Other Voices

Insults are a winning tool for Trump, but there’s more to it

Donald Trump speaks at a rally Thursday at Gilley’s Dallas.
Donald Trump speaks at a rally Thursday at Gilley’s Dallas. rmallison@star-telegram.com

A top headline said, “Trump plans to insult his way to victory over Clinton.”

While it is true that Donald Trump is a skilled insulter, in believing that he crushed 16 of his GOP rivals by slapping a few labels on them, many people fail to see the true source of his winning.

In a debate in Nevada last December, Jeb Bush said to Trump, “You’re never going to be president of the United States by insulting your way to the presidency.”

Trump replied, “Well, let’s see, I’m at 42 [percent] and you’re at 3 [percent], so, so far I’m doing better.”

In thinking that Trump was insulting his way to the presidency, Bush failed to see how Trump was thumping him, and those who make the same mistake will keep missing Trump’s real threat to Hillary Clinton.

It is of course true that Trump is already insulting with his favorite phrase, “Crooked Hillary,” but that’s only a small part of Trump’s winning playbook and the way that he plans to beat Clinton.

The truth is, most of the game has already been played, and Trump has already made most of his winning moves.

Here are five of his most crucial ones:

Insults are the rifle shot. Trump insults his rivals as a way to easily disarm their attacks on him, as well as to destroy their campaigns.

Consider that by labeling Ted Cruz as “Lyin’ Ted,” no matter what Cruz would throw at Trump, including legitimate accusations, Trump simply redirected to his form of character assassination.

It’s a savvy move that Trump uses exceptionally well, but his insults are merely the smoking gun in his winning campaign.

His campaign isn’t about his rivals. Every time politicians focus on attacking their rivals, they fail to keep driving their own message.

A reason that Trump upstaged all of his rivals in the debates was that, prompted or unprompted, they kept focusing attention on him.

This handed Trump what he most desperately sought: More airtime and the microphone, the most potent weapon of his campaign.

With that microphone in hand, Trump cleverly insulted a number of his rivals out of the race, but they’ve never been the target of his winning campaign.

The target is voters. While one way Trump beat Jeb Bush was having voters associate him as “Low Energy,” Trump hasn’t built his campaign on beating down his rivals.

He’s built it on offering voters a more compelling vision and message.

Trump, by far, developed the best messaging of any candidate, and he won the nomination by bringing millions of voters along with his campaign.

It’s about America. Whereas Jeb Bush was running based on his name, exclamation point included, and Clinton is running as a woman, Barack Obama took over the country running on a platform of “Hope,” “Change,” and “Yes we can.”

Trump has done the same. Despite having a powerful brand and personality, perhaps ironically, Trump’s campaign has never been about him, but about his rally cry to “Make America great again.”

While a number of his rivals have stood for themselves or “not Trump,” Donald stands for America.

How we can be great again. Of the many lessons to be gleaned from Barack Obama’s masterful 2008 campaign, perhaps the greatest lesson is the way in which he moved voters with his optimistic vision for the country.

Optimism sells. And beyond Trump’s attention-grabbing insults and controversial comments that he has used to masterfully hog the spotlight, Trump has built his movement the same way.

I’m told that Jeb Bush still believes that Trump thrashed him with his schoolyard taunting.

He failed to see that he lost because he entered the race without an optimistic vision and powerful messaging.

If Trump wins, it won’t be through insults, but because he has offered Americans something they desperately want more: A leader who can make us great again.

Geoff Blades is the author of the new book, “The Trump Presidential Playbook,” a former investment banker at Goldman Sachs and investor at the Carlyle Group.