Tick-Tock Trump: Four Plays in Four Days

September 1, 2016

Four influence plays over the last four days tell the story of Donald Trump’s recent wild ride on the campaign trail. The insurgent GOP presidential nominee went from profound internal chaos and falling prospects to a hero with a plan. Here’s how:

Slide01TRIAL BALLOON Beginning his pivot to the electorate’s center — albeit late — Trump moved to the beat of a new campaign team as he tied the word “soften” to his hardline stance on immigration and deportations. Was he saying he’d do it? Trump’s semantics are so erratic that he can (and does) restate any outcome that does not flatter the output. If so, the play was a no-spin Fiat. But given his sagging polls, Playmakers would say instead that The Donald was floating an idea, a 2016 rendition of compassionate conservatism, that served to see if his base would bit back and if moderate’s would nibble. As Trial Balloon’s are designed to do, Trump got a snootful of feedback — Don’t you dare soften. Which seemed to have rocked Trump Tower. Kinder and gentler won’t work.

Slide08RECAST  Quickly, then, Team Trump reached into its bag of influence tricks and pulled out the Recast, the framing play that edits and omits to suit the focal player (Trump). By way of surrogates, notably Trump’s first son, Donald Jr., the word was spread that Oh, no no no, Donald’s not softening. Nothing has changed. Deportations will happen en masse and the wall will still be built. For many right wingers, it was too late. Rush Limbaugh still could not stop laughing at the irony of such a flip and MSNBC’s conservative TV host Joe Scarborough pushed a new label, #AmnestyDon to needle the obvious flip-flop. Perhaps as a holding action, it was announced that Trump would soon make a major speech on immigration.

Slide19CRAZY IVAN  As embattled players tend to do, this quick drama moved to the right on The Standard Table of Influence, i.e., from low to high engagement plays. Now, Trump had only two choices with his failing spin: An apologetic Disco or the preemptive play with the quirky Cold War name, the Crazy Ivan. Trump took the second option. Accepting an invitation from Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto, he flew full speed to Mexico City. They met at length. They stood together at twin podiums. But it was Trump who seemed to hold the cape and sword. He appeared presidential. He seemed brave. He seemed uncompromising but somehow diplomatic because, in fact, he didn’t draw blood. The essence of the Crazy Ivan is to move at, not away from, a competitor. That Trump largely pulled off an obviously risky play lent to the image that a new sheriff’s in town.

Slide13BEAR HUG  Mere hours after his faux summit in Mexico, Trump crossed the border to Phoenix to deliver his promised speech. While his teleprompter-typed remarks were laced with tough-talk Fiats about his Day One plans and Call Outs on Hillary’s dead-end ideas, the less obvious but more decisive play was a Bear Hug on his afternoon coffee date. Describing his day to a raucous crowd, Trump said, in essence, We agreed. We love our countries. We’re all gonna win. It was an unusually conciliatory framing of what he later described, over and over, as an extreme and preeminent national problem (far more urgent that mere climate change). A strategy of mutual assistance and partnership with Mexico was followed by what most progressives will simply call a historic hate speech.

Another buried gem in a very busy news week was Trump’s description of a stronger American hemisphere (not a nation), made materially viable through the cooperation of Mexico. While he pledged in Phoenix to build a wall, over and under the ground, what he spelled out in the company of Pena Nieto was a global strategy to tie the Americas (North and presumably South) to out-produce and out-wit a looming China and resurgent Russia.

With the exception of the Trial Balloon, this strategy series was never on the white boards at Trump Tower. It was played on-the-fly. It was born out of a problem and turned into a competitive advantage. It was Trumpism of a different kind and a stunner.


Post by Alan Kelly