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Partner with Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp Personal Injury Law Firm


One after the next, nearly every speaker at the Republican National Convention explained how President Trump supports law and order, and challenger Joe Biden will let looters terrorize American cities. It’s possible Trump’s campaign strategists have studied the popular trial lawyer’s playbook, Reptile:  The 2009 Manual of the Plaintiff’s Revolution and plan to win the election using these trial lawyer psychological techniques.

For example, the “reptile brain” favors survival above all else, even if it conflicts with logic and rationality. In the 90 days before the 2020 presidential election, the Trump campaign appears to have fully embraced this fundamental reptilian theory of “survive above all” to buttress its re-election efforts. The theory posed by the Trump campaign is that “evil” Democratic presidential candidate, Joe Biden will:

  1. Be a threat to public safety;
  2. Allow looters and rioters to run wild in the streets; and
  3. Cause the destruction of your community.

This type of election messaging is lifted straight out of the reptile theory used by successful personal injury lawyers against negligent corporations and insurance companies each day in courtrooms across the country.

Why the Reptile Theory Works

Many believe attorney Don C. Keenan and trial consultant David Ball revolutionized how personal injury lawyers present their cases to juries in their Reptile publication. Keenan and Ball theorized that jurors are persuaded by appealing to their “reptile brains.” They actually recast and built upon research from the 1960s by Neurologist Paul MacLean who put forth a theory that the brain is composed of three parts:

  1. the reptilian complex;
  2. the paleomammalian complex; and
  3. the neomammalian complex.

The reptilian complex includes the brain stem and the cerebellum, the oldest part of the brain, which emphasizes survival.  The reptilian brain wants to maximize advantages of survival and attempts to minimize dangers that threaten survival.  These human instincts defeat most competing messages.

How Reptile Theory Is Delivered to Juries

Prominent personal injury attorneys across the country have embraced the reptile theory in their jury trials by emphasizing the dangers that a negligent or careless party poses to the community at large, not just that an individual’s conduct was dangerous to the injured plaintiff, or plaintiffs.  Reptile theory casts its spell on jurors, capitalizing on their role as protectors of a community at large.  Trump’s re-election campaign is attempting to cast the 2020 election as not just one of law and order, but that Trump will protect every local community against lawlessness and lawbreakers. One thing that reptile theory presents as true is that the reptilian brain will protect survival over many other messages, even some messages that seem more logical and rational.

Trump’s re-election team appears to have seized on the reptile theory to try to gain steam in the presidential race by avoiding discussions of his lackadaisical and ineffective response to the COVID-19 pandemic and his divisive rhetoric and supplanting it with a simple, straightforward message rooted in reptilian theory. That message is – each voter will be empowered to decide whether they value their community’s safety from wild rioters and looters or will allow random rioters and looters to run rampant in the community at large.

In some ways, Trump’s re-election message is a brilliant recasting, because it seeks to avoid any actual thought process of just how poor the economy is, how the pandemic is still in rampage mode, and how divisive Trump has been for nearly four years.

Before the Democrats discount this strategy, voters must understand reptilian theory is not based on logic, it’s based on the core reptilian brain and the instinctual effort to protect our survival. The key to the Trump candidacy in the run up to the election is to focus entirely on reptile theory, that a Biden presidency won’t protect the community, and avoid mention of President Trump’s record over the last 4 years.

Critics of Trump can attack him in different ways, but one thing he does well is market himself. He understands how to seize on the key wedge issue of public safety and “law and order.” Make no mistake, there is a good chance the Trump re-election campaign conducted many focus groups and studied polls before concluding that the current national protests in support of Black Lives Matter creates a significant wedge issue that can be used to support his candidacy and create a contrast with the Biden-Harris ticket.

So, the Trump 2020 single platform issue presents the president as the protector of the community. He has re-branded himself as the Reptile President.

Companies Struggle to Combat the Reptile Theory

A cottage industry has emerged in the United States to advise defendants sued for their carelessness on how to counter this reptile strategy. For example, defense consultants will highlight these key points to combat the reptile theory:

  1. Remember, we are not reptiles; and
  2. Emphasize the details that apply a principle against the reptile theory, because reptile theory states that the simpler a party can make the case [think Trump] by emphasizing the alleged bad behavior [looting and rioting, purported support of rioters by the Biden-Harris ticket], then the better for the party [the Trump campaign].

In other words, the same arguments that the defense consultants adopt for careless or negligent corporations or insurance companies being sued around the United States are the same type of arguments that Biden and Harris need to make in response to the reptilian theory presented by Trump.

Biden and Harris have a chance to squelch Trump’s reptile message by highlighting the fact it is built on a false premise – only Trump can protect communities from rioters and looters (or with a wink of his eye, from Black Lives Matter or Anti-fa protesters).

A key issue remaining to be decided in the coming months is whether a majority of voters believe that Trump, and not the Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, will actually protect their community.

Will Common Sense Prevail?

A rational assessment of the Trump-Pence ticket versus the Biden-Harris ticket would indicate Biden and Harris have better credentials as advocates of law and order. Biden has a long, reputable career of service in the United States Senate. Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris, was the Attorney General of the most populated state in the country. Is it even credible to categorize Donald Trump as 2020 “law and order” presidential candidate (lest we not forget that six members of his 2016 campaign are now convicted criminals)?   Common sense does not always prevail when the reptilian brain’s survival instinct is activated.  Donald Trump may still get re-elected, in spite of mismanagement of the pandemic, divisive rhetoric and a depressed economy.

Remember: it’s all about the reptile.


  1. Gravatar for Pamela Smith
    Pamela Smith

    There isn't much left after Trump has failed to act on the Virus causing millions to become unemployed, children to be left uneducated, business after business shutting down permanently, people starving in the streets and losing their homes. Why, he was even unable to end the murders of minorities by the hands of persons carrying badges (who's Union now stands behind him), locating the thousands of missing immigrant children he lost, clearing the streets of armed vigilantes who threatened a Governor, get along with Congress, AND close an umbrella!

  2. Gravatar for Roy Loehr
    Roy Loehr

    I never heard of the Reptile Theory.

    This was an excellent explanation.

    Great Job!

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