The Trump team won the Republican primaries, so they’ve obviously done something right. Their message is a simple one, not too many facets, and Trump uses a language that anyone can understand. When Trump stays on message, he’s effective. Problem is, he does not always stay on message, he breaks discipline to go after the shiny object. When the inevitable crisis arises it’s not obvious that the response has been clearly thought out, or that there is a clear understanding of why the problem is a problem in the first place. Professional politicians got where they did because they followed certain principles that are common to all successful campaigns, the Trump team needs to learn and adopt these principles. Things can always be done a little better and the stakes are too high this time not to want to do better.
Here are some suggestions:
- Treat words like a precious commodity, don’t waste them on things that don’t attach to the goal of becoming president. Talking about a judge in a pending lawsuit may show you’re a fighter, but also shows a certain lack of clarity of purpose. In business, capital usually comes in the form of money. In politics, money is certainly needed but for a politician ideas are capital and words are currency. A businessman does not use capital loosely or carelessly, nor should a politician.
- React to a crisis like a doctor would an ailment, identify the symptoms, come up with a treatment, but first and always, do no harm. When the issue of plagiarism came up with regards to Melania Trump’s convention speech, the response by some on the Trump team hurt the cause more than it helped. Trying to explain away nearly word for word similarities with Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech by saying the phrases used were extremely common came across more as excuses than explanation. Sometimes when you’re caught, it’s better to admit there is a problem than deny it. A better tact would to have been to withhold the excuses until after it was established what actually happened. (In this case, one the speechwriters helping Melania inserted quotes into a draft of the speech but did account for the fact that they were ‘borrowed’.) It’s better to give the press no explanation than an inaccurate one. This leads us to the next way the Trump team could do better…
- Have an organization that is appropriate to the task. If your business is banking you may need a huge legal department just to deal with all the regulations. A hospital needs doctors and nurses, but also needs people to organize all of their training and certifications. A political campaign needs people whose sole profession is speech writing, and others who do nothing but fact checking. The idea of running a government like a business is good, but there are things that professional politicians do because they work. As much as it may hurt to admit, but virtually every member of Congress, every governor, even Mayor has done one thing that Donald Trump so far has not, win an election. It stands to reason then, that even a candidate running as an outsider would want to adopt at least some components of a successful political machine.
- Let favorable news cycles and events play out. Sometimes less is more. Create new news when your opponent runs out of things for you to talk about, or when important events demand it. Don’t make yourself the story when your opponent’s problems and missteps make for a better one. Recognise when your oppenent is using this same strategy on you. .
Trump has successfully beat sixteen other opponents for the Republican nomination. He must be doing something right. He also has higher negatives than even Mrs. Clinton, and does not enjoy unquestioned support from all members of his own party, so he can’t claim to be doing everything right. There are several things that he and his team can do better. Don’t waste effort defending statements and actions that have little or nothing to do with winning the White House. When things go wrong, diagnose the problem quickly then take corrective measures, don’t do it the other way around. Trump is now in the election winning business, that requires an appropriate organizations. When the news is favorable to you, or unfavorable to the other side, don’t do anything to change it. Like it or not, some of the things successful politicians do that are essential, and Trump will have to figure out what those things are and do them better than Hillary.