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How to win like Trump

Marc Sidwell’s book How To Win Like Trump: Nine Simple Rules for Victory Against the Odds explains how Donald Trump won the US presidential election. It is written in the style of a self-help book and in simple Trump-like language. This makes it a fast and easy read: it does not take itself too seriously. And it avoids “Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity”. But it is packed with insight.

For example, politicians and the press are between them largely acting out a fiction which has similarities to the kayfabe of professional wrestling.

Trump had two insights, thanks to his grasp of kayfabe. First, Trump recognised the widespread fakery of modern politics. That let him see past the curtain of narrative, revealing the limited insight of political experts and the vulnerability of “inevitable” candidates whether Clinton, Rubio, Bush or Cruz. Second, Trump realised that by injecting the kind of entertainment and character common in wrestling narratives into the meek, grey world of political illusion, he could slam everyone else to the mat.


It’s underappreciated how much of the mainstream media’s tremendous influence lies in its power to frame big events. Hundreds of thousands of New York Times readers and millions of public radio listeners get taught the same framing story, and learn the socially acceptable limits for discussing whatever just happened.

As such, media organisations and a one-man master framer like Trump were always going to tread on each other’s toes. But Trump had an efficient, reframing response. All attacks on Trump through the media got reframed as evidence of a biased media persecuting a man it hated. This sidelined questions about the merit of any accusation. It established a catchall frame presenting Trump in a flattering light. And when negative stories did run, they only reinforced Trump’s favoured frame. That’s how to frame your way to victory.

It explains that Trump’s tweeting is partly about direct contact with people, and partly about quickly testing the product with real users.

Trump’s constant movement is also an endless process of improvement. It’s always looking for what works better. It is an evolving strategy, one that never gets to the end of the line. And that made his presidential bid more like a startup than a campaign. The Lean Startup movement believes in constantly evolving towards a product that fits the market through a cycle of building, measuring and learning. Rather than sweating to get something perfect, Lean Startups aim for the minimum viable product. Then they test it on an audience. Get it in front of a customer. See what they make of it. Improve it. Rinse and repeat.

This explains his constant changes of mind and hiring and firing, something that his opponents have claimed as a weakness. Another supposed weakness is his apparently defensive and petulant fighting back at anyone who criticises him, as he did with Megyn Kelly.

There is one very, very big way — and it’s so big, gigantic really, massive — that Trump’s haters and losers fail to get him. They think his temperament is unpredictable. Yuuge mistake. Believe me.

Marc argues that Trump’s consistent strategy is to maintain peace until he is attacked, and then consistently fire back, and that this is good game theory.

Trump’s essentially peaceful strategy relies on consistency and clarity to work. Every time he does what he always does, he reminds people of the consequences. The more disproportionate his reactions, the more Trump signals he is willing to bear any cost to get someone back.

This makes him not such a bad person to be holding the nuclear button:

What Trump understands by instinct, and demonstrates consistently in action, are the principles of nuclear deterrence. No first use. Credible threat of massive retaliation. That policy has kept the world safe from nuclear holocaust. Its creator Thomas Schelling worked it out using game theory, winning the Nobel for economics in 2005 in recognition of his breakthrough. Schelling even worked out that it helps if your enemies also think you are a little bit crazy and capable of attacking them at very high cost to yourself. It’s called the Madman Theory. President Nixon used it.

I am left wondering just how much of Trump’s strategies are luck rather than judgement, and it remains to be seen how long they will continue to work. But I do have more understanding of how the things he does that work, work. It is nice to see it all enumerated and made obvious.

Highlights I have not mentioned so far include the description of the way Trump picked off his opponents one by one in the primaries, how he used Clinton’s 3AM phone call commercial against her, and how he makes himself relatable to ordinary Americans. And there is a good bit about how Trump gets inside his opponents’ OODA loops (a concept I heard about years ago from one of my favourite sources of inspiration, Eric Raymond).

35 comments to How to win like Trump

  • Marc Sidwell is a very smart chap and also a great speaker. His talk at Brian’s Friday was one of the best I have ever heard there.

