March 9, 2016
Donald Trump has reinvented the presidential nomination process in many ways. Nine months ago, nobody would have believed you could run a front running campaign based on free media.
Some of his tactics cause endless amounts of angst among the professional political classes. Sometimes he offends people he’ll ultimately need in November. Often, serious conservatives are horrified.
Maybe he gets away with all this, maybe he doesn’t. Either way, he ends another election night as the clear leader in the GOP nomination contest. If you look beyond the bluster to the strategy, his newish technique of doing an election night press conference is pure genius.Each of his three “press conferences” have taken place in Florida on a Trump property. It means he can sleep at Mar-a-Lago, and that he gets to do the event on his own turf. Way more comfortable than some random hotel ballroom in a random city.
He’s inviting some guests and the press to his place. About those guests. They sit up front in several rows of chairs, in front of the assembled media. It means he gets to deliver his opening remarks to a friendly audience.
That same audience can cheer his remarks and his responses to the media queries. The questions themselves are lobbed in from a distance. Microphones are not provided. If the questioner is part of a TV crew, you might hear the question. Usually, a viewer can only clearly hear the response.
Think about the power play. It’s in a press conference format, one viewers are used to seeing. He’s at a podium in the front, reporters are asking questions. It makes him look presidential.
But a normal press conference has the subject trying to stay on his/her feet while the media is firing questions. Maybe a short opening statement, and then the barrage begins.
In this format, Trump speaks for much longer, often more time than traditional candidates giving a full speech in front of a larger audience. You don’t know when he’ll stop and take questions.
The reporters don’t either, it builds suspense. The physical gap between Trump and the media serves to marginalize them. The lack of ability to hear the questions at home marginalizes them. Trump is able to remain in complete control.
Because he pulls ratings, the cable networks will cover the entire event. They may also have one of their people get to ask a question. That keeps them tuned in as well. While Trump was filibustering, Hillary Clinton gave a full teleprompter speech that nobody covered.
When he did this on Super Tuesday, it was a novel approach. On Saturday, not brand new, but he kept everyone waiting almost two hours beyond his announced start time to make sure Louisiana and Kentucky were called for him.
Every 10 to 15 minutes, each cable network checked back in with their field reporter for an update on when The Donald might speak. This time, he had steak. And water. And wine. And Trump Magazine. And whatever else.
He spent time showing off these items. Who talks about their steak selection in a post-primary speech or press conference? It’s this unpredictability that keeps everyone coming back.
You might like him, you might hate him, you might still be in the process of making up your mind. Regardless, this is absolutely brilliant and an example of why he’s still doing so well. Nobody can compete with the show.
Ted Cruz may beat him, Hillary Clinton might. Perhaps Kasich or Rubio does the improbable. To do so, they’ll need to get past a genius of media manipulation. Donald Trump already deserves a spot in the political strategists Hall of Fame.