Much will be said and written in coming days and years about the biggest presidential election upset the United States has seen since 1948. Donald J. Trump, candidate is now Donald J. Trump, president elect. He even changed his famous Twitter page on Wednesday to reflect it.
How did it happen? Well, they say hindsight is 20-20 and I, as someone who thought Hillary Clinton would be America’s first female president, think I see much more clearly now.
Election 2016 will go down as the year when the Clinton Campaign discovered they were out of touch with the majority of Americans. Well, as it appears Hillary Clinton will actually win the popular vote, not the majority perhaps, but out of touch with enough Americans that it cost the party the deciding Electoral College vote.
There are a multitude of reasons, of course. But I think the difference in communications styles between the two candidates is one of the main reasons.
- Hillary Clinton campaigned by the book. Donald Trump tore up the book.
- Democrats bragged about how much Hillary Clinton studied and prepared for debates. Trump was more seat of the pants.
- She provided detailed policies that bored the average voter. Trump had short slogans that they remembered: “Make American Great Again.” “Drain the Swamp.”
- Democrats released lengthy policy papers. Trump had one pagers and more slogans, “Build the Wall.”
- Hillary Clinton appeared in photos with high-profile celebrities. Trump had Scott Baio and Stephen Baldwin and tweeted a photo of himself eating a taco bowl from Taco Bell.
- Democrats had endorsements from major newspapers. Newspapers that many voters view as full of high-brow bullshit. Trump didn’t.
- Hillary Clinton was measured, disciplined, studied, rehearsed, practiced. She gave long involved answers.
- Donald Trump used punchy sentences. Sometimes not even full-sentences. (Like that one-see what I did there?!)
From a communications stand-point, Democrats, long considered the party of unions, minorities, reproductive rights for women and the “little people” had become the party of the college-educated, the self-righteous, the deep-thinkers, the liberal lefties, the out-of-touch. The dreaded “Elite.”
Democrats messaged to the minds and intellect of the American people using facts and logic to bolster the reasons why Hillary Clinton should be elected president. But, excluding the genuine appeal of Michelle Obama, they didn’t use enough heart-felt emotion.
Research shows people make decisions based on emotion first. A-ha, you didn’t need me to tell you about the research part, though, did you? You know it’s true in your heart. And that’s a lot of what happened during this campaign.
Trump appealed to the hurting hearts and the gut of the American people. The weaker the economy, the stronger his vote.
Yes, he said offensive things. But when the Democrats or so-called “liberal,” media-folks pointed those gaffes out, they did so in logical ways – using college-level words like “misogynist” and well, “gaffe.” They simply didn’t connect with the lonely and marginalized rural voters or disaffected middle class or blue-collar workers whose jobs and dreams had disappeared and died.
I remember when my dad died, the neighbors in my hometown of Farmland, Indiana didn’t come over and say, “Hang in there, time will heal, we’ve got a ten-page grieving plan you need to listen to.” They cried too. They said they were sorry.
Democrats underestimated how hurting many of the people were. They were like know-it-all parents to unhappy, frustrated kids. The “eat your vegetables, they’re good for you“ kind of parent. The kind of parents that kids resent. The kind of parents that don’t get it. The kind that are out of touch.
I’m not literally saying that the electorate are children and the president is a parent, of course. America’s president should be a leader. A leader who can knows how to connect.
With his name emblazoned jets and designer family and his no-teleprompter style of speech, Trump masterfully combined the American dream of attaining prosperity with the common touch.
His communications style touched a chord. He connected. And he will be moving into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in January.
Yes, he used inflammatory language and hopefully he will move away from that to the more statesman-like tones he used during his victory speech and after his first meeting with President Obama.
The challenge and the opportunity, therefore, for Democrats and other would-be leaders, is to take a bit of one of the lessons from Election 2016. Don’t use negative language, of course, but get real. Get human. Use language your audience uses. Try to really focus on your audience’s perspective. What are their hopes, dreams and fears? Consider those first and then build your message from there. Use your gut. Your heart.
Speak from the perspective of your audience– not above them. That’s the language of leadership.
I’m so grateful you are reading my essays. I train, consult and speak about the language of leadership. Please click ‘Follow’ (at the top of the page) and reach out to me directly to support you or your organization via LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and at GinaLondon.com and Fuzion.ie
PS. Clearly, Trump must now put his short, pithy messages into action. Workable policy DOES have to happen after January 20, 2017. That remains to be seen. But the lesson about language and connecting with people is what, I believe, largely won him the election… now, don’t shoot the messenger… this one, I mean! Cheers.