All summer long I’ve avoided posting anything about Donald Trump. Like many, I haven’t taken his candidacy for president seriously. Ignoring him has been difficult, given how the news and entertainment media have been somewhat obsessed with every word the billionaire utters.
I feel badly for the other Republican candidates. I’ve blogged about the GOP’s efforts to re-brand the party and how it was reaching out to women, young people and Spanish-speaking voters. Trump has effectively undermined this agenda with his brash and careless comments. And the unprecedented 17 other Republicans running have been unable to effectively get their message out because Trump is literally sucking up all the air. He has become a ratings winner, so media programmers are devoting more time to him than all other candidates combined. Could you name most of the other 17 running? I couldn’t.
Conversely, the Donald Trump Show has worked to Hillary Clinton’s advantage. While we don’t know how serious the investigation of her email will become, without Trump, Hillary’s issues would be receiving far more attention. It’s attention she doesn’t want; she’s still the front-runner and she’ll need far more positive coverage to stay ahead. As public relations students and practitioners understand, grabbing an audience’s attention and making positive impressions is crucial to success whether for a candidate, product or cause.
When I teach PR history, I talk about P.T. Barnum, the shameless 19th century promoter of his circus. The National Review’s John Fund recently wrote, “(Trump) is the P.T. Barnum of American politics, a brilliant self-promoter who knows exactly what he’s doing and who changes his opinions constantly to match what he thinks audiences want to hear, much as Barnum used to switch out circus acts between towns on his tour.” Now Trump is out-Barnum-ing Barnum; as a presidential candidate, his domination of the news so early in the race is unprecedented.
There are PR lessons to be learned here, both good and bad, as the Summer of Trump is sure to be found in case studies textbooks someday. I wonder what the final chapter will look like. Your thoughts?