Trump looks like a good bet to win the Republican nomination. And let’s say his opponent in the general election is either Clinton or Sanders. That gives us an interesting situation in which the three candidates in the best position to become president have fatal flaws.
Trump is too scary
Clinton is too untrustworthy
Sanders is too non-religious
In the 2D world of politics, voters say they look at the issues and choose the candidate with the best platform. In the 3D world of persuasion, so long as a candidate isn’t bat-shit crazy, personality always beats policy details. So the question comes down to which of the three candidates can solve for their perceived personality flaws.
If Trump finds a way to be less scary, he wins. If Clinton finds a way to be more trusted, she wins. If Sanders accepts Jesus as his personal savior, he wins.
I don’t see any scenario in which Clinton regains trust or Sanders turns to Jesus. But Trump probably has several solutions to fix his scariness problem. Let’s talk about how he can do that and win in a landslide.
We have already seen Trump modulate his personality to fit any circumstance. He fights when he needs to fight, but he also shows empathy – with wounded veterans, for example – when the situation calls for it. Trump says clearly and often that he changes his approach to fit the situation. But can he change his approach enough to stop scaring the pants off of Democrats?
Consider writer and pundit Ezra Klein. That poor guy is so terrified (to use his word) of Trump that he is peeing himself to sleep every night thinking about it. The fear is real, even if the justification for the fear is not. Can Trump overcome that level of deep, deep fear in Democrats?
Yes, and probably with ease.
We all expect Trump to act less scary in the general election once he has the nomination. A few months of acting non-racist, peppered with some spontaneous acts of public empathy should help. But it won’t be enough. What Trump needs is a VP running mate who solves for his scary.
Trump has said he prefers a real politician for a running mate, to balance out his own lack of government experience. That makes some sense, but it gives you a boring running mate and no solution for the Trump scariness factor. A normal politician would simply disappear in Trump’s shadow. Maybe that’s what Trump wants. But it doesn’t solve for scary.
To solve for scary, Trump needs Mark Cuban as his running mate. Cuban has evolved from saying Trump has no chance of winning to saying he is interested in being VP (sort of, maybe), as long as his family is okay with it. See some links here.
As vice president, Cuban could be in charge of driving entrepreneurship and technology. With those domains as his portfolio, Cuban could be the most impactful VP of all time. That is hard to resist.
But the real benefit of a Cuban vice presidency is that you would trust him to turn on Trump – and publicly – if Trump became truly evil. No worn-out Republican governor would turn on a sitting president in his own party. That isn’t a real option. If you want to solve for Trump’s scariness, you want a strong, independent voice on the inside. You need someone who is NOT a career politician. You need someone to disagree with Trump when it matters. (Cuban and Trump disagree on the issue of Apple unlocking the iPhone encryption, for example.)
Imagine Trump as president with a weak VP. That might feel scary to you.
Now imagine Trump with an outspoken and pragmatic Mark Cuban as VP. And imagine too that Cuban is willing to resign as VP the minute Trump shows any signs of turning into an evil dictator. That would be an effective control on Trump. And probably one he doesn’t relish.
But it solves for scary. So look for Mark Cuban to be on Trump’s short list. And look for Trump to find an experienced politician (a John Kasich type) as his chief of staff. That’s all Trump needs to navigate Washington DC. Presidents have plenty of advisors on call. But there are not many Mark Cubans.
Why can’t we have Trump and Cuban as a team?
On a related and positive note, I think we should all be delighted at the richness of choice in this election. This is something special. I have never been more optimistic for the country.
Note: I might be on CNN today (Monday, Feb 22nd) at around 4:45 EST, talking about Trump, but these things can change.