How does Donald Trump win? The media portrays him as a bumbling moron. But he keeps on winning, so there must be something to his success. This isn’t a political post, it’s a human behavior investigation. Please put down your pitchforks. You can still hate him and enjoy reading.
Many people say Donald Trump is lucky rather than talented. But it seems pretty hard to believe that he got incredibly lucky at all these things:
- becoming a billionaire
- best selling author several times over
- have a hit TV show that ran for 15 seasons straight
- raise a good family
- overthrow the Republicans/Democrats/Special Interests/Media arrayed against him all at once
Does anyone really believe that someone could be that lucky? Over 40+ years? There are less than 3,000 billionaires in the world at any given time (out of 7 billion people), there are less than 10,000 authors with multiple best sellers, a few hundred TV shows that have lasted over a decade, and he’s the only person to win against the entirety of the main stream media and political machine determined to take him down. It seems unlikely that it’s luck.
Hijacking the media
A study done in March 2016 suggested that Donald Trump received 2 billion dollars in free media. Traditional politicians have to pay, but he gets it free? But the media hates him! How does he do it? Trump actually tells us in his 1987 book, The Art of the Deal.
…if you are a little different, or a little outrageous, or if you do things that are bold or controversial, the press is going to write about you. – Donald Trump, The Art of the Deal (1987)
The media is always hungry for a story. Trump gives them endless things to write about. First he takes the facts. Then he layers on 20% bravado.
The final key to the way I promote is bravado. I play to people’s fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. – DONALD TRUMP, THE ART OF THE DEAL (1987)
Let’s see how this works in practice:
How much is Donald Trump worth?
Warning: NSFW language in the video below.
Donald Trump has said he’s worth $5 billion, $7 billion, and $10 billion. In the same month. That seems weird, right? But he does this all the time and we’re going to see why he does it. His critics will claim that he’s just a pathological liar, but the reality is that Donald Trump needs his critics to spread his message. He uses his critics as his free media machine!
There are 47 million Google results for the search “how much is Donald Trump worth“. I haven’t seen a single article agreeing with his estimate of being worth $10 billion. Not one. And that’s the point! $10 billion is too high on purpose!
Here’s why it works.
No one on the planet cares if he’s worth $5 billion or $10 billion. It’s like arguing who is the better quarterback: Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. While the discussion might keep you and your buddies entertained for 20 minutes, at the end of the day it’s a pointless discussion around two all-time greats. In this case, all anyone remembered after the discussion was that Donald Trump was rich and running for president.
Here’s how powerful that is:
I first heard about Donald Trump from a friend (Democrat) talking about how Trump wasn’t worth $10 billion. At the time I couldn’t even have named a single Republican candidate running. And there were 17 of them. Someone who would never vote Trump was spreading Trump’s message.
Then Alicia and I went to New Zealand and Thailand for Q1 2016. They were talking about Donald Trump’s net worth! Jeb Bush had spent $150 million on his campaign by this point and dropped out before I even knew he was running. Donald Trump had spent nothing and hijacked the MSM to tell the entire world he was running for president. Just by saying “10” instead of a realistic “5”.
His message was spread by the people who either would not or could not vote for him.
If you have talked about, shared, or liked any article talking about how Donald Trump isn’t worth $10 billion: congratulations! You were working for the Trump campaign and you didn’t even know it.
Trump secured the most primary votes in GOP history, against 16 opponents, and was 8th place in total spending.
The media hates Donald Trump with a white hot flame and is quick to point out any of his inaccuracies. Just like no one cares about $5 billion vs $10 billion, Trump creates mini controversies to get the press to report on what he wants to talk about.
Trump has said Hillary Clinton has used acid, bleach, and hammers to destroy the 33,000 emails that the FBI wanted for evidence in a criminal investigation. Just like he said 5, 7, and 10, Trump gave three different ways Hillary destroyed evidence. On purpose. But only one could be correct.
Here’s what happened: he got “fact-checked” by the media who thinks they are smarter than him.
— NBC News (@NBCNews) October 10, 2016
Did you catch that? By “fact checking” the specific process, NBC News told the world that Hillary Clinton was guilty of destroying evidence! By purposely being wrong on the details of how she destroyed it, Trump hijacked the media to talk about the crimes Clinton committed.
Here’s another one: Trump claimed ISIS was “founded” by Obama and Clinton. The premise is obviously hyperbole. But the media loves to talk about how Trump is a dummy and they are so smart. So the media spent a week discussing how it was wrong. Here’s the problem: by talking about it, the media reinforced to the country how ISIS didn’t even exist until Syria was destabilized by the Obama and Clinton administration. Not a single person believed that Obama and Clinton literally founded ISIS, but the media made it national news that the largest terror threat to our country happened on Obama and Clinton’s watch. That was the point. Scott Adams has a great article on it.
