How ‘The Donald’ has changed political communications forever, and what other, more rational candidates can learn from him

October 22, 2015
donald trump

If I watch another canned, hamstrung debate of practiced talking points and blathering talking heads, I am quitting this country. No Hillary. People don’t talk like that. They don’t act like some Shakespearean actor delivering a line for the ages. And Ted Cruz, you talk like a bad pharmaceutical commercial, all practiced and FDA-compliant.

Whether you love or hate Donald Trump, the truth of the matter is he brings with him a new measure of authenticity to an audience sick and jaundice of politically correct, guarded doublespeak that doesn’t really say anything but then again, doesn’t risk anything.

I seriously doubt (and personally hope) Donald Trump is not our next president. But for better or worse, he is changing the nature of political communication in our country. The irony is that as Trump surges, other candidates refuse to learn from him. Instead, they prefer to hide behind teleprompters and surrogates. They refuse to change out of arrogance and ineptitude. Here’s what America’s political class could learn from The Donald:

  1. The days of scripted, stilted political speak are numbered. I mean, even Anderson Cooper read from index cards! It’s all so contrived and contained. Blame both sides of the aisle. Jeb Bush stands wooden, channeling the awkwardness of his father and brother. Bernie Sanders simply shouts the same speech he has given 100 times and thinks that makes for great debate. The electorate has grown tired of canned content. Trump looks real and believable by comparison. And here’s what’s really scary. If we’ve become so skeptical of what politicians say, then the winner is the person who appears to be most genuine, even if what they say is utter nonsense!
  2. Do the dirty work yourselves. My only political experience was a short-term assignment during which my client’s opponents lied, cheated and worked to get my health care provider to cancel coverage for 50 of my employees! But what riled me most is that no one had the guts to do it in the light of day. It was all cowardly and anonymous. But Trump, like a mobster Don, prefers to do the whacking himself, and gladly signs for it on Twitter. Say what you want but it is courageous. If others had to sign for their dirty pool, a lot fewer would play it.
  3. Emotion trumps fact. The Donald doesn’t need no stinking facts. It’s more about the story. As a real estate developer client of mine once said, “The difference between a $400 a square-foot condominium and a $1,000 a square-foot condo is air. And it’s your job to fill the air with words and stories.” The Donald doesn’t rely on facts because he doesn’t have any, and he knows from real estate you don’t need any. It’s all about perception. His currency is emotion and storytelling. And while it might soon wear thin, it’s still an effective component of persuasion that is being painfully overlooked by today’s crop of candidates.
  4. Ask for the stars, settle for the moon. No one can understand how Donald Trump can expect to build a wall, let alone have Mexico to pay for it. It’s wholly ridiculous. That is, unless you’re a real estate developer who is used to asking for the outrageous, like demanding cities and counties pay millions of dollars to subsidize private profits. The lesson here is that sometimes you have to be outrageous in your expectations to end up with the reasonable. Trump’s misplaced ask—for an unneeded wall—is an example other candidates could use in thinking outrageously in order to engage the imagination and actions of the world.

Gladly, Trump won’t win. But he has forever changed the nature of political debate, and in the end, those candidates who absorb some of his tactics will do better with connecting and engaging audiences who are eager for honesty and transparency in an otherwise dirty, clouded business.

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