Donald Trump says he won’t appear at the upcoming debate on FOX if Megyn Kelly is a moderator, and as of this writing, it appears she will be. Some of you asked me how this move by Trump could possibly be a smart thing.
On the 2D playing field, Trump appears petulant and whiney. Maybe narcissistic, fascist, and a little bit of Hitler too. And as FOX cleverly pointed out, negotiating with foreign leaders won’t be easier than Megyn Kelly’s questions.
So Trump loses badly in the second dimension.
Let’s shift to the third dimension and see if the view is different. For starters, tell me what you learned about all the other candidates today.
Trump sucked the oxygen out of the room. Again. And the issue – as always – is something we can jabber about forever. It is jabber-ready by design, so the media and the public will have no time and no brain cycles left to consider his competition.
Admit it – you already think the competition on the Republican side has narrowed to Trump versus Trump. If he stumbles, he loses. If he doesn’t, he wins. But the other candidates and all of their money will not change anything. The presidency is 100% in Trump’s hands to win or lose.
And he hasn’t stumbled (in the 3rd dimension of persuasion) in six months of continuous media attention.
Now keep in mind that one of Trump’s signature moves involves creating situations in which he has two or more paths to win, and no paths to lose. He wins AT THE START by picking his battles.
For example, when Trump warned Iran to return the American prisoners, he won no matter what happened. If Iran released the prisoners, Trump would say he influenced it. They did, and he did. If Iran had delayed, Trump would have used it as yet another reason you need a tough guy to deal with them. He had two paths to winning and no path to losing.
And it is intentional. I have a similar (but far worse) skill set, and I would have made that play as well.
So let’s game out the FOX scenario and see how many ways he can win and how many ways he can lose.
If FOX doesn’t budge, and Trump skips the debate, he will tweet the entire mess like it is Mystery Science Theater 3000.
The next day, the news will interject his tweets with their commentary about each participant. Obviously Trump’s tweets would include his usual eyebrow-raising insults and claims, and draw all attention his way. And unlike the people in the debate, he can “twitter-interrupt” them at any point with his counter-punches and clever insults. The media will insert his tweets in just the right place to make their stories compelling.
Interestingly, FOX might have good ratings in that scenario because people would be watching the combined debate plus The Trump Twitter Show to get it all synced up in real time. And people would want to see how FOX handles the lack of Trump. Empty podium?
At about halftime of the debate you might see Trump say it is too boring to watch and sign off for the night. That gives you a data point to see if viewership drops off around then. And it probably would, no matter what he tweets, simply because the novelty of him NOT being there will wear off. Then all you have is a real debate about the real issues. No one wants that. We have better things to do.
Now suppose Trump changes his mind and decides to join the debate even while Megyn Kelly remains. One of two things can happen. Either she asks questions that sound biased, and Trump rips her and FOX News apart on live television – and his poll number go up, or she asks only softball questions and Trump appears to have won that way.
You might be thinking that the real world is messier than that, and Trump is inviting a big risk. For example, Megyn Kelly might get in a zinger. But Trump dodges those with ease. Maybe the public will start siding with a biased TV host, but that seems unlikely. The media is unpopular in general.
Or perhaps a FOX competitor will offer Trump a show of his own for two hours, at the same time, just to be dicks to FOX. Anything can happen, but all paths seem to favor Trump.
Now let’s say you are Donald Trump, the scariest Republican that any Democrat has seen in ages. What is the one best thing he can do to separate himself from the Republican machine and show that he can be a deal-maker for everyone? Answer: Punch FOX News in the mouth. Right in front of you.
Democrats are watching. Trump is framing himself as an enemy of their enemy. (Democrats hate FOX News.)
Trump’s setup here is pure genius. He doesn’t know how it will end, but he is making sure he goes where the odds are deeply in his favor.
That’s a system, not a goal. Once you see the world that way, it makes a lot more sense. Coincidentally, I wrote a book on systems being better than goals.
Update: Trump will skip the debate and host a Wounded Warrior event instead.
That’s the 2D description.
In the third dimension, Trump will be focusing attention on the most American and probably the most diverse group of heroes in the nation while the Festival of Mostly Whiteness rages across town.
That’s your Trump lesson on the power of contrast. Timing is everything. And he gets away with it because you know he thinks it’s funny. Somehow that makes it better.
People keep asking me to demonstrate my lack of bias by pointing out some of Trump’s mistakes. The problem is that Trump has a skill set that absorbs mistakes and turns them into whatever he wants them to be. That’s his system.