The Story Behind Donald Trump’s Election Victory (and what you can learn from it)

A week and a half ago Donald Trump did the improbable and what many considered the impossible – he won the election to serve as the next president of the United States. While there is plenty of Monday-morning-quarterbacking and post-election analysis going on pertaining to turnout in certain states and demographic groups, the secret of Trump’s success is likely far simpler than the pundits are saying. Donald Trump told a better and a clearer story than Hilary Clinton did.

So how did Donald Trump’s story lead him to this victory?  It’s simple.

Trump told a story to the voters that contained the Six Pillars of a Winning Campaign Story. Hillary Clinton did not. In this regard, Trump’s comparison of his election to the Brexit vote is accurate. Just like Trump, the Leave campaign in the Brexit election told a better story than their opponents.

First Things First

Now wait you might be saying. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. Trump only prevailed in the Electoral College.

That is very true. However, as both Donald Trump and President Barack Obama have acknowledged since Election Day, the rules were known in advance, and the candidates campaigned to win by those rules. Had they been different, the candidates most certainly would have campaigned differently.

Hillary Clinton’s campaign even believed a few days before the election that she would win in the Electoral College and lose the popular vote.

In a local election you won’t be trying to win the most Electoral College votes, but you will be facing elections where you may have to do one thing to win a Primary Election and another to win a General Election.

You’ll campaign differently if you have to be one of two or three top vote getters in a multiple candidate field than you will if you need to win over 50% of the vote or ensure you avoid a runoff when a true majority of the vote is needed to get elected.

You might even shoot for second place in a crowded field so you can live to campaign another day in a Runoff Election.

Regardless of how the votes are tallied, you campaign to receive enough votes to win, and in the end that is what President-elect Donald Trump did.  It’s also what Hillary Clinton failed to do.

Let’s look at the the Six Pillars of a Winning Campaign story, how each candidate used applied them to their campaign story, and what any candidate can learn from Trump’s victory and Clinton’s defeat.

1.  It’s About the Voters

Most candidates believe that campaigns are about them. They are wrong. Campaigns are about the voters. The voters are the heroes of the story being told, not the candidate.

This is the primary reason that Hillary Clinton is not president elect. Her campaign was about her. The slogan “I’m With Her” says it all. Hillary was the hero of the story, not the voters.

Donald Trump unlike Clinton always made his campaign about the voters. His slogan “Make America Great Again” was speaking directly to the American people. He even countered Clinton’s mantra when accepting the Republican nomination saying, “I’m with you – the American people.”

2. What’s the Problem?

Since the voters are the heroes of the story, the problem that needs to get solved in the story is what the voters view as a problem.  It’s the voters fears, anxieties, and concerns that must be addressed by a candidate, not the candidate’s fears.

Donald Trump spoke directly to the American people and said he understood the problem.

From Trump’s perspective, the country is in decline. Washington D.C. isn’t looking out for the common people.  Politicians are negotiating bad trade deals that kill American jobs and harm the economy.  Illegal immigrants who commit crimes in America are not being punished while too many Americans are suffering.

Hillary Clinton didn’t state clearly that she understood the problem the voters wanted solved.

While the economy is sluggish and the world in turmoil, she couldn’t effectively criticize President Obama without risking to alienate his supporters. She therefore bypassed talking about what many Americans are concerned about and instead chose to focus in on Donald Trump as the problem.

While Clinton’s making Trump the problem that needs to be solved may have helped her win in big cities and states like California, New York and Illinois that she would win simply by being a Democrat, it didn’t help her in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan or Wisconsin.

Voters in those four states elected Barack Obama twice. He always made them the heroes of his story and they felt he understood their fears, concerns, and anxieties. Hillary Clinton did not convey that to them at all and those four states went for the candidate who seemed like he did:  Donald Trump.

3. Introduce the Candidate

After a campaign identifies the voters as the heroes of the story and then recognizes the problem that the voters want to see resolved, then the candidate can be introduced.

Neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton needed much of an introduction. They were known by nearly all American voters. Clinton was known as the former First Lady, U.S. Senator, and Secretary of State. Regardless of your political leanings, you couldn’t find a much more qualified candidate for President than Hillary Clinton.

Trump on the other hand was truly an outsiders outsider. He is a highly successful billionaire businessman who had no problem bragging about himself and his accomplishments. Trump had never held any office and other than hobnobbing with elected officials and making contributions to their campaigns, he lacked any of the traditional experience that has gone on a presidential resume.

The race was between the consummate politician and the ultimate outsider. That would play a huge role in their stories and the outcome of the election.

4.  State the Plan to Fix the Problem

Donald Trump’s plan was clear and simple. He was going to make America great again.

