Nicola Lamb looks at what kind of president the Donald will be.

How much do we know about what kind of US president Donald Trump will be? What clues can we draw from the election campaign?

Trump's upset win can be exaggerated as the culmination of a master plan. It seems more likely that Trump employed instinctive experience picked up from the entertainment and business worlds to good effect, and was helped by a Republican Party eyeing the holy grail of US politics - control of the White House, Congress and the Supreme Court at the same time.

At least a segment of Republicans, with no love for Trump, voted strategically for the chance to push conservative programmes through and get another right-wing justice in the Supreme Court.

Although the Republicans have been shut out of the presidency for eight years, the party has retained influence through Congress and governorships, performing well at mid-term elections. Unlike the Democrats, the Republicans had a strong, if unwieldly large, line-up for the primary - showing the benefit of being able to develop leaders.


Trump immediately stood out as the biggest celebrity in the room at early debates. So too to a lesser extend did other non-politicos from the business, private sector - Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina.

Not being politicians freed them to react differently - and to be seen differently - to a bunch of politicians around them. Trump and Carson used humour to get through to viewers. Carson and Fiorina had brief periods of popularity in the contest.

Trump approached it as a star, not a conventional politician, because he had an unspoken licence to do so: Speaking loud, speaking about himself, speaking in simple, un-politic sentences.

Celebs show attitude, draw attention to themselves, understand anti-hero appeal, don't get shown up by others around them. Trump has had many years playing the role of the playboy millionaire in life and reality TV. He knows how to use his energy to project strength through video.

His tweets have been an unorthodox line to true believers. His simple tweeted words draw derision as the utterings of an idiotic man-child but simplicity appears to work, at least with his followers.

Rambling style

He's learnt how to say very little in speeches while saying a lot in his rambling style, allowing supporters to read their own hopes into his words.

Sometimes the waffle reveals something about himself. He replied to a question (on Martin Luther King jnr day in the US) about personal heroes. He came up with his father and also himself for beating experienced politicians. Trump talked about his belief in instinctiveness or naturalism. "The people that I know who are great negotiators or great salesmen or great politicians, it's very natural, very natural ... it's like hitting a baseball or being a good golfer - natural ability, to me, is much more important to me than experience." It is how he sees himself: The Natural.


As a speaker, Trump makes use of the power of repetition, which was part of President Barack Obama's vocal armoury as well. On Monday, during an interview with the Times and Bild, Trump was asked about Brexit. His reply: "People, countries, want their own identity and the UK wanted its own identity. But, I do believe this, if they hadn't been forced to take in all of the refugees, so many, with all the problems that it ... entails, I think that you wouldn't have a Brexit. This was the final straw that broke the camel's back ... I believe others will leave. I do think keeping it together is not gonna be easy as a lot of people think. And I think this, if refugees keep pouring into Europe ... I think it's gonna be very hard to keep it together because people are angry about it."

The two words that stand out there like headlights in the fog are "own identity" because of repetition. If you're not particularly interested in global politics, those are the words in that passage that will stick with you. Trump was able to stamp key messages in supporters' brains.

Changing tack

Trump changed statements on policy regularly throughout the campaign and he's still doing it - for example, he tweeted in December that nuclear capacity was to be expanded yet on Monday he said nukes could be reduced.

Is this normal political dodging to avoid being cornered, Trump's 'natural' approach in action, or even a celeb-style avoidance of being tied-down and categorised?

Journalist Benjy Sarlin reacted to one recent Trump tweet: "1) Ambiguous statement with endless wiggle room 2) Everyone reads what they want, assumes the other side is foolishly misreading it." Other reporters have noted that Trump will make statements that reflect the opinions of the last person he spoke to.

Bloomberg writer Albert Hunt doesn't believe Trump is unpredictable. "He likes to convey this notion, and he is mercurial and unconventional ... But almost nothing he has done since November 8 really is unpredictable, including his appointments, policy pronouncements (such as they are) and thin-skinned outbursts ... His policies will be guided more by political instincts ... and what sells, rather than by any principles or ideology."

Donald Trump walks off stage with his wife Melania during the Republican National Convention. Photo / AP
Donald Trump walks off stage with his wife Melania during the Republican National Convention. Photo / AP

Mixed signals

Confusion is a growing part of his administration before it begins: During confirmation hearings last week several key nominees talked away from the President-elect's positions on Nato, Russia, and torture, to name a few. Former State Department and Pentagon staffer Ilan Goldenberg tweeted: "Last week strong indicator of how Trump Natsec Team may function: Crazy NSC, feckless State, independent DOD, Leaky Intel Community." He added: "Clear from confirmation that views of nominees all over the map and not consistent with Trump. Trump won't bother with detail of breaking ties leading to dysfunction and lack of coherence."

Close view

Trump's famous branding chants and insults - 'Lying Ted', 'Lock her up' and so on - stayed constant during the campaign. As Tony Schwartz, who wrote Art of the Deal with Trump pointed out, the candidate would attack opponents by saying things about them that were true of himself. He said last August: "Just listen to Donald Trump's eviscerating comments about Hillary today. He's talking about himself."

Schwartz has also said on Twitter:

• "Like all racists, xenophobes and misogynists, Trump projects his self-hatred onto those who are different than him."

• "Trump can tolerate being hated by and hateful to millions of people but can't stand being dismissed or dissed by anyone."

• "Trump arrested at primitive level of development: black & white zero sum, win or lose. All about control, power & personal gratification."

• "Trump deeply believes that if he lies enough, we will eventually believe what he's saying. Too often he has been right."

• "Trump reveres [Vladimir] Putin. He wants Putin's power. He wants to be a dictator."


Trump understands the anti-elitism and anti-expert culture. Central to Trump's campaign has been that he knows more than experts whether they be generals or intelligence officers or dealing with climate science. It connects him to his core voters. As Professor Tom Nichols of the US Naval War College has written, "the perverse effect of the death of expertise is that without real experts, everyone is an expert on everything". He adds in an article in the Federalist: "This yearning for respect and equality, even - perhaps especially - if unearned, is so intense that it brooks no disagreement. It represents the full flowering of a therapeutic culture where self-esteem, not achievement, is the ultimate human value, and it's making us all dumber by the day."

Trump study

In a wonderful article, Politico spoke to Philippe Reines, who studied Trump to play him for Clinton's debate prep.

His observations included: Trump avoids eye contact; he is innately contrarian; he is instinctive and might not be strategic; Trump will be focused more on declaring success rather than actually succeeding and Trump's insults like 'Lyin' Ted' "in case of emergency, break glass" moves.

• 'Angry Trump' appears when people get under his skin and a way to do that is to quote Trump back to himself. Reines told Politico: "I think part of it is he might not remember what he said or wrote at any given time".

• Reines believes that with hindsight, Trump's arguments were direct and compelling. "If people were waking up looking for something they had never seen before, this was it."

• Reines believes Trump does not experience shame or regret, allowing him to distort or disregard previous and move on.

We know that Trump's character and approaches were enough for him to win the presidency. The unknown question is whether they will work for Trump in power when, to be popular, he needs to reach beyond his base.