Say what you will about Donald Trump, but throughout this campaign season the business mogul has proved himself to be a master manipulator of the media. Seemingly every time you turn on the television news, the anchors are talking about Trump. He makes the top headlines on news websites and political rags. He has engineered it so that he is always the top story in the news cycle.
And even when the story seems to be one that would prove fatal for any other candidate, Trump doesn't just survive -- he thrives. His support grows with every sound bite.
Moreover, his competitors are left in an unenviable position. They have to respond to him; the frustration on their end is palpable. No candidate this election cycle has been able to get any significant airtime about anything other than Trump. Though other candidates may have thoughts about substantive issues and are eager to make clear their positions, they spend all their airtime responding to Trump. Everything this election season has been about responding to Trump.
Trump has been on the offensive since day one of his campaign.
From the moment he announced his bid, when he declared Mexicans to be rapists and criminals, he ensured that he would stay in the spotlight. His loud and objectionable rhetoric has secured him an insurmountable amount of media coverage. His face has graced the front pages of every single large-scale newspaper in the country. Some response to him was negative and some positive. But he has not let any of it faze him. He has owned all of his comments to date. Not only did he stand by his statements pertaining to illegal immigration, but he wouldn't stop talking about it. He has managed to parlay the issue into one of national security. This was a smart move. Numerous polls show national security to be a top priority on voters' minds. Once Trump made his comments align with those fears, he easily won support. And that support has outweighed the backlash, as can be evidence by his successes in South Carolina and New Hampshire.
His manipulation of the media didn't stop there. He has played the media masterfully throughout the campaign. He is going to win the Republican nomination. His successes thus far, as well as support in opinion polls, show this. When he clinches the nomination, it will be in large measure due to his PR savvy.
Trump has spent a fraction on advertising relative to his competitors. In fact, the little he has spent on paid media will someday be a classic case study of the value of social media. With social media, he has been able to get his name out there, constantly trending, without breaking the bank. From making news with his tweets to producing short video clips on Instagram that would normally cost ridiculously large sums of money to roll on regular TV, Trump has used the medium more effectively than any other current candidate and I believe it is no exaggeration to say that he has promoted and branded himself better than any other candidate in the history of American politics.
By recognizing technological trends in this country, Trump is pummeling his competition while spending less money. Jeb Bush's campaign coffers started at well over $100 million; he used much of that money to slam Trump on the airwaves. But Bush only got a fraction of the nonpaid airtime that Trump is. Trump has managed to strike down Bush with one narrative that began with a short Instagram clip. According to Trump, Bush is weak, has low energy and is running away from his family -- though, according to Trump, he should be. And this view of Jeb Bush has permeated the campaign haze due to Trump's social media management. It's in large part the reason he's had to suspend his campaign already.
Does everything Trump says make sense? No. But logic doesn't matter this campaign cycle. Trump creates the narrative and it sticks. And we've seen this happen continually.
He took Fox News to task by exploiting his ratings-worth -- something no other Republican primary candidate has dared to do -- and had Fox begging him to come back. He continues to antagonize conservative media giant Glenn Beck, which further serves to keep his name in the news.
Trump's offensive posture has proved dominant this cycle. His substance -- or lack thereof -- is irrelevant. His brand awareness is higher than that of any other candidate and he has managed to convince enough Republican primary voters that he's the strongest candidate running. When Trump runs the show, neither the truth nor the facts matter. Trump understands the media cycle better than anyone else.
There is one thing he has said though that is clearly correct: He has built a movement and, as its leader, he conducts this orchestra off the cuff as he goes along. There are no pollsters working for Trump and, to the extent that he has any campaign staff, don't kid yourselves. They're not running the show. It's Trump-mania and now that he has won South Carolina, he will likely become the GOP nominee, having spent barely any money whatsoever.
It's time to anoint Donald Trump the "PR Guru."