Trump out to build 'permission structure' to win back voters

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President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump and Barron Trump stand on the South Lawn of the White House on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention, Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020, in Washington. It's called a permission structure. President Donald Trump's campaign is trying to construct an emotional and psychological gateway to help disenchanted voters feel comfortable voting for the president again despite their reservations about him personally. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

NEW YORK – Showcasing Black Americans at the Republican National Convention to allay white voters' fears that President Donald Trump is a racist. Sharing touching stories about the president's concern for the military. Painting Democrat Joe Biden as an unacceptable alternative who threatens the American way of life.

It's all part of the Trump campaign's effort to construct a “permission structure” — a clunky catchphrase for creating an emotional and psychological gateway to help disenchanted voters feel comfortable voting for the president again despite their reservations about him personally.

Both the GOP convention and the president’s recent “law and order” mantra have been aimed squarely at former Trump supporters who’ve grown unhappy with his inflammatory rhetoric and handling of the coronavirus pandemic. The goal is to humanize Trump and demonize Biden so that these voters, particularly women and suburbanites, feel that they can vote for Trump again anyway.

“Their new theme is that it’s OK to support Trump even if you don’t care for him,” said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist who advised Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s presidential bid four years ago. “People don’t like him because they think he is racist, sexist or doesn’t care about average people. But their message now is ‘Don’t look at what he said, look at what he does.’”

The phrase “permission structure” got a political cameo in 2013 when President Barack Obama advanced his theory that many congressional Republicans agreed with his proposals but withheld their support because of political considerations and the fear they would face challenges in GOP primaries.

“We’re going to try to do everything we can to create a permission structure for them to be able to do what’s going to be best for the country,” Obama said then. “But it’s going to take some time.”

Variations of the same phrase had been used in political circles and the marketing world long before then.

In advertising, it’s sometimes known as “permission to believe,” meaning that Madison Avenue needed to pitch a product — be it laundry detergent or high-end vodka — in a way that would help consumers justify spending the money on themselves.