Could Donald Trump become the next US President?

Betteridge’s law of headlines says that any headline that ends with a question mark can be answered with the word ‘no’. This law nearly always holds, but in this case, I think we have to consider the possibility that the answer might be yes.

A lot of people still react with incredulity to this suggestion, particularly after some of the very public statements he has made. There was the time he branded Mexican immigrants rapists. Or the time he said John McCain wasn’t a war hero because he got captured by the North Vietnamese. Then there was his apparent mocking of a journalist’s disability. And then the biggy, when he recently called for a temporary ban on Muslims travelling to the US.

If most people running for office had said or done just one of these things, their campaign would be over, but Trump has actually been improving in the polls and his lead over his Republican rivals is now in double digits. Has the world gone mad? What is going on?

Conventional wisdom to now has been that Trump is not serious about running, he will drop out early, or that the latest controversy will finish him off. None of these predictions has so far been borne out. One person has consistently been making correct predictions about the Trump campaign, and his reasons for making these predictions are rather interesting. That person is the creator of the Dilbert cartoon strip, Scott Adams. He has written a series of blogs arguing that rather that committing heinous blunders, everything Donald Trump is doing is pre-planned. Trump, Adams argues is using ‘persusion’ skills to convince the American electorate that he is the only candidate that has answers to America’s great problems (Trump often uses the word problem), and that he’s actually just saying what everyone’s already thinking. It does seem to be working.

This video is quite a good explanation of how Trump communicates when answering a question:

A recent study looked at the campaign speeches of all the candidates for President and compared them against reading ages. While you needed a high school level of English to understand the speeches of Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, Trump’s speeches could be comprehended by anyone with a reading age of above grade 4 (when kids are around 9 years old). This makes him accessible to nearly all US citizens. Being able to communicate your ideas at that level might seem over-simplified, but if you want to reach the widest possible audience, it can be a really smart move.

Trump also has an uncanny knack of swatting away rivals with a simple put-down that seems to stick. Jeb Bush was the front-runner 6 months ago, but is now polling less than 5%. Trump had labelled him “low energy”, and he hasn’t seemed able to shake that off. Trump seems to be setting his sights on Hilary Clinton next. He has also said she lacks stamina and recently said “women don’t like Hilary”. We’ll see if any of that sticks.

At the moment then, I’m quite taken with Scott Adams’ hypothesis about what Trump’s strategy may be, but being a Brit, and not really plugged in to what’s going on in the States, I can’t be sure if he’s right. He is certainly bullish about Trump’s chances, predicting a landslide victory.

What do you think? From this side of the Atlantic, it seems unbelievable that Trump could get anywhere near the Presidency, but there are signs it may not be as fanciful as many think.

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2 thoughts on “Could Donald Trump become the next US President?

  1. Of course Trump didn’t brand Mexican’s rapists. He said that some of those coming across the border have problems. Then explained some of the problems they bring with them. The media span it, and he just said I didn’t say that and then repeated what he did say.

    Good analysis here: http://www.salon.com/2015/12/21/the_media_needs_to_stop_telling_this_lie_about_donald_trump_im_a_sanders_supporter_and_value_honesty/

    It’s the same trick Corbyn used in the summer. He stuck to his line and ignored what the media said. Those who didn’t like Corbyn continued to get ever more excited about twisting his words, but those who were indifferent or supportive just ignored them and started listening to what Corbyn had to say. After all it was easy to find on social media, or at a local hustings. Corbyn just stuck to the message without responding. The media hated that and covered him even more trying ever more insanely to get him to respond, and he refused.

    Trump is using the same pattern. Seek out media attention and let it spin up to fever pitch, and then just keep repeating the same message – there are problems, these are the problems and I can fix them.

    Against Overton Window politicos who live in their own little echo chamber the approach is devastating.

    I expect Trump to make it.

    Trump and Corbyn demonstrate how politics has changed. All bets are off for anybody who can really use the tools.

    1. Trump said the Mexicans were sending their bad people to the US including rapists. When he said that he knew it would create controversy and that’s what he wanted. Trump has a strategy of saying inflammatory things which he then dials down later while keeping the same underlying message. Corbyn seems to just say whatever he actually believes knowing the media will be out for him whatever he does. He’s pretty guileless though. If he had Trump’s skills he would be doing better.

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