This would be accomplished by building a wall on the border with Mexico, renegotiate trade deals he viewed as bad for the country, and drain the swamp of career politicians and professional lobbyists that have been hurting the America and her people.

Trump addressed the problems that concerned a large swatch of voters and cast himself as the outsider who would be the agent of change on their behalf.

Hillary Clinton’s plan was lacking at best, pathetic at worst.

She was going to continue the progress that had been made under President Obama and she was going to stop Donald Trump from ruining the nation.

While Trump was light on most policy specifics, Hillary Clinton had her laundry list of programs and priorities. But since she didn’t seem to understand the problem voters wanted fixed, their eyes glazed over and tuned her out.

At no point did  Clinton’s plan resonate with anyone other than the most committed Democrats. It didn’t convince traditional conservatives concerned about Trump to come to her side. It didn’t convince Independents to swing her way.

The Obama Coalition of 2008 and 2012 had no reason to get behind Clinton as her inability get over 50% of the vote nationwide demonstrates.

5.  Make the Call to Action

This is perhaps the simplest part of the story.  The candidates must tell their voters to get out to vote so that they can implement their plan and help get the problem the voters are concerned with fixed.

Both candidates did this.

At this level it’s to be expected but you’d be surprised how many candidates don’t actually ask people for their votes and remind them to vote.

Clinton did it through massive television ad buys and traditional Get Out The Vote activities. Trump did it with large rallies that motivated his supporters.

6.  What’s At Stake?

The stakes are what drive voter turnout. Without describing the stakes, there isn’t anything to motivate voters to vote.

Donald Trump made the stakes clear from the moment he announced his campaign.  If action isn’t taken now, things will continue to get worse and America will experience even greater decline.

He’d work on behalf of the voters to stop this and make America great again.  But if he didn’t win, then America’s future was in jeopardy.

Hillary Clinton made her campaign all about the stakes.  The stakes were the danger of electing Donald Trump as President of the United States.

As she stated in her acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, “A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man who you can trust with nuclear weapons.”

That’s what Clinton’s entire campaign was about and in the end it wasn’t enough.

The Outcome

I as much as anyone expected Hillary Clinton to be elected the 45th President of the United States.  It didn’t turn out that way. Donald Trump won 306 voted in the Electoral College to Clinton’s 232.

The question many are asking is why?

Was it because voter turnout was lower this year than in 2012?

As a percentage of participation this might be true, but 131 million Americans voted this year compared to 129 million four years ago.

Was it because Trump’s rhetoric mobilized white voters that hadn’t been voting?

This is a popular theme being spouted by Trump’s detractors in the media, but exit polls show that Trump received 1.9 million less votes from whites than Mitt Romney.

Was it because third party candidates like Gary Johnson and Jill Stein cut into Clinton’s vote? 

Because their percentages weren’t that high, this has mostly been dismissed and it shouldn’t be.

Third party candidates got 7 1/2 million votes which definitely kept the two major candidates from receiving over 50% of the popular vote, thus giving us the split decision with the Electoral College.

What really happened is that Hillary Clinton’s campaign failed to fully engage with and mobilize the coalition of voters who twice elected Barack Obama.

Specifically, 2.3 million less whites and 1.8 million less African American voters came out and voted for Clinton. Had they, Hillary Clinton would have not only have prevailed in the Electoral College, but also received over 50% of the popular vote.

The reason for this was her story, or lack of one.  Clinton never identified the voters as the heroes of her campaign’s story.  She never stated that she understood their pain and frustration, as her husband did so well during his two presidential campaigns.  Her campaign was all about the stakes, the danger of electing Donald Trump.

New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley properly diagnosed this as the problem. He told the Wall Street Journal,  “There was an over emphasis on Trump’s personality and not enough emphasis on what the country could be.”

In other words, Clinton was talking about what she considered to be the problem facing America, not what a wide swath of voters in key states considered to be the problem.

Contrast that with Donald Trump.  Trump consistently told a clear and simple story to the voters. It was so easy to understand, that Trump was able to overcome his own vulgarity and unforced errors that would have easily destroyed him were he running against a better opponent such as Barack Obama.

Trump just kept coming back to talk to the heroes of the story he was telling – the voters.  Even though he’s a celebrity billionaire, he talked in terms that said he understood the voters pain. He had the plan to fix things and “Make America Great Again.”

Because he effectively did this and Hillary Clinton did not, his story kept him afloat and led him to win enough votes in the Electoral College to become the next president of these United States.

If candidates learn nothing else from Donald Trump’s victory both in the Primaries and in the General Election, it’s that a good campaign story well told can carry the day even when everyone else is convinced the cause is lost.

In other words, “Make America Great Again” with all of its lack of detail and specifics is easy to understand and will beat “I’m With Her” nearly every day of the week.