Tone it down as the media ramps it up.
When everything is quiet, Trump is outrageous. Then the people around him (and the media) get amped up and start saying crazy things. That’s when Trump pulls it back. What happens is that the average person hears all these things about Trump and decides to check into a rally or speech. What do they see? A perfectly normal, if bombastic, person. Not nearly the devil the media portrayed him to be. At that point, the viewer realized the media lied to them (more on this later).
Back in March, the media had gotten so worked up that they were saying Trump was “literally Hitler”. So Trump pulled it back. Viewers didn’t see “literally Hitler”. Viewers were probably disappointed to see a normal person.
The GOPe successfully framed Trump as Hitler. Then their best candidate lost to Hitler. Time for self-reflection.
— Scott Adams (@ScottAdamsSays) March 9, 2016
Would “literally Hitler” let Jimmy Fallon do this? Of course not. And that was the point of why Trump let Fallon embarrass him on national TV.
The second debate saw Donald return with the energy after showing people he could turn up or turn down his personality at will.
Human brains are wired to see things we want to see. An example of this similar to “glass half-full vs glass half-empty”.
What most people don’t realize is that you can prime someone to see things they wouldn’t normally see. For example, the next time you are driving in your car you will see a yellow car or truck and think of this article. It will just pop into your head. You won’t be trying to look for a yellow vehicle and then remember I said this, but it will happen. You’ve been primed.
Trump says the media are liars. This is priming people’s minds to look for the media lying. And the media has printed many lies about him. Not everything the media has said about him is wrong, of course. But when a person recognizes the media is grossly mis-portraying Trump (“literally Hitler!”), the person remembers Trump saying the media would lie about him. Then the person is more inclined to believe Trump over the media.
Here’s how fast that can affect things: CNN went from #1 to #16 in ratings in the span of a month. People are leaving in droves after they have been primed to spot the lies. Now the people follow the person who helped them spot the lies: Donald Trump.
When Trump said that he could shoot someone and not lose voters, it’s because people have been insulated to ignore whatever the media says about him. The boy cried “wolf” too many times.
Our minds tend to remember something if it’s new.
“Low Energy” Jeb(!) stuck in everyone’s minds because it hadn’t been said before in the political spectrum. And next to Donald’s wild hand gestures, Jeb looked pretty tame. The voters couldn’t picture Jeb standing up for them when the times were tough.
“Build the Wall” was simple, catchy, and repeatable. “Drain the Swamp” is similar. They are new phrases never used before in politics. Trump was running against 16 opponents and needed catchy positions. Does anyone remember a policy by Carly Fiorina or Ted Cruz? I don’t.
Talking past the sale
“We’re going to build a wall, and make Mexico pay for it.”
This is a typical car salesman trick. By talking about the color of the car, the buyer isn’t focusing on whether or not they actually should buy the car. They instead imagine the car as already theirs, which warms them up to the idea of purchasing it.
How powerful is this? It took Obama 6 years to convince the country to pass Obamacare. It took a month or two to convince the country that a wall would be built if Trump is president.
If you think this would never work on a world leader, well, you’re wrong. Former Mexican President Vicente Fox spoke about how “Mexico wouldn’t pay for that fucking wall“. Even funnier, a month later Fox apologized to Trump and said there would be a compromise on the wall. The current Mexican president suggested Mexico might even build it themselves.
Reframing is adding new information to make people look at old information differently.
As Trump says in Art of the Deal:
When a reporter asks why I build only for the rich, I note that the rich aren’t the only ones who benefit from my buildings. I explain that I put thousands of people to work who might otherwise be collecting unemployment, and that I add to the city’s tax base every time I build a new project.
The story changed from “Trump only builds for the elite” to “Trump employs thousands of people”. That’s reframing, and Donald does it all the time to deflect criticism.
“Make America Great Again” is pretty hard to twist into a negative. People have tried saying America was never great, but no one believes that.
On the other hand, the Clinton campaign has changed their slogan around quite a few times because the Trump campaign kept blowing them up. Finally they settled on “I’m with Her”. At his next rally, Trump said: “I’m with you“. This makes “I’m with Her” look self-serving in comparison.
You can still hate Trump if you want
He’s loud, outrageous, and has offended more people than I can list in this space. Maybe you hate his policies. Maybe you don’t like these techniques. But I don’t think he is simply “lucky”. And he’s certainly no buffoon.
If you underestimated him, don’t worry. So did everyone else in the video below.
(Like this post? You’d love my book Meme Magic: How Stupid Pictures of Badly Drawn Frogs Influenced the 2016 Election)