The Black Knight, The Black Swan & Trump Soul

  • by May 5, 2016
Once Donald J. Trump swept Indiana, and then each of his remaining competitors tumbled off the stage (metaphorically, of course, except for Carly Fiorina) he became the Republican presidential nominee, no presumptive-ness needed.

Obviously, most media people, including myself, had been predicting his political demise since he first stepped foot on that down elevator in Trump Tower. Not surprisingly, in the wake of his astounding victory, a bunch of journalists have come out with “How did we get this so wrong?”-type pieces.

Chief among them was Nate Cohn, the data-based political prognosticator for The New York Times (not to be confused with statistics guru Nate Silver, who went from The New York Times to ESPN and fivethirtyeight blog).

Cohn, among others, referred to the Trump win as a black swan, a historical event that in hindsight seems inevitable but at the time could not be anticipated. Certainly, the Trump win has upended every bit of “conventional wisdom” around.



And yet, we (or at least I) keep expecting him to change, to sound more “presidential.” But his essential pomposity, which  translates to Tromposity, (bigger, better, braggier, and more bullying!) will never change, and that’s exactly why he’s winning.

Yet crazy as it sounds, I still imagined that in his Indiana victory speech, surrounded at the podium by all those tall, blonde-ish fembots, he’d take on a more humble, grateful tone, and say some reassuring things, aimed at the Republican elite, to prove that he was up to the job.

So I sat there wide-eyed as right off the bat, within the first four minutes, His Orangeness started complaining about the number of attack ads (“false and disgusting”) that interrupted him while he was “trying to watch a show.”

He said 60,000 negative ads were run against him. “Probably about $8 million was spent against me, and we spent $900,000.”

Never mind not rising to the standard “unity” theme.

This is Trump’s essential genius. To brag, talk money, (which haute Republicans never do in polite company) get personal, and in his own easily affronted bridge-and-tunnel vernacular, talk about how badly treated he was by certain people.

In this way, he’s like a political Kathy Griffin: He provides all the behind-the-scenes dirt about his opponents, giving them cruel names, and dishes like a politically aggrieved Queens housewife from the 1950s, taking a smoking break on her front porch.

So far, how many lumps of conventional political wisdom has Trump, the king of free media and hate-tweeting, sat on and squashed?

Let’s start with Number One: the importance of Big Data. The conventional wisdom is that a canny use of Big Data was Obama’s secret weapon in his victory over Mitt Romney.

But according to Wired magazine,  “Cruz was the king of the data strategizers,” who worked with all of the leading vendors, not only to target voters based on demographics,  but also on the psychographics.

And Jeb, Scott Walker, and Marco Rubio all invested heavily in data and analytics. (Ben Carson used Facebook’s analytics, and ran 200-plus ads in October alone).

Number Two: money. Sadly, for proof that it’s really not about SuperPACS and the never-ending need to fund-raise in order to run expensive TV commercials, just look at the disastrous candidacy of one very poignant Jeb!

His PAC, “Right to Rise,” alone spent somewhere around $40 million just against Trump. I always think of Monty Python’s famous Black Knight, who ended up losing all of his limbs and claiming they were mere “flesh wounds.” In the case of all of these negative ads, (not only Jeb’s), Trump’s limbs are about as impervious as cement walls.

Speaking of negative advertising, Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, has come out with two new and bash-y ads against Trump that have gone viral on social media. Many of the headlines so far describe them as “brutal” and “scathing.”

Sadly, the first spot goes down the exact same rabbit hole as Ted, Marco, and Jeb did before her.  In fact, Hillary is never seen. The  spot is a montage of clips showing Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, among other party-of-Lincoln establishment types, all lambasting Trump.

They call him out on his narcissism, misogyny, third-grade antics, pathological lying, etc.  But talk about preaching to the converted. At best, it might make some Hillary people feel better. But not one Trump backer will be swayed by these critiques. This is a line-up of all the failed candidates whom Trump took such delight in destroying. They are the “losers “who convinced them to vote Trump in the first place. What does it matter what they say?

The second one is slightly better, only because it uses clips of Trump himself, and it knits together all of his most outrageous and controversial statements, from Hispanics being drug dealers and rapists, to the need to punish women who have abortions. But again, Hillary followers will sicken and thrill to every word. Trump voters will blame the media and say that the craziest of the statements was taken out of context.

Frankly, I’m not looking forward to the next six months, and the viciousness that will no doubt be a big part of the campaign.

Ironically, all of those same pundits who were proven wrong about Trump are now talking about his need to hire establishment consultants who know what to do in the general election.  Ed Rollins, who was Ronald Reagan’s campaign manager, is heading up a new pro-Trump super PAC, and others are predicting that his new access to the RNC’s data base will make all the difference. And Trump himself has mentioned picking an established politician as his VP.

Which would mean that he is embracing all of the conventional wisdom that his candidacy so far has upended. Come on: can you say Black Swan?

15 comments about "The Black Knight, The Black Swan & Trump Soul".
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  1. Craig Mcdaniel from Sweepstakes Today LLC, May 5, 2016 at 10:24 p.m.

