A top headline said, “Trump plans to insult his way to victory over Clinton.” While it is true that Donald Trump is a skilled insulter, in believing that he crushed 16 of his GOP rivals by slapping a few labels on them, many observers fail to see the true source of his winning.
In the debate in Nevada last December, Jeb Bush said to Trump, "You’re never going to be president of the United States by insulting your way to the presidency."
Trump replied, “Well, let’s see, I’m at 42 (percent) and you’re at 3 (percent), so so far I’m doing better.” In thinking that Trump was insulting his way to the presidency, Bush failed to see how Trump was thumping him, and those who make the same mistake will keep missing Trump's real threat to Hillary.
It is, of course, true that Trump is already insulting with his favorite phrase, "Crooked Hillary," but that's only a small part of Trump's winning playbook, and the way that he plans to beat Hillary.
And, the truth is, like tuning into a chess match that is already halfway through, most of the game has already been played, and Trump has already made most of his winning moves. Here are five of his most crucial ones:
1. Trump's insults are the rifle shot:
Trump insults his rivals as a way to easily disarm their attacks on him, as well as to destroy their campaigns. Consider that by labeling Ted Cruz "Lyin' Ted," no matter what Cruz would throw at Trump, including legitimate accusations, Trump simply redirected to this form of character assassination. An example being lines like, “No, no. You’re the liar. You’re the lying guy up here.”
It's a savvy move that Trump uses exceptionally well, but his insults are merely the smoking gun in his winning campaign.
2. His campaign isn't about his rivals:
Every time a politician focuses on attacking their rival, they fail to keep driving their own messaging.
A reason that Trump upstaged all of his rivals in the debates was that, prompted or unprompted, they kept focusing attention on him. This handed Trump what he most desperately sought -- more airtime and the most potent weapon of his campaign: the mic.
Of course, with mic in hand, Donald cleverly insulted a number of his rivals out of the race, but they've never been the target of his winning campaign.
3. Trump targets voters:
In a boxing match, the winner is the fighter who successfully beats down their opponent, but in an election, the winner is chosen by the voters.
While one way Trump beat Jeb Bush was having voters associate Bush as "low energy," Trump hasn't built his campaign on beating down his rivals, but by offering voters a more compelling vision and message.
Trump, by far, developed the best messaging of any candidate, and won the nomination by bringing millions of voters along with his campaign.
4. It's about America:
Whereas Jeb Bush was running based on his name, exclamation point included, and Hillary is running as a woman, in 2008 Barack Obama took over the country running on a platform of "Hope," "Change," and "Yes we can."
In 2016, Trump has done the same. Despite having a powerful brand and personality, perhaps ironically, Trump's campaign has never been about him, but about his rally cry to "Make America great again."
While a number of his rivals have stood for themselves or "not Trump," Donald stands for America, and, of course...
5. How we can be great again:
Of the many lessons to be gleaned from Barack Obama's masterful 2008 campaign, perhaps the greatest lesson is the way in which he moved voters with his optimistic vision for the country.
Optimism sells. And beyond Trump's attention-grabbing insults and controversial comments that he has used to masterfully hog the spotlight, Trump has built his movement the same way.
I'm told that Jeb Bush still believes that Donald thrashed him with his schoolyard taunting, and by failing to see that he lost because he entered the race without an optimistic vision and powerful messaging, we all fail to learn the lesson.
If Trump wins, it won't be through insults, but because he has offered Americans something they desperately want more: a leader they believe can make America great again.