  • Paul Marks

    I do not like how Mr Trump won.

    He won the nomination by spreading lies about his opponents (for example that the father of Ted Cruz was behind the murder of President Kennedy).

    And he won the election by promising people lower taxes with no real cuts in government spending. According to President Trump all the extra things of Obamacare (“children” on their parents plans to the age of 26, no penalty for not revealing pre existing conditions – and so on) will be kept, but the taxes to pay for all this will go.

    None of the above means that I wanted Hillary Clinton to win.

    Had Mrs Clinton won the Supreme Court would now be in the hands of the left and the Bill of Rights would be dead.

    November 2016 was a “lose – lose” position.

    The media?

    Yes they are a bunch of Frankfurt School of Marxism trash.

    However, that does not mean that President Trump will do a good job as President – we have yet to see what he will do.

    He will especially tested when the Credit Bubble economy finally bursts.

    If he goes for more “infrastructure” spending and trying to maintain “entitlements” then the United States is in real trouble.

  • Jacob

    “we have yet to see what he will do.”

    Indeed. We do not know what he will do. All we know is what he has done.
    He has got himself elected, a huge personal achievement, done without help from anybody. He confronted and beat single-handed not only the Democrats and the media (same thing) but also the Republican establishment.
    He denied the presidency to Hillary Clinton. For this alone he deserves to have his toes kissed everyday for the next 4 years.
    He nominated good solid (conservative) people to the cabinet and top government jobs.
    He has driven the progressives crazy, actually crazy, rally nuts (ex. Russian conspiracy theories).
    It was great fun so far, far more than we had in many years.

    What else can we expect of Trump? I don’t know. Nobody knows. Worse than Obama/Clinton he can’t be, of this much I’m certain.
    So, sit back and enjoy the show.

  • Brian Swisher

    “All attacks on Trump through the media got reframed as evidence of a biased media persecuting a man it hated.”

    This had the added benefit of being true.

  • bobby b

    “However, that does not mean that President Trump will do a good job as President – we have yet to see what he will do.”


    Anything else is just gravy.

  • James Strong

    What does this book contain that we couldn’t already have learned from Scott Adams’ many blog posts on the way Trump conducted his campaign and how and why he got enough votes in enough states to win?

  • lucklucky

    “It’s underappreciated how much of the mainstream media’s tremendous influence lies in its power to frame big events. Hundreds of thousands of New York Times readers and millions of public radio listeners get taught the same framing story, and learn the socially acceptable limits for discussing whatever just happened.”

    The current Overton window https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overton_window is an Overton bubble http://thefutureprimaeval.net/the-overton-bubble/

  • Alisa

    Excellent, lucklucky.

  • dagny taggart

    trumps legacy will be the death of the old media

  • Laird

    James Strong, you might be correct, but I haven’t seen all of Adams’ blog posts so I don’t know. (And I doubt that you do, either, since you probably haven’t read this and book so don’t know what’s in it.) But at a minimum what this appears to do is pull all those concepts together into one place (rather than have to find and wade through “many blog posts”). There’s value in that, even if it contains nothing original.

    To me, this seems like a a practical book of tactics, something one would read just as one does Machiavelli or Alinsky (or Robert Greene’s “48 Laws of Power”). I plan to do so at the first opportunity. Thanks for alerting me to it, Rob.

  • bob

    I bet he has read and thought about game theory. He did write a book on negotiation.

  • Brian Swisher (March 22, 2017 at 4:37 pm), quotes the OP quoting the book (“All attacks on Trump through the media got reframed as evidence of a biased media persecuting a man it hated.”) and adds, ‘This had the added benefit of being true.’

