Published in The Hill
December 2, 2016
Terry Holt and Trent Duffy
President-elect Donald Trump may not have a popular vote mandate, but he possesses raw political assets that are even more powerful: superior communications skills, a highly energized, devoted and organized grassroots following, and true fearlessness.
A master entertainer; he has captured America’s attention, with friends, foes and those in-between on the edge of their seats wondering what he’ll do next.
Trump deployed these assets for maximum impact to win the nomination and the presidency. Yet the political chattering class continues to underestimate the Donald. Here’s a news flash for Official Washington: President-elect Trump could be one of the most consequential chief executives to occupy the Oval Office.
Here are five reasons why:
1. Trump TV – The power of the Bully Pulpit has been somewhat weakened in recent years, but it is still the loudest media platform for any politician, especially one who knows TV and drama as well as our next President.
Mr. Trump showed his media savvy throughout the campaign, which will continue to serve him very well when he moves into 1600 Penn. In short, the media simply has to take him live because people want to watch him succeed (or fail) in real time.
That gives him a much greater ability to make news at the time and place of his choosing, one of the most valuable weapons in the White House communications arsenal.
2. Trump Twitter – As Trump proved, he doesn’t need the mainstream media to win. In fact, the more the press shrieks to preserve the Washington status quo the country just rejected (OMG, he hasn’t had a press conference yet!), they only strengthen his popularity.
His avid supporters have followed him on Twitter for years, but now the millions of independents and first-time voters who put him in office will likely join in. It’s much more exciting and inclusive to get news straight from the Commander in Chief rather than through the filter.
3. Trump Nation – The iron rule in Washington is “he who has the votes wins.” Donald J. Trump can get votes, because his devoted following demonstrated that they’re not only loud, but organized, determined, and willing to turn out.
Just as they did to Trump’s campaign rivals like Senator Ted Cruz, they will aggressively challenge opponents at town halls and public appearances, especially if their new President names and shames those standing in the way.
Indeed, one of the most refreshing early qualities of the Trump Transition is that it simply ignores old DC taboos and “protocol.” Hopefully, this defiance will continue in the form of airing the town’s dirtiest laundry and indefensible backroom tactics.
One tweet identifying the pol blocking legislation in exchange for a “bridge to nowhere” will unleash the fury of his following like Happy Gilmore’s gallery on Shooter McGavin. The difference here is that Trump is more than willing to call out members of his own party and seems to enjoy doing it. That will certainly boost prospects for change.
4. Trump the Everyman – The media still can’t get over it but the next president has an uncanny ability to explain issues in ways average Americans can understand. He isn’t Politically Correct.
He can be blunt. He is witty and uses humor to great advantage. This gives him the ability not only to explain complicated issues in basic terms but also to persuade people who haven’t thought about them before.
5. Trump’s X Factor – Trump has one incredible and immeasurable advantage that his predecessors did not, which is that his own re-election is not likely his highest priority. It may not even be among the top ten.
That’s not to say that Trump won’t try to help those who help him and help the party in general, but it is a vast departure from the modern mindset that a President’s biggest fear is being a one-termer. While his legislative or political team may argue that an agenda item would run afoul of an influential special interest or a voting bloc, his most likely answer will be “so what?”
He revels in calling it like he sees it and letting the chips fall where they may. While that carries some risk, his off-the-cuff commentary is able to break through in an era of poll-tested, focus-grouped, blow-dried pablum. This authenticity is a key to his success.
These and other factors give the 45th President an amazing launching pad, and issue advocates should adjust messaging and communications strategies accordingly. With expectations low and a country that is fed up with a business-as-usual culture in Washington, Mr. Trump has both the tools and the terrain necessary to score significant victories.
Whether he can take advantage of all this remains to be seen, but early signs are promising.
Trent Duffy was Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Press Secretary for President George W. Bush. Terry Holt was a senior advisor to the Republican National Committee and National Spokesman for the 2004 Bush/Cheney reelection campaign. They are both currently founding partners at HDMK, a policy-focused strategic communications and public relations firm in Washington.
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