This morning, when I saw the news headlines about a feud erupting between Donald Trump and Mitt Romney, I sensed, as the saying goes, the penny drop. Scraps of a theory have been floating around in my head and with this latest bit of news everything finally fell into place for me.
I think I may have unlocked Trump’s game plan.
Up until now, I’ve viewed Trump as a pop-culture, reality TV phenomenon of a candidate; a mean-spirited, bully (clown?) unable to provide any substance or specificity. In fact, I voted for Ted Cruz in the Tennessee primary on Tuesday because I think he would make the best president of anyone out there right now.
That said, there is a side of Trump that is appealing to me. He is not a politician, he’s a businessman, and I have a lot more trust and confidence in businessmen than I do politicians. Plus, I’m no fan of the federal government or rampant political correctness, so he’s refreshing from that perspective.
It occurred to me that, as a businessman competing in the political arena, Trump is approaching his run for POTUS with a business mindset, not a political mindset. There are many differences between the two mindsets, of course, but for purposes of my theory, I’ll just focus on the distinction that a business mindset is more goal-oriented, whereas a political mindset is more issue-oriented.
For example, a politician might have issues such as Healthcare Reform or Gun Control as his focus, and therefore the decisions he makes are focused on pushing forward his agenda on those issues through political means. In contrast, I believe Trump is currently executing a rather astute business plan made up of a whole different set of goals.
So what are they?
Goal #1: Tap Into Public Sentiment
Trump’s success is contingent on tapping into American’s current level of anger about the direction the country is headed. Without that boiling discontent, his plan would have fallen apart long ago. Phrases like “We’re not winning anymore” and “Our leaders don’t have a clue” just don’t resonate in a peaceful, prosperous America with a booming economy. We’ve seen him leading in the polls ever since he jumped into the race, and other “outsider” candidates have done well, too. Trump has accurately assessed the current temperature of the American public, which is why his message is resonating so loudly.
Goal #2: Dominate the National Conversation
While all the other candidates were gearing up to campaign by the numbers, Trump jumped out ahead and threw the first punches, allowing him to set the tone and dominate not just the discussion, but the entire narrative. Think of how much time all the candidates have spent during the endless GOP Debates responding to Trump’s inflammatory comments. It’s akin to opening a conversation by asking the proverbial question, “When did you stop beating your wife?” Now your opponent has to spend the rest of the conversation trying to correct the record and defend themselves.
Trump’s particular method of throwing punches has been to make highly controversial, sensationalist statements. This approach has put him in the headlines, and not just the political headlines. His name and message have spread far outside the insular political arena and into the general population. When have we ever had this much national conversation and TV coverage surrounding a presidential race this early? It’s unprecedented.
It bears mentioning again that, without the prevailing sense of discontent in our country, the punches he’s throwing wouldn’t be effective. I don’t believe the American people would suffer this sort of mean-spirited, bullying behavior in a presidential candidate unless they were completely fed up with the status quo.
Goal #3: Win the Primary
While all the other candidates are dutifully campaigning by the numbers and targeting the Republican Regulars in order to win the Republican primary, Trump is thinking like a businessman who is looking to grow his market. (A market he’s expanding to include Democrats, independents, and low-information/high-emotion voters of every political stripe.) Trump is well aware of the tremendous latitude he is being given by the American people, going as far as claiming he could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody without losing voters. Like a good businessman, Trump’s plans have adapted to take full advantage of this latitude.
It seems to me a sort of tacit contract has developed wherein Trump’s supporters are essentially telling him, “We’ll give you a pass on your questionable behavior and lack of specificity if you do whatever it takes to get to Washington DC and throw the bums out.” Desperate times call for desperate measures, right? So every time Trump tells us how dumb our leaders are and how he’s going to get things done, he is signaling his intent to hold up his end of this unspoken deal. And every time Trump says something outlandish while his poll numbers remain strong his supporters are signaling their commitment to do their part.
Because of this latitude, Trump has been able to essentially give any answer he wants to any question. Who cares if last week he said he supported such-and-such mandate, and this week he is promising to appeal it? Who cares if last week he said so-and-so was a loser, and this week he praises that person? The Republican Regulars may care, but not Trump’s supporters. They know what he’s up to. This explains why he is seeing such strong support in the evangelical community, despite his complete lack of credibility as a Christian.
