When you are a reporter, you tend to talk to many people. And when you do political reporting this includes fans from all political stripes. This is why I have been both in the receiving end of operatives, and fanatics. Yes, there is a difference.
Political campaigns are a mixture of hope, work, and yes, toxic personalities. Let me make this clear, most people who join a campaign are not in this type, but with the right leader, a majority of fans become true believers. Let me state this from the outset. I have had my run-ins with Bernie Bros, Biden-Bros, MAGATS, and other assorted types. This can manifest itself in local campaigns as well. In 2016 this included Clintonistas who were way over the top. And to be honest, every one of those encounters does follow a pattern.
The first is that the fan of a candidate will be very enthusiastic about their chosen candidate, to the point of seeing that person as the only one who can solve the present crisis. If you are thinking as an outsider that this sounds like Trump fans, it does. It is a classic cult of personality. This is not a policy matter. Or even the willingness to see a problem with the policy. Or maybe, perish the thought, see another candidate as having some solutions.
Then these people, like clockwork, get angry. Since they have subsumed their personas into the candidate, they predictably start the personal attacks. After all, you questioning anything or pointing out the smallest of defects is enough to pierce through and create some cognitive dissonance. In some cases, it gets so bad that the best choice is to no longer talk to that person. In other words, you get to banish them from your social media life. It’s not like you can have a rational discussion with them, so why bother? If they are family, that can be a problem.
Most of us can sit down and look at oh, let's say, Michael Bloomberg, Joe Biden, and Bernie Sanders. We all can go down policy positions, I do it often, and conclude this guy is better on this and worst on that. We also can see things they have said, and Bloomberg in my mind is racist, but also realize that he would be better than Trump. However, he has some authoritarian tendencies.
We can also see Biden as somebody who mostly lives in the past. Sanders has some issues as well because no candidate is perfect. One of them is that at times he can be stubborn…though he has also been consistent all his life. So what some perceive as stubborn, partially could be consistency.
Those of us who have not drunk any campaign kool-aid can do this with every candidate running in the Democratic Primary. I do not bother with the Republicans since quite frankly Bill Weld is well-intentioned but his chances are as good as a snowball in hell. Actually, let me rephrase this, the snowball has a far better chance than Weld does.
This is why those of us who understand the present crisis will vote for whoever emerges from the Democratic primary.
Most fans of any campaign are able to see the bigger picture. People who fit this particular personality type cannot. They subsume themselves into the candidate and his or her almost god-like powers. The candidate (and it matters not who it is) is seen as a new day Messiah, with super-powers that will be able to do all they promise. And anybody who questions this is a heretic to be burned at the stake. Some of these people will stay home in November, or vote third party, or yes, vote for Trump. It's a numbers game. In 2008 more Clinton fans did that than Sanders fans did in 2016 incidentally.
This is why major national candidates (such as Senator Bernie Sanders in 2016 and now, and John McCain in 2008) comes out to calm the waters every so often. They know that these people cannot be avoided. Every campaign attracts them. But they can be disavowed, which is what they do.
But, MAGATs are violent! Of course, they are; that is because unlike Sanders, McCain and other national politicians, they were given permission from their leader. President Donald Trump has advocated violence at his rallies. This means that this personality type will take this as approval to surrender to his deepest desires. And yes, it is usually a he.
Essential men are not just a product of their own desire and dysfunctional personalities. There is a careful encouragement of this personality type to act to defend the leader. We have seen it at Trump rallies. He is carefully crafting a narrative where his red hats will go on a rampage to defend the leader. We are that close to that moment. In Germany they wore Brown Shirts, in Italy they wore black shirts. For the Soviets, it was more like a Red Star, Mao’s youth wore Mao’s shirts and carried their little red book. They were all given permission.
So what to do about these types? The first is that you must realize campaigns, with a clear exception, do not encourage them. So when other campaigns start going, but Bernie-Bros, realize there is a misguided strategy. They are using their own true believers to go after the other team. And at this moment it is foolish and dangerous.
There is no reasoning with a true believer, so don’t get in the mud. Trust me, you will get dirty and they love it. If they start trolling you or attacking you, block them. And move on with life. We are seeing more of this as well because we live in both a populist moment and one that is prone to authoritarianism. Social media is a perfect place for that as well since people will say things behind a screen that will never utter in person.