Do you remember a few months ago when people were saying Donald Trump didn’t really want to be president? I don’t hear that now. Trump ended that speculation by becoming the presumptive GOP nominee. That’s one way to do it.
I also remember a lot of people calling Trump a “clown” last year. That was before he annihilated sixteen of the best candidates that the Republican party has ever fielded. That doesn’t seem so clownish.
Do you remember all of Trump’s vulgar insults from last year? It turns out that those linguistic kill shots were engineered for persuasion, and A-B tested at live rallies for effectiveness. Today, no one doubts how well those Trump nicknames worked.
Have I mentioned that when Trump was a child, his minister was the famous Norman Vincent Peale? Peale wrote a huuuuugely influential book called The Power of Positive Thinking. Critics said the book is full of unsubstantiated claims. (Sound familiar?) Critics also said the book uses well-known hypnosis techniques. Hypnosis? Hmmm. That’s the sort of skill that could turn a much-hated person into a president.
As a side note, Peale was good friends with Richard Nixon. That was probably a coincidence. It is probably also a coincidence that Nixon is credited with one of the most important hypnosis gambits of all time. The gambit was so successful that it has Nixon’s name on it. It’s called “Nixon goes to China.” Maybe you’ve heard of it. That gambit might remind you of “Trump Goes to Megyn Kelly’s Interview.” Anyway, I digress.
My point today is that Donald Trump does not have as many policy details as his critics demand. And if a candidate does not have sufficient policy details, it might mean that candidate is a stupid clown who is not serious about being President of the United States.
It might mean that Trump is a skilled persuader who understands that people don’t make decisions based on policy details, logic, reason, common sense, or any other illusion of rationality. People are emotional creatures who rationalize their actions after the fact. Science knows that free will is an illusion. Trump knows it too. I say that about Trump with confidence because you can’t be a Master Persuader until you understand that people are fundamentally irrational.
So what do you do if you want to persuade voters but you don’t want to give policy details that are nothing but targets for critics? A trained persuader would create a situation in which everyone can see whatever they want to see. Trump literally takes both sides of the issues whenever he can. As a candidate, he’s a human Rorschach test. I might see in Trump a skilled persuader who always makes aggressive opening offers, and you might see a future dictator. We are looking at the same set of facts but we are primed by our experiences to interpret them differently. I study persuasion in all its forms and perhaps you watch the History Channel too much. Trump’s persuasion strategy depends on a growing number of voters finding something they like about him and fewer people reflexively making History Channel analogies. So far, it seems to be working. You’ll see Trump’s strategy fully-flowered over the summer. Watch for how many different reasons people offer for why they support him. That’s your tell.
From a business standpoint, Trump knows that Presidents make decisions based on current knowledge, not past knowledge. And by next year, a lot of what we think we know will be updated. If Trump said today exactly what he plans to do next year, it would be dumb. No CEO acts that way. No president acts that way either. It is useful to have broad policy preferences, but the details will change because of negotiations and because of newer information.
You also have to assume that a sitting President has more information than any of the candidates. At least I hope so. And that means anything the candidates say about fighting ISIS, for example, is probably under-informed. The same could be said for the economy because a president typically has more and better advisors than a candidate.
Here’s a little test you can try at home. In your mind, divide your friends and coworkers into two groups. One group understands a lot about making business decisions and one group has no business experience. Ask each of them individually this question:
How much detail should Trump provide on his policies?
A. Lots of detail so we know exactly what he plans to do.
B. We only need the big picture now because the details will be negotiated later, and the environment will change by then. Also, presidents have access to better advice and information than candidates.
I predict that your most experienced friends and coworkers will choose B. Let me know in the comments how it goes.
If you think Norman Vincent Peale is dead, you might like my book that has nothing to do with him.