    Not an added benefit but an essential prerequisite. MSM have been biased for a long time. So when Obama came along, they had to become much more biased to show what affirming activists they were. When Obama proved not as competent as they’d expected, they had to become more biased still to cover for him. So when Trump arrived, their PC duty to become yet more biased still to defeat him inevitably led them to become crassly obvious. The Trump strategy described would have done nothing for him if MSM bias had not been so obvious, and if the final excesses had not succeeded a long period of its being increasingly obvious. One may credit Trump for knowing not to cringe, and for whatever was intentional in his effect of enraging them past all self-control and/or for playing to his strength in being enraging. (That’s AFAIK: if I read the book, I might come across specific examples of reusing Andrew Breitbart’s tactics of leading the MSM to expose themselves, which would add to the conscious strategic input.)

    It would be interesting to read the book alongside How the Brexit Referendum was won.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Paul Marks:

    I do not like how Mr Trump won.

    I too dislike some of his tactics (though i don’t think that Paul correctly identified the tactics that actually won the election). But then, if you don’t like the way an election is won, you must blame the system that allows people to win elections in this way. If Trump had not played by these rules, somebody else would have; if not at this election, at the next.

    Laird: in addition to Machiavelli, Alinsky, and Robert Greene (only the 1st of which i have studied) may i recommend:
    Sun Tzu: Art of War
    Dale Carnegie: How to Win Friends and Influence People
    Nathan Miron: Winning the Games People Play

    Niall: thanks for the Brexit link.

  • Confused ’Old Misfit

    “I am left wondering just how much of Trump’s strategies are luck rather than judgement…”

    Trump has a million dollars and you do not.

  • Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray

    Trump has an added advantage. His Father’s middle name is Jesus, so that means that Donald Trump Is The Son Of The Son Of God. Isn’t that an unfair advantage?

  • James Strong

    Here is the address of Scott Adams’ set of blog posts about Trump’s persuasion skills.

    I don’t know if this address links directly. Because Adams has put them all on one page it makes it easy to read them.

    You are right that I don’t know what the book discussed in this article and comments contains, which is why I asked the question.

    And I can’t buy the book yet because at the moment Amazon only has it as a Kindle version.


  • Mr Black

    None of Trumps strategies are luck and all of them are considered judgement. That’s how he got to be a multi-billionaire and President of the United States. He has insights that most people do not and when they doubt him 99% of the time it’s because they, not he, are wrong. It’s getting more than a little tiresome reading words by ‘thinkers’ where they cast doubt on HIS ability because they disagree with his successful actions. Trump is the Manstein of politics in the US and the commentariat is still occupying the Maginot line.

  • Watchman


    Just because Paris Hilton is very good at monetarising whatever it is she has to monetarise (name, looks?) doesn’t mean Donald Trump is not because he is not being so successful by a particular measure.

    It possibly means President Hilton (she is a US-born citizen I believe) is just around the corner though… To upset the few parts of the establishment not yet sufficiently upset.

  • bob sykes

    The real point is that there is a very large group of people in America, basically Whites, who are deeply opposed to the Ruling Class and their policies and the trends in American society, especially the ongoing White displacement. Trump is their spokesman, and he has their unswerving loyalty.

    Of course, Trump’s Ruling Class opponents and their clients really hate Trump and his supporters. There is a real likelihood of wide-spread, intense political violence in America. Read Peter Turchin and weep.

  • bobby b

    Watchman, if he’ll nominate Justices like Gorsuch, I’d vote for the ghost of Benny Hill for president.

    (Some insist that I already did.)

  • Laird

    James, thanks for that link. I will read through more of Adams’ posts (I’ve already read some). But useful as it might be it’s still not the same as Sidwell’s book, even if it covers exactly the same points, because it is merely a collection of links to a long list of blog posts. You still have to go to them one at a time. The book collects everything into a single place. I still maintain that adds value.

    I agree with you about the kindle format. For something like this I’d rather have a physical book. I guess they wanted to rush it out for sale. Hopefully an actual book will follow someday soon.

  • Ferox

    I do not like how Mr Trump won.

