Dr. David Cowan
Donald Trump has exceeded expectations because the expectations were so low in the first place. The problem with much of the analysis of Donald Trump the candidate is that it either tries to look at policy content or to set him up as a buffoon. What we really ought to look at is the manner of his communication and realize that Mr. Trump knows his audience, and he understands the means of modern communication very well. This means he can be flexible over content, and whatever else he may be he is not a buffoon.
There are three elements to his communication campaign: the good, the bad and the ugly.
The good – First, he is not an insider as I discussed yesterday. He is not part of DC nor is he a “professional” politician. Opponents mentioned, and still do, President Obama’s political career amounting to being little more than a community organizer before he was a candidate. Mr. Trump, however, comes with considerable experience of running a large business. Will he become a breath of fresh air? He’ll certainly be a different politician, and he already is, because his campaign is not the conventional political campaign, it is a modern communications campaign.
Traditional campaigns try to control the language and the response. They try to match idea A to response A, idea B to response B, and so on. Mr. Trump lets things get out of control and uses incendiary language, so that idea A gets responses A through Z. He wants to create a “communication noise,” and in that noise he can target specific groups. As his candidature evolves, so does his approach. He has his base, and now he’s got everyone’s attention. This was not going to happen without making a noise, and getting everybody talking and tweeting.
The next step he needs is to narrow the responses, and start to address those who might now listen to him, if he can say the right thing. However, he needs to do this deftly, as he has to confront the bad and the ugly that has gotten him to this stage.
The bad – Even his supporters will admit he has divided many people, but rather than distressed about it they’re happy, because for them this is Mr. Trump making a stand. Yet, if he is to win then he has to get some of the people still opposing him on his side, and of course this includes finalizing the GOP nomination. In his communications strategy, he has allowed for this, because from the outset he would have known that the GOP would never embrace him with open arms. So, you don’t communicate as if they are, not in expectation, nor in hope.
Mr. Trump knew from the start he was in for a rough ride, so what to do? Make the ride rougher. This not only gets attention, it also shakes complacency in your opponent. Keep rattling them, keep them running in different directions, while you ruthlessly pursue your own agenda. This is high stakes, but if Mr. Trump pulls it off, then what a coup. He can show how he turned his opponents around, and his endorsement makes him someone who can bring this all together. This, I suggest, for an outsider was the only realistic strategy for achieving success.
At the moment all the talk is inward looking, it’s about the GOP. Once nominated it will all be about the Democrats and shaking the complacency that will have gotten Mrs. Clinton nominated. If her complacency, or that of her campaign managers, leads to portraying Mr. Trump as a buffoon and asking America to elect the sensible candidate, she will most likely lose. She’ll need to be cleverer than this.
The ugly – Which brings us to the ugly. To date there is much that has been ugly about the GOP campaign. The style of Mr. Trump’s attacks and the disgraceful behavior and online intolerance of a significant portion of his followers has made this a very ugly campaign. On one level, the sooner he distances himself from such behavior the better and he will be able to concentrate his attempts on appealing to a broader voter base. Many of the people who condemned him in the past will at some point change their tune, commentators always do, because they want to be seen to be backing the clever money. On another level, he will need to launch an assault on his opponent. All the things that happened during the GOP nomination are largely neutralized by the fact it was the GOP nomination process, just as much of what Mr. Obama said about Mrs. Clinton was neutralized when he was nominated. It doesn’t go away of course, and Mr. Trump’s opponent will drag up the past, but the past is rarely effective in these campaigns, unless it is the far distant past, and Mrs. Clinton has her own fair share of that.
Mr. Trump’s Communication Coup
Mr. Trump, with this strategy, will get the nomination and you should not underestimate him for getting the presidency, and if he wins it will be a modern communications coup. This is not my hope, nor is it an endorsement; it’s just a reading of his communications strategy and our media age. This is how a communicator wheels and deals, and yet again Mr. Trump is showing us the art of the deal, the communication way.