During Game 7 of the World Series on Wednesday night, President Donald Trump’s campaign launched a seven-figure national ad buy – a 30-second commercial touting his first-term accomplishments on terrorism, the economy and immigration.
But the real key to the ad – and the bit that you need to pay very close attention to – comes in the final moments of the commercial, when the narrator says this:
“He’s no Mr. Nice Guy. But sometimes it takes a Donald Trump to change Washington.”
Those two sentences are hugely telling when it comes to understanding how Trump (and his campaign) are going to position him in the race for a second term next November.
What’s clear from that tag line – “no Mr. Nice Guy … sometimes you need a Donald Trump” – is that the campaign understands how poorly the President is perceived on a bevy of personality traits. He’s not seen as friendly. Or kind. Or empathetic. Or even really, someone you’d want to spend a bunch of time around.
This ad tries to turn those traits on their head. Rather than being regarded as a negative for Trump, his campaign is trying to argue that in order to fix a place as broken as Washington, you need someone who doesn’t care about whether you like him. Or whether anyone likes him. Who only cares about results.
In a bumper sticker, the campaign messaging that this ad appears to preview goes like this: Yes, he’s a jerk. But he’s a jerk who gets results!
The underlying argument here is that for too long, voters elected presidential-looking and sounding politicians. People who played nice with one another, who gave predictable speeches, who went to all the Washington dinners and made friends with the media. And look where that got us! It screwed the average Joe, while these so-called elites feathered their nests.
Trump’s lack of manners, his bullying, his at-times outrageous and dangerous rhetoric are, under this formulation, simply proof points of how different he is than all of the failed politicians who have come before him. Democrats don’t like him? Even some Republicans don’t? The media is outraged? Good! They should be – that’s the whole point.
There’s at least some reason to believe that sort of positioning could work for Trump. The 2016 exit poll tells that story. Just 1 in 3 voters said that Trump “honest” and “trustworthy”. (He won 1 in 5 voters who said he wasn’t honest or trustworthy.) About that same number – 35% – said Trump had the “temperament” to be president. (He won 1 in 5 voters who said he didn’t have the right temperament to be president.)
In virtually every previous election, those are numbers that guarantee a loss. After all, how does a candidate that two-thirds of the country thinks isn’t honest and doesn’t have the right temperament to be president win? That answer – in 2016, at least – is also in the exit poll. Asked which candidate quality mattered most to them in deciding their vote, almost 4 in 10 (39%) named “can bring change.” Of that group, Trump won 82% to 14% for Hillary Clinton.
The desire for radical change in Washington trumped – ahem – absolutely everything else in these critical voters’ mind. They were so sick of the status quo that they were willing to vote for someone in Trump who they neither liked nor trusted.
Which brings us back to Trump’s ad – and this line in particular: “Sometimes it takes a Donald Trump to change Washington.” And explains why that sort of message just might work. Again.