Because a political mindset is focused on establishing a consistent track record on an issue in order to build political capital, flip-flopping on that issue is a no-no for politicians. Trump couldn’t care less about changing his positions on issues. His business mindset has him focused on one thing: winning the primary.
Goal #4: Build A Coalition
We saw Trump start this process two days ago, the night of the Super Tuesday primaries. While all the other candidates were dutifully campaigning by the numbers and giving stump speeches to their supporters after the states had been called, Trump, in a brilliant move, held a proactively-scheduled press conference in an august ballroom. Rather than addressing his supporters, he seemed to be addressing the reporters, maybe even the nation. His tone was markedly different; he was gracious in praising Cruz, he spoke in specifics with the confidence of a leader, he cast himself as a unifier, and most notably, he took questions from reporters. His clear intent was to come off as presidential, and he hit it out of the park in that regard.
Trump has since released a specific healthcare plan and I presume we’re about to begin seeing more of the policy details he has heretofore been reluctant to offer. Now that he has dominated the national narrative and is looking extremely likely to win the primary, Trump is turning a corner. He is beginning the process of evolving his presidential brand from one of bombast and sensationalism to one of strong, confident, capable leadership. This is being done for the express purpose of building the coalition of support he needs to take out his eventual Democratic rival.
Goal #5: Win the General Election
I believe Trump is confident that any damage his brand may have incurred up until now can be repaired in the run up to the general election. To Trump insults and accusations are nothing personal, he’s just doing business. He approaches the political arena like a cage fighter; he and his opponent may beat each other bloody during the match, but when the final bell rings they hug and congratulate one another on a good fight. No hard feelings.
Trump knows that once he goes from the presumptive nominee to the actual nominee everything changes. His plan will obviously be to unite his coalition behind the larger goal of defeating his rival and taking the White House. I fully expect he will bring the same savvy, business-minded approach to defeating Hillary (or whoever the Democrats put up) that he used to climb to the top of the Republican ticket. And because he is a businessman competing in the political arena using a business mindset, I expect him to be just as successful.
Goal #6: ?
Assuming I’m right and Trump is sworn in as POTUS a year from now, that leaves one huge question hanging out there: What are his goals AFTER he becomes President? Because of his wishy-washiness on the issues thus far, it’s a crapshoot to guess what direction he would actually lead the country.
I believe he would work hard to solve problems and make big changes. Getting stuff done is just part of a businessman’s DNA. I have a hunch there would also be some personal motivation to feed his ego and add to his legacy. Here’s the rub: We all agree on the goals, right? We want a stronger economy, better quality of life, safety from terrorism, more jobs, etc. However the political Left and Right have very different approaches for achieving those goals. Which will Trump favor? My gut tells me he would tend to favor free-market solutions over government solutions, but at this point how can anyone be sure?
I have to admit, I would find it pretty attractive to have a US President who uses a bold, confident business mindset to address America’s current problems. It brings to mind a scene from the early 1990’s movie Dave, where the “President” has his accountant buddy come to the White House and they grab a couple of beers, sit down, and balance the budget like a Regular Joe would do it.
And therein lies my biggest problem with Trump. The reason I would love to have Regular Joe common sense applied to what ails our nation is because I trust Regular Joe; I know what he stands for. Regular Joe, to me, has character, he knows right from wrong, he honors his word, tries to treat people with respect, tells the truth, has principles and dignity. Donald? Not so much.
I realize there is no perfect candidate for POTUS. It’s always a compromise because when it comes down to it, we’re only allowed to pick what we think is the best option from a handful of choices. The office of President of the United States of America carries with it a tremendous legacy of honor and dignity. Our President is the leader of the free world, the figurehead of American values, and our ambassador to the world, representing the best of our nation. It rubs me the wrong way to consider voting to put a man like Trump in that office. But what if my only other alternative is a candidate even more hostile to the values I hold, and more opposed to the direction I think the country should be headed?
Desperate times call for desperate measures, right?