    Having been the target of a broad leftist kulturkampf for most of my life, fought in classrooms and in the popular media and even in several deeply sickening “diversity training” sessions I have had to sit through at various times in my career, and having watched the line of absurdity approached and then crossed by the lying opportunistic marxists again and again, I now desire nothing more from Trump than for him to stick his thumb in the eye of every frothing spittle-lipped social justice warrior and every professionally offended statist schoolmarm … and to keep doing it until the clock runs out on his presidency.

    If he does that, he gets my vote in 2020 despite his awful mercantilist economics and his bumbling speaking style and his commitment to eminent domain. Just keep punching ’em in the gut, big orange guy, and I will back you all the way to the end. Let’s burn it all down.

    — PostScript — I didn’t vote for him last year, I voted for Johnson. But watching the media throw away every standard of fair play and decency in their coverage of Trump, I now wish I had voted for him. I won’t miss the chance in 2020.

  • Jacob

    Ferox: +1.

  • Alisa

    If he does that, he gets my vote in 2020 despite his awful mercantilist economics

    Something tells me that we are not going to see much of those mercantilist economics beyond the usual rhetoric, and not much of the expected wild spending either.

  • Paul Marks

    Lots of interesting comments.

    Snorri – Mr Trump (as is his habit) played to people as they are.

    A population that does not think deeply and wants lots of free stuff. And which likes to “spend, spend, spend” rather than save.

    Of course Mrs Clinton played the same way – lots of promises. No hard choices.

    Unlike yourself I believe that people can be better than they are – if they make an effort.

    But Mr Trump (and Mrs Clinton) were correct in thinking that most people would not make an effort in 2016.

    I had hopes – and I was WRONG.

    Hope is rare thing for me – the last time I was hopeful about a Presidential election was in 1980. By 1984 I knew that President Reagan was not really going to try and roll back the size and scope of government – and I never had any faith in the Bush family who dominated the Republican Party after 1988 (really from Rockefeller wing of the Republican Party – David Rockefeller died a few days ago, at the age of 101).

    Turning to another matter….

    On the Supreme Court nomination.

    I liked it – till I heard the confirmation hearings.

    Lots of stuff about “precedents”.

    I was very upset about that – as it is the basic rule of a Constitutional Conservative that it is the words-on-the-page and the written intentions of the those who wrote them – not the intellectually corrupt decisions of degenerate judges (precedents).

    Hopefully the nominee was lying – and he is not really interested in precedents in the way he indicated.

    If not Justice Scalia will be spinning in his grave.

  • NickM

    This is how you avoid that. Do a STEM subject. I did. None of that bollockios at Nottingham Uni Maths & Physics – a lot of vector calculus but nobody bemoaning their “angry lesbian breast” (and yes, we had lesbian students – they just didn’t make it a cause and were interested in QMech and stuff). If you wanna study shite like social sciences or the arts then you are the architect of your own Hell. Just don’t do it! Why complain about sociology when everyone knows it is the utter pignorance of distilled shite from arsehole to breakfast time?

  • Paul Marks

    In a much attacked piece during 2016 National Review connected voting (for example voting for Mr Trump) with drug abuse – the same “pleasure now – do not care about the future” mentality.

    Partly unfair – as many Trump voters wanted to save the Supreme Court (save the Bill of Rights) and save the United States Armed Forces (which are falling apart). But broadly true.

    There is an epidemic of drug abuse in the United State and it is one of the factors (along with over eating and lack of exercise) that is leading to declining life expectancy.

    The disciplined Americans of the past (the past of “thrift, hard work and self denial”) would not think highly of how society has “developed” – or rather how society has collapsed. Everything from membership of mutual aid societies the family itself is in a state of collapse.

    As it is in the rest of the dying Western World.

  • Ferox

    NickM – Computer Science. But that was no antidote to the machinations of the Sternly Lecturing Useless Turbid Scolds … still had to take US Literature (wherein we learned about how all anonymous works are written by women or non-white men, cause of all that white male badness). World Lit was more of the same. All my history courses, law courses, sociology AND psychology, and even my Calculus I class, were saturated with that shyte. My cultural seminar for Spanish II was an in-depth discussion of “I, Rigoberta Menchu”, that utterly discredited and fraudulent anti-capitalist, anti-western, anti-male polemic.

