The most important job opening that Trump has to fill – at least from a “brand” perspective – is Secretary of State. You can get away with hiring loyal supporters for less-visible cabinet positions, but you need to get the Secretary of State job right because it directly reflects on the brand of the presidency. And Trump knows branding.
If you look at the Secretary of State from a Master Persuader perspective, it’s hard to know who would do the best job among the candidates under discussion. They’re all highly-capable people. And their opinions are not so different, otherwise they wouldn’t be in the final consideration. The big differentiator is how the country will view Trump’s choice, and how that changes their impression of Trump’s brand as president. Let’s take a look at the candidates through that filter.
Giuliani probably has some foreign business interests that could be problematic once the mainstream media sinks their teeth into him. That doesn’t help Trump’s brand because Trump has the same type of foreign conflict-of-interest issues. You don’t want to add to the problem you already have.
Huntsman has good experience and he presents himself well. But he’s too handsome for the job. Brand-wise, Trump is better off surrounding himself with highly-capable people who don’t suck too much attention out of a room. You might think that isn’t important, but it is from a persuasion standpoint. I liked Trump’s pick of Pence because Pence is the boring, monochromatic version of Trump that makes Trump look like a star when they stand together. You need the same contrast for Secretary of State.
Obama got the branding right with both Hillary Clinton and now John Kerry as Secretaries of State. Both Secretaries were respected players that have less rock star appeal than Obama himself. That is good branding. Obama got the contrast right, which you expect from a Master Persuader. Trump needs to do the same.
Romney has the same contrast problem as Huntsman. Romney is too tall and handsome. But I think ego will prevent Romney from accepting Trump as his boss. If Trump and Romney both wanted Romney as Secretary of State, it would already be done.
Petraeus had some legal problems in the past because he disclosed government secrets to his girlfriend. Although the crime itself is forgivable, and he paid the price, the topic would remind the public of Hillary Clinton’s email issues and be a stain on Trump’s brand.
Bolton would be the biggest brand mistake for Trump. Bolton is highly capable, but he gives off a scary vibe, and that is the worst branding mistake Trump could make. Half of the United States is already living under an illusion that Hitler just got elected President of the United States. If you add a war-loving white guy with a strange mustache to the illusion, you’re just making things worse. Trump’s biggest problem, brand-wise, is that so many people think he’s a crazy dictator who can’t be trusted with the nuclear codes. Bolton is the only candidate who makes that illusion worse. I don’t see Master Persuader Trump making a mistake of that size.
Rohrabacher would be an interesting choice. He fits Trump’s brand the best because he’s a pragmatic, straight-talking Republican. And if you see him standing next to Trump, you know which one of them is the president. The visual element matters more than you think, given that all the candidates are qualified.
I’m leaving out some candidates, but only because they didn’t seem interesting enough to help or hurt Trump’s brand.
The Master Persuader filter can’t predict who Trump will pick as Secretary of State because there are lots of variables we can’t observe. For example, the vetting process might kick up scandals we don’t know about, and there’s the issue of how well the candidates can get along with Trump. So this isn’t a prediction blog today. I’m just showing you how the persuasion element matters to the decision.
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