How Trump Can Win

When Donald Trump first announced his candidacy, my initial reaction to the news that the “you’re fired” guy was running for President was surprise, disbelief and not a little amusement.

Before I go any further let me explain that I am an Australian and I have no skin in the American political game. When it comes to the remoter elements of the Republican horde seeking the nomination, I am like Jon Snow. I know nothing… I have to Google these people.

But I didn’t have to Google Donald Trump.

Now, there was a time when I was a Party Secretary in Australia. While politics is different Down Under – conservatives join the Liberal party and liberals join the union-affiliated Labor party - it is also similar to America. We have State and Federal government. There is a free press. Elections happen every three or four years. The people can and do turf the government out when they are dissatisfied.

After I stopped smiling at Donald Trump’s announcement I put my ex-Party Secretary’s hat on and started thinking about what a party wants in a candidate. This is much the same in West Brisbane as it is in West Texas. The list is fairly long but the key points are name recognition, ability to raise campaign money and the ability to sell a message. Everyone knows who Donald Trump is (even in faraway Australia). He has oodles of his own money. Can he sell a message? Make America Great Again. Tick. Tick. Big Tick. OK, its not an original campaign slogan. It’s a re-run of Reagan.

So what? No one wins The Voice with original songs.

There are other requirements such as the ability to string a sentence together and be presentable. Tick. Tick. One does likes one’s candidates to profess belief in Party values and policies. Tick. On the right we do like candidates to have made their money before going into politics. Big Tick.

Then there is the no oppo box. Does the candidate have skeletons in the closet? Bankruptcies? Shady real estate deals? Disgrunted ex-employees? Spousal indiscretions?

Let’s leave that one unticked. The likely Democratic nominee, “Khaleesi” Clinton, has a few of these issues anyhow. Will she be able guarantee that the First Gentleman will not have sex with those intern women in her White House? Or will she be compelled to not dignify this trash with comment? Will she promise not to run the White House on her Gmail account? The long buried bodies of Whitewater will no doubt be exhumed yet again if she gets nominated.

On a first pass, I assessed Donald Trump as a strong candidate. The poll results bear that out.

The pundits have written him off. Whether they are Democratic or Republican the campaign savants of Politico all predict that “the Donald” will flame out or pull out. One suggests that Trump winning the nomination and going down to Hillary in the general election would even be good for the GOP. Out of the ashes of a Trump defeat at the hands of the “Khaleesi”, the GOP will engage in soul searching and the moderates will retake the party from the wing nuts and crazies of the far right.

The current polls will not last. So they say.

I think they are wrong. I base this judgement on the career of an Australian politician few Americans will have heard off – Pauline Hanson.

Donald Trump is Pauline Hanson but with money, brains, a profile, a wardrobe, a drop dead gorgeous wife and an organization.

Pauline Hanson was nominated for the seat of Oxley (West Brisbane) in 1996. She was disendorsed as the Liberal candidate for making comments that were seen as racist and xenophobic at the insistence of John Howard, the then Liberal (i.e. “conservative” in US terms) Prime Minister. Instead of attacking Mexicans and war heroes, Pauline Hanson attacked Aborigines and Asians. The intelligentsia and the political elites wrote her off in much the same way as sections of the US media wrote Trump off after the attacks on Mexicans and McCain. On air, Pauline Hanson did not understand the words ‘xenophobic’ and ‘innuendo’. She was a twice divorced single mother with four kids who ran a fish and chip shop. She had no money, no wardrobe, no profile, no brains, no vocabulary, no taste, no organization and no media skills.

Even so, she did not shut up. She kept saying what she thought with the vocabulary she had in a nasal uncultivated Australian accent. She had grit and determination.

Above all, she was real.

She won Oxley.

Then she went on to start her own political party, One Nation. In the 1998 Queensland state elections One Nation won 11 out of 89 seats. She did this with nothing. No money, no wardrobe, no talent, nothing.

How come she did so well? I put it down to the “reality” factor. Pauline Hanson was totally unscripted. There was none of the poll-tested, focus group endorsed language perfected in the 1992 Clinton campaign. She ignored her dot points from Party Central. Party Central kicked her out and she kept talking as an Independent. Then she started One Nation. Ordinary people in redneck electorates sick of listening to weasel-speak loved her. The fact that the media went for her and the chattering elite mocked her endeared her to a large chunk of the voters.

What smart pundits often forget is that 50% of the electorate, by definition, is of below average intelligence. Yet this 50% has as many votes as the above average half.