    Etc etc. I am not whining about it; at the time I looked on it as just part of the hurdle of getting an education. But after so many years of incessant attack, I no longer have any interest in policy discussions with those people – I just want to see them seethe and cry.

  • Snorri Godhi

    NickM: you forget that, in North America, you have to study “shite like social sciences” even if you do a STEM subject (up to, and including, undergraduate level).

    Besides, all North American universities have campuses, so you cannot avoid social interactions with “social” “scientists” no matter what you study.

    BTW i never heard of “angry lesbian breasts” but it brings to mind pornography more than feminism.

  • NickM

    That’s a lot of none STEM for Comp Sci!

    The quote is from a creative writing course and is down to Stephen King who was quoting it to show how idiotic people can be. A breast cannot have anger or sexual orientation.

  • Paul Marks

    Good point Snorri.

    In the United States even those who wish to specialise in the physical sciences can not escape (at High School and as undergraduates) a lot of the false ideas that have taken over the humanities (the “liberal arts”).

    The idea that everyone needed to know some basic things about human affairs if they were to be “educated” was (and is) TRUE.

    The problem is that the study of humans has been taken over by people who deny that humans are beings in the traditional sense.

    This effects everything – including the study of history, economics and politics.

    And, yes, the natural scientists can not escape the intellectual and moral corruption of our age – it is invading the physical sciences, denying the very principle of objective (and universal) truth.

  • Snorri Godhi

    As old as this thread has become, i feel an obligation to reply to Paul Marks:

    Unlike yourself I believe that people can be better than they are – if they make an effort.

    (Never mind if nobody reads what i write below: there will be opportunities for me to say it again.)

    No, Paul, i not only believe that people can be better than they are now: i know it for a fact, because i know that, at certain critical junctures, i have become a better person by an exercise of my free will. (I have also become a worse person at other times, though i flatter myself that that was not by choice.)

    Let me give a concrete example: no single decision (except perhaps for adopting a low carb diet) has made me a better person than the decision to read The Logic of Scientific Discovery.

    Between the end of high school and the start of university, i was tormented by Hume’s problem of induction. That summer, i spent a month at a beach resort with my family, and i did ogle scantily clad young ladies; but, believe it or not, as soon as the young ladies were out of sight, they were out of mind: i was obsessed with the problem of induction.

    That illustrates my conception of free will: once i could get my hands on a copy of The Logic of Scientific Discovery, it was my free choice to grab it and read it — but in another sense i had no choice: i had to do something to achieve peace of mind. We have 2 distinct concepts of freedom here.

    Also, in a sense it was my free choice to accept Popper’s epistemology; but in another sense i had no choice: i found his argument compelling, i could conceive no counter-argument, so i had to accept it.

    Also note that minimal effort was required: i found Popper to be compelling reading (almost as compelling as Sherlock Holmes, or Game of Thrones) and it changed my thinking for the better without any conscious effort. (Although it was quite annoying for my flatmate to have to listen to my rants about it.)

  • Snorri Godhi

    About my decision to adopt a low carb diet: that is another pertinent example.

    It was my free choice, in the commonsense meaning of the term “free choice”, to cut down on the carbs. Yet in another sense, i could do no other (to paraphrase Luther).

    What happened is that a friend of mine told me the reason why he gave up on beer, along with most other sources of carbs: it was because his doctor had warned him that he was pre-diabetic. The symptoms that my friend described were alarmingly close to my own condition. Getting back from the pub that night, i wondered: what is more important, beer or my life? In a sense, i did not have a choice: i value my life too highly to choose beer. Our choices are determined by our values.

    Fortunately, however, i did not have to make the effort: i discovered that i can still drink beer, as long as i cut down drastically on all other sources of carbs.

    Thinking about it, i cannot remember any time when i became a better person by an exercise of willpower. I can remember times when i tried to use willpower to improve myself, but always without success iirc.