    So does your story indicate you will support my 3rd party run for President? You can be my PR person? Haha. I am looking for some humor about this election if it wasn't so serious.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, May 5, 2016 at 11:06 p.m.

    SHAME, SHAME, SHAME, SHAME, SHAME, SHAME, SHAME AND MORE SHAME.......Those jobs will never be back and more will be gone. Wait until those supporters get what they think they want. Invest in tents.

  3. Don Perman from self, May 6, 2016 at 5:53 a.m.

    A great take on Trump, the media's big miss on him, and the "Dark Knight" ad dueling. Thanks for the wonderful read.

  4. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, May 6, 2016 at 8:09 a.m.

    Hillary can't rely on the negative advertising to bring Trump down. She has a lot of building up of herself that she has to do.

    What commentators and other candidates didn't realize is that Trump supporters have legitimate grievances about the economy and the general state of things. Cruz tried to address that with his (late) comment along the lines of, "respectfully, you're backing the wrong candidate." Using the word "respectfully" before telling someone they're wrong is just patronizing, and he got the same result as every other Republican challenger to Trump.

    Hillary can definitely lose. It's not a done deal. She'd better get positive fast. If she comes off as arrogant, presumptive and smarter than everyone else, if all she can say is how horrible Trump is, she will lose.

  5. Robert Passikoff from Brand Keys, Inc., May 6, 2016 at 8:09 a.m.

    nobody should have been have been surprised at the outcome!

    Why do we say that? Well, we told you. Last year in fact. Shortly after he announced his candidacy. We told you that he was a more-than-viable Republican candidate for president and a serious contender. 

    How did we know? 

    We conducted an emotional engagement survey among likely Republican voters.
    Check out our most recent Linked In post to see what we said nearly a year ago!

  6. Claudia Caplan from MDC Partners, May 6, 2016 at 1 p.m.

    The media and Dems continue to underestimate him at their own risk.  Fame and shamelessness go a long way.

  7. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, May 6, 2016 at 1:23 p.m.

    Selfishies expect the immediacy of change. No such thing. It will be the immediacy of disappointment. 

  8. Jane Farrell from Freelance, May 6, 2016 at 1:59 p.m.

    Trump has gotten where he is by unashamedly appealing to the bottomless rage of his constituents. Republicans may think the same things, but they appear hesitant to go there. By saying what he is thinking, and getting an overwhelming response to it, he now knows that no matter what he does, he will never lose his popularity with his constituency. When he belittled John McCain's war experience and didn't suffer a backlash, that was it. Done. He could (and can) say anything he wants.

  9. Mark Hornung from MBrandSF, May 6, 2016 at 4:55 p.m.

    Good column, as usual Barbara. Full disclosure: I work in the Big Data industry. I would add that, while Cruz, Jeb!, and Marco Roboto did invest heavily in Big Data and analytics to no apparent avail, their failure was due more to unimaginative messaging than to the efficacy of the data. Even though Big Data allows one to target an audience with extraordinary precision, if the resulting content is boring or unappealing then nothing can save you. I routinely trash e-mails from candidates I support and delete their paid adverts from my searches because the pitch is monotonous: give us more money, the barbarians are at the gates! I wonder sometimes whether they critically analyze their resulting data to see that they are barely moving the needle.

  10. Barbara Lippert from, May 6, 2016 at 6:24 p.m.

    Good point, Mark! That goes for Robo-calls, too. I could never understand how bombarding people with phone calls does anything but make them not want to vote.  Come to think of it, negative advertising is sometimes used to supress the vote, too. 

  11. George Parker from Parker Consultants, May 6, 2016 at 9:25 p.m.

    Barbara, long before you were born, I worked on John Lindsay's re-election campaign for a second term as Mayor of NYC. Basically, the message was "I know I fucked up first time around, but I have learned from my mistakes. Give me another chance and I will do better." So, New York gave him another chance, and he fucked up even worse. Ya gotta love politics.

  12. Barbara Lippert from, May 6, 2016 at 9:54 p.m.

    Hilarious, George! 

  13. Jim English from The Met Museum, May 6, 2016 at 11:36 p.m.

    Thanks Barbara.  Trump might yell back at Cruz and others the Pythoniesque riposte, "What are you going to do, bleed on me?" Well there's been enough symbolic blood already.

  14. Elissa Moses from Ipsos, May 7, 2016 at 6:46 a.m.

    Interesting insight. People trust Trump because his saying inappropriate things creates a false sense of trust and intimacy. Who else does that except our whacky friends or relatives, usually in the privacy of a home or personal setting. His "everyman straight talk" may be simulating closeness.

  15. AC Winters from ACWintersEsq, May 7, 2016 at 12:01 p.m.

     " ... dishes like a politically aggrieved Queens housewife from the 1950s, taking a smoking break on her front porch." GENIUS, Barbara. Maybe your best turn of phrase ever! IMHO. You nailed the crux of the Donald's appeal. He's not "like us," but comes across like he is. And by "us" I mean the aggrieved millions feeling sorry for themselves, angry at others, and wanting someone to blame. Now I sound like Romney in 2012 talking about all the people just looking for a handout. In some twisted way, that dark instinct of Romney's is the same animus fueling Trump's triumphs. 

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