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How to Do Persuasion Wrong - Dilbert Blog

How to Do Persuasion Wrong

Now that Donald Trump has effectively wrapped up the Republican Party nomination, let’s talk about the general election. Clinton’s campaign chair, John Podesta, has started to make the case that Trump is too “risky” to be president. That signals a shift from arguing about policy and experience to pure persuasion.

That’s a big deal. If you missed it, you missed the only important thing that happened this week. The rest is just blah-blah delegates, blah-blah, polls. Persuasion will determine the next president. As always.

Regular readers of this blog might recognize the “too risky” persuasion play. It was the play that took supply-side economics off the table during the Dole/Kemp campaign against Clinton/Gore. When things are going well, you don’t introduce risk. Jack Kemp wanted to overhaul the tax plan in the United States while the economy was working fairly well. It makes no sense to introduce risk when things are going well. As soon as Bill Clinton and Al Gore labelled supply-side economics as “risky” it was all over. It was a kill shot.

What you might not know is that the “risky” gambit gave Trump’s current campaign manager, Paul Manafort, one of his rare campaign losses. He was working on the losing Dole campaign. John Podesta was on the winning side, as a Bill Clinton insider, so I assume he knows the thinking behind the “risky” kill shot and decided to use it against Trump.

But…he’s using it wrong.

In 2016 the mood of the country is that things are trending in the wrong direction. That is the opposite of the country’s mood when Clinton/Gore ran for reelection and everything looked good.

The entire reason that Trump is so popular is that the public sees the system as broken and also sees no standard/normal way to fix it. When things are broken, and trending in the wrong direction, that’s exactly the time you want to introduce risk. 

In the investment world, young people are encouraged to take larger risks than retired people. That’s because you have plenty of time to recover from youthful mistakes but not as much margin for error if you are already retired. A smart investor tries to manage risk, as opposed to decrease it. Sometimes you want more risk, sometimes less. The high ground is knowing the difference. Trump seems to know the difference.

American voters have decided how much risk they want. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are the “more risk” candidates and they each outperformed expectations. Added together, the higher-risk candidates (Trump and Sanders) got far more votes than the safe candidate, Clinton.

I have said before that there are no trained persuaders working on the Clinton campaign. That comes through in all of their decisions. Their decision to use “risk” as a warning to the public at the same time the public is begging for more risk is an enormous persuasion error. It borders on a self-kill shot.

To be fair, Trump scares the pants off of about one-third of the public. So “risky” will hit home for those voters. The problem for team Clinton is that Trump has complete control of his persona. All he needs to do is act less risky for a few months to prove his campaign persona was all for effect. That process is well underway.

I would go so far as to say that John Podesta has set the theme for Trump’s upcoming interview with Megyn Kelly: Risky Business.

The public has learned a lot about politics and about persuasion during this election. It is about to learn about risk management, courtesy of Donald Trump. Watch him give a business tutorial on the topic sometime soon. That’s the right play, along with softening his edges going forward.

And hugging. Expect to see lots of hugging.

Speaking of risky, be careful when you read my book