SELF-PROMOTION

04.26.11

Trump’s Self-Promotion Gene

Is it somehow unseemly for aspiring candidates to tout themselves?

I’m not accustomed to having a single tweet deconstructed and psychoanalyzed, but I guess that’s the world we live in.

After Donald Trump phoned me—twice—to answer questions about his real estate empire and university venture, I was struck by his accessibility on subjects he knew would be contentious. So I declared on Twitter: “You've gotta say this for Trump: He takes reporters' calls, doesn't hide behind flacks. He relishes the combat and never tires of promotion.”

This prompted the Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf to write: “I never understand why so many of my colleagues in the press celebrate the embrace of politics as war, or treat relentless self-promotion as if it's a boon. Isn't it actually a character defect, even if it does cause someone to talk to journalists a bit more often?”

Now he might have half a point on the “combat” metaphor , but the word isn’t that far off the mark—they are long struggles in which candidates set up war rooms and do oppo research and try to rout their rivals. It may not be pretty, and it goes on way too long and gets way too nasty, but that’s the process in American politics. What’s more, I’ve dealt with way too many candidates whose idea of combat is to have lawyers and spinners deal with the press while they give speeches and grant interviews to friendly talk show hosts. Why not credit a (potential) candidate who’s willing to take the heat?

But it’s the objection to “promotion” that I find puzzling (I wanted to write self-promotion but I only had 140 characters). Was Barack Obama’s election in 2008 not a triumph of self-promotion? In every election, from city hall to the White House, a candidate has to define himself or herself, through speeches, advertising and imagery, and win the trust of voters. It’s a proxy for demonstrating that they can withstand the pressures of office. Self-effacing politicians tend not to be terribly successful.

Friedersdorf said he recently profiled former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson and liked his “aversion to self-promotion.” I’m sure Johnson is a fine fellow, but he has no chance of being elected president. Maybe Trump doesn’t either, but it won’t be for lack of self-aggrandizement.

Not that self-promotion plays any role in journalists tweeting, of course.