I don’t think it impossible that Donald Trump might be able to win 270 out of 538 electoral college votes in the 50 United States. Unlike Pauline Hanson, he has a lot of money. Unlike Pauline, he can talk to the top end of town as well as rednecks. People arguing about whether he has 3 or 10 billion are missing the point. He has billions. He has wardrobe. Check out Mrs Trump and that wedding dress. He has a profile. His reality TV show is popular around the world. People recognize the “you’re fired” guy. He has brains. While you may not like his thoughts, you don’t get past $10 million if you are thick and this guy has a couple more zeros than that. This is a guy who can hire brains. He has vocabulary. He wrote a bestseller on negotiation. He can pronounce ‘xenophobia’ and ‘innuendo’ and he can point out exotic places on the map – like Macau and Monaco unlike say Sarah Palin when she ran with McCain. He has taste. Well, the suits and ties are impeccable. He has an organization. He has media skills. In particular, he has “cut through” – he can get his voice heard in a crowded news cycle.

This is a man who can get airtime and deliver a message in simple terms to ordinary people in language they understand.

US voters are dissatisfied. After being promised ‘Change You Can Believe In’, they got much the same. Obama, despite his soaring oratory, has underperformed. To be fair, he was given a dud hand to play. The Global Financial Crisis wrecked any chance he had to do much more than stop the ship of the United States from sinking. He got Obamacare up and now 90% of Americans have health care. Even so, universal healthcare it is not. Most politicians from other nations would be embarrassed to have to admit that 1 in 10 of their people do not have decent health coverage. Yet he said this earlier this year at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner. Australia, like most OECD nations, has universal health care (i.e. socialized hospitals) along with socialized schools and socialized roads. For some reason I have never been able to figure out, Americans seem be fine with socialized roads and socialized schools but draw the line at socialized hospitals.

America is exceptional in many ways. It has an unbalanced budget of exceptional size and an exceptional devotion to the Gospel of Success.

Donald Trump ticks the Success box. America reveres wealth in a way other nations do not.

The pundits reckoned his attack on the “war hero” who got captured, John McCain, proves Trump will blow up. This, I daresay, may well be true. A candidate that actually says what he thinks and does not speak only in words and phrases that have gone through polls and focus groups is “refreshing” as Giuliani observed but he’s a gamble. Well, Trump does know a thing or two about that. He runs casinos. Thing is, Pauline Hansen’s gaffes did not blow her up. They made her base love her all the more.

Besides, whereas Pauline Hanson’s gaffes were dumb, Trump’s are smart.

What was demonstrated by Trump’s attack on McCain is that if you have a go at him, he will have a go at you. There will no quarter with Donald Trump. He is not in the business of taking political prisoners. He will play the game like Survivor. Other nominees now know what to expect if they unleash their fangs. They will get fanged right back. Trump will brawl.

The attack on McCain was smart and ruthless. Trump used the follow up to shift the debate to his natural game: who needs to be fired in America. Who is underperforming? This is Trump’s turf. If he gets his opponents on this ground, he can whup them like Muhammed Ali whupped George Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle. After all, when Trump is unhappy with your performance, we all know where that train of thought goes…

According to Trump, John McCain has been in the US Senate a long time and yet done too little for the veterans. Trump started talking about the inadequacy of Veteran’s care – another of America’s long running open sores with health. He started talking about the forgotten nobodies who get no recognition and the forgotten nobodies who fought and did not get captured.

These people all have votes. Trump is talking to his audience: the audience of reality TV. That offer of a cabinet post to Sarah Palin was a smart move to secure his base – Fox News. Sarah Palin would, I am sure, make a perfectly fine Secretary of Hockey in a Trump Cabinet.

Trump does not need the Tea Party. He does not need a billion dollar rose from the Koch brothers. His attack ads will stress he was not at the Koch brothers’ donor love-in.

Trump can speak to ordinary people in a way elites cannot. He rates.

He is the James Brown of American politics. He's real. He does reality TV. His Twitter account @realDonaldTrump says he is real. When he says people should be fired for underperforming (e.g. those running US Veteran's health care, John McCain), people will believe that he will do it. If Donald Trump said he would fire the US Marine Corps (not that he would) people would believe him.

Pauline Hanson did eventually blow up, mainly due to a lack of brains. But it took years not weeks. While Donald Trump is political nitro glycerine, if he gets though the reality TV show that is Survivor: Republican Nomination, in a race between a Khaleesi who is too fake and a Mogul who is too real, my money is on reality.

Whatever happens, it will be entertaining…

© Prince Flood Aug 2015