Monday, March 21, 2016

Celebrity Apprentice politics -- and how to beat Trump

Editors of a student publication asked me: "If you were hired to take attention and support away from (Donald) Trump in the presidential campaign, what would you do? And how would you go about doing this?"

Across my career, my engagements in political PR were minimal. Most of my corporate and not-for-profit clients had little political interest. But the editors' questions made me wonder: is taking away Trump's bluster and strong-arm tactics the best path forward?

Tom Selleck photo by Alan Light [CC BY 2.0
via Wikimedia Commons
Here's what I shared with the editors:

The challenge with “taking interest away from Trump” is that it’s impossible. He spent years cultivating his personal brand through his Celebrity Apprentice TV series and phoning news-talk shows on radio and TV. So the entire country believes it “knows” Donald Trump.

In other words: Trump's campaign is not based on ideology, GOP dogma, or an electorate allegedly disenchanted by the major parties' machinations. He has no real workable ideas, or strategists who can help craft policy suitable for a global leader; traits by which most authentic leaders are judged.

Trump's only strength is his celebrity. He's a media darling who knows how to wrap news media around his (insert your favorite size euphemism here) fingers. Those over-enthusiastic attendees aren't packing Trump's rallies because of his brilliant ideas about walls or deportation. They're hoping a WWE-style fight breaks out, complete with John Cena and a guest star.

It's all about our country's preoccupation with celebrity.

Back to the GOP's case. A workable solution might be to draft a highly regarded GOP leader – House Speaker Paul Ryan, or perhaps Sen. John McCain – who have records of public service. Both are familiar to the national electorate from their past campaigns. 

Or, as a true dark horse option, enlist a GOP-affiliated actor who’s widely admired. Tom Selleck leaps to mind. He's generally well-liked, with a TV and media pedigree that pre-dates Trump's by at least a decade. Unlike Trump's resort properties, Selleck owns a ranch, like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

 And he knows how to drive a Ferrari. Sounds promising.

Properly focused, the GOP would need to concentrate its messaging and resources on persuading an uncommitted “moveable middle” segment of the GOP faithful who find the prospect of a Trump presidency unacceptable: voters unimpressed by empty threats.

I hope those voters watch Blue Bloods or repeats of Magnum, P.I.

Full disclosure: I did have a near-brush with Trump's celebrity in my corporate PR life. See below. It's pretty awful.