the Republicans managed to find and nominate an actually competent mainstream-ish presidential candidate, I would be very, very worried about losing the election.

    Mind, I’m still worried about losing the election, but only because Trump is so blatantly unqualified, unfit, and utterly lacking in the temperament necessary to be this country’s President. He’s a mentally ill monster, and it’s not hidden. These are among the several powerful advantages against him, including the additional fact his campaign is a joke. They can’t seem to formulate talking points at all, and even if they did, Trump truly cannot control himself or his impulses. He’s vulnerable and rather manipulable, and it would be intensely foolish to ignore the opportunities.

    If making the point that Clinton would be a good or great President isn’t sufficiently effective to win, then fine, absolutely we should go with how huge a disaster it would be for the country and possibly the world to give Trump the nuclear launch codes. “Fine, you don’t like or possibly even hate Clinton, but Trump is a monster” is a perfectly fair angle to work if that’s what it takes. After all, when is the last time a major party’s own leaders denounced their candidate’s behavior and statements not just once but repeatedly?

    Absolutely, John: As long as we remain ethical and moral, I really don’t care how Trump is defeated in November. Even better if he is shattered and broken — and the Republicans taught a lesson — so that this never, ever happens again. Make fun of Trump’s hair or hands if that’ll get under his skin. Question his patriotism and motives. Cast doubt on whether he’s actually completely broke and not worth billions at all if it’ll make him lash out. Whatever it takes.

  17. Bill_Perdue says:

    It’s going to be a hamfisted slugfest and at the end, no matter who wins, workers, people of color, women, the LGBT communities, immigrants will lose.

  18. Houndentenor says:

    How could you have imagined that??? You would never say something like that to begin with but if somehow you had in the moment said something that was so hurtful, you’d have apologized and gotten it behind you as quickly as possible. Attacking the mom of a dead soldier? And then doubling down on it? No, you couldn’t have predicted that because you actually have decency and ethics.

    At the moment I’m trying to figure out how to financially get by without one of my regular gigs because there are so many angry Trump supporters there and I really don’t want to have to hear from them. Also if somehow Trump wins I don’t think it will be livable in the red states for much longer. The only reason they aren’t worse hellholes than they are already is that the courts still uphold some rights for citizens. If Trump gets to appoint 2-3 Scalia wannabes it’s going to be a real hellhole in most of the country pretty quickly.

  19. And who could have imagined that Trump would respond the way he did? I mean, he’s nuts, I get that. But he still surprises me with just how bad of judgment he has, every time he missteps on this kind of thing. I mean, attacking the mom — even for Trump, I didn’t expect THAT.

  20. But I don’t think it’s dirty. And I’m not sure I’ve ever won “dirty.”

  21. Houndentenor says:

    When this first broke I thought it was a one day story tops. I was wrong. I admit it.

    What I hadn’t anticipated is that the mom would fire back. That was a huge oversight on my part. I confess I had not considered the mom factor. It crosses all cultures and ethnicities and all time and even across species. You do not fuck with the mother protecting her child. Ever. Doing so unleashes the most core instincts of our species and there is no natural power stronger than that.

    Now they are claiming that the dad has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood? This is Trump. He always doubles down. No wonder he’s had four bankruptcies.

  22. UncleBucky says:

    WINNING. That’s all we must be about. WINNING.

    If indeed we have to win dirty, as in the way of Roger Stone, sobeit.

    WIN. No other alternatives.

  23. Thank you, it’s fixed now. And thank you!!

  24. barbarajmay says:

    I will absolutely donate. But your link is busted…

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