Donald Trump called John Kasich “disgusting” for how he eats. Trump insulted Rand Paul’s looks. He said Rubio was sweaty and little. He mocked a disabled guy (an enemy reporter) who has a bad arm. Ted Cruz turned into “lyin’ Ted” and Jeb Bush got tagged with the “low energy” kill shot.
Trump also said, “Look at that face” about Carly Fiorina. He made a reference to Megyn Kelly bleeding from “wherever” and he calls Hillary Clinton “crooked” nearly every day.
What do you call it when a man insults his enemies who are both male and female? Democrats call it a “woman problem.” And indeed it is. Here I remind you that reason is not part of persuasion. If the public sees Trump as having a “woman problem” then he does.
So how could he fix it?
Reason won’t work, but persuasion might. As a trained persuader, I’ll tell you how I would approach it if I were him. I’ll present it as an imaginary interview with Megyn Kelly.
Kelly: Mr. Trump, people say you’re a sexist.
Trump: What would be an example of something where you and I have different opinions on gender, Megyn?
Did you catch the technique?
If Trump simply lists all the things he wants to do for women, such as make the country safer and richer, that goes a little ways toward helping his case, but not enough. What he needs to do is change the frame from “This is what Trump says” to “This is what women say, and Trump agrees.”
You can pick apart anything Trump says and label it sexist, the same way you can pick apart anyone who says anything. But if Trump asks a woman – especially a conservative woman – how her views are different from his, the frame changes. Context matters.
For example, do you remember when Apple’s iPhone had the problem of losing a connection if you held it a certain way? When viewed in isolation, it seemed that the iPhone had a bug, which it did. So how did Steve Jobs fix this massive PR problem with one sentence?
He changed the frame.
Jobs got on a conference call with the press and said, “All smartphones have problems.”
The headlines the next day were that all smartphones have problems. And indeed they do. Jobs ended that entire problem with…one…sentence. All he did was change the frame. Trump can do the same.
In Trump’s case, he needs to change the frame from defending a long list of offensive statements to how his opinions differ from anyone else’s opinion. For example, does anyone disagree with equal pay for equal work? Does anyone disagree with better healthcare for pregnant women? Trump’s opinions on gender issues are mostly the same as everyone else’s.
Abortion is a big exception, obviously. Here’s how Trump could change the frame on abortion.
Kelly: You said women should be “punished” for getting illegal abortions, and then you changed your position the next day. Should women be punished for getting illegal abortions?
Trump: The first time I heard that question, my initial reaction was that anyone who breaks a law should be punished. But lots of folks explained to me why this is a special case and needs to stay that way. So once I heard a better argument I quickly adjusted. It’s rare to have a crime that has no punishment, but it makes sense in this case.
That changes the frame from “Trump wants to punish women" to “This is a rare case where a crime should have no punishment.” It also demonstrates his flexibility in the face of a better argument. And since Trump is running as a citizen-politician, we expect him to do some catch-up on the issues.
Obviously Trump could pick a woman as a VP running mate. And Trump can also make his case for being the best “protector” of women because of immigration risks. Both of those approaches are strong persuasion. But the main thing he needs to do is change the frame to make two things clear:
1. He is an equal-opportunity offender. He insults anyone who attacks first.
2. His views on gender issues are mostly the same as everyone else’s.
That’s how you change the frame.
Disclaimer: I don’t endorse Trump or anyone else. My political views do not align with any of the candidates and I have no psychic powers to predict who would do the best job as president. My interests are in Trump’s persuasion skills.
If you think this blog post is too long, you should see my book. It is far worse.