The Tale of Two Wealthy Presidential Candidates. An Analysis into How Trump and Romney Used Their Successful Business Careers as Political Talking Points
Research Paper (undergraduate) 2017 13 Pages
The purpose of this research paper is to determine how the Trump and Romney presidential campaigns incorporated the business successes of their respective candidates in their political messaging. It also seeks to identify in what ways, if any, were the two campaigns similar and different in leveraging their candidates’ entrepreneurial skills. This study primarily draws upon the announcement speeches made by both candidates, as well as multiple speeches that were made at their respective nominating conventions. Prior research conducted in the field of narrative psychology analysis was used as a guide in order to better examine the above mentioned exhibits. The findings revealed that Trump leveraged his entrepreneurial accomplishments a lot more than Romney. The campaign strategies that Trump and Romney implemented might have been partially influenced by their personal narratives. The discoveries in this study can possibly be used in future research that focuses on understanding how the American electorate responds to the narratives of political candidates.
Keywords narrative psychology, political campaigns, GOP, presidential elections
A strong argument could be made that the United States, in all its history, had never quite seen a presidential election season that was as nail-biting and engaging as the most recent general election between President Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Despite the fact that both candidates were the least favorable nominees ever recorded in presidential polling history (Gallup, 2016), the 2016 election cycle still managed to attract unprecedented levels of interest from the American electorate and the wider international community (CNN, 2016). The majority of political pundits and analysts generally agree that Trump’s unconventional nature as a candidate seeking the title “Leader of the Free World” helped to play a large role in encouraging so many millions of people to pay attention to the political cycle at the time. Although many had very negative feelings about him, President Trump’s rallies literally filled football stadiums, while his television interviews always drew strong ratings.
Unlike many of his opponents, Trump, who to date is the wealthiest person ever to run for President, did not have a political track record that he could have pointed to as he campaigned. Many experts actually viewed this as a potential disadvantage for him because of how seasoned and experienced the list of contenders was in 2016. Clinton, as an example, was considered by many to be the “most qualified” candidate ever to run in American history (Jones, 2016). Trump’s lack of political experience seemingly forced him to turn his more than four decades as a real estate developer into one of his major talking points. This move seemed to have worked.
It is important to note that Trump was by no means the first businessman to seek the presidency. Mitt Romney, another accomplished and wealthy entrepreneur, was the Republican nominee for President a mere four years before the 2016 elections. However, unlike Trump, he lost. Some believed that Romney’s wealth and affluent lifestyle was a big turn off for voters, but if this was indeed true, how did Trump manage to be politically unaffected by his multibillion dollar fortune? This research paper seeks to give some answers to that question.
As humans, we use narratives to reveal to others how we would like to be seen. (Stephens, 2012). Narratives are defined as being more than just stories. They are a telling of events that have happened; and as a result, narratives may be manipulated since emphasis may be purposely placed on what is felt to be of greater importance over what is not. As such, narratives have the ability to mold history. Personal histories help to build narrative identities. Some experts on this topic believe that narrative identities are an integration of peoples internalized and ever changing life stories through a reconstruction of their past and imagined future (McAdams & McLean, 2013). Research in narrative psychology has found that the narrative identities that we possess as adults usually tend to be a byproduct of the various experiences we have had growing up (McAdams, 2013). There are also some researchers in the field of narrative psychology who suggest that the different and complex personal journeys that we all have taken can be often placed into two categories: self-regulation and self-exploration (McAdams, Hanek & Dadabo, 2013).
Self-exploration is the process of using your own thoughts and behaviors to discover your own self, hence the reason why it is sometimes called self-discovery. President Obama’s passion for equality and social justice, as an example, might have very well been influenced by his childhood. He grew up not knowing his father for the first half of his life and searched for a way to redeem himself through discovering his actual purpose in life.
On the other hand, self-regulation might be defined as the process of using your internal attributes to control your behavior, feelings and overall look on life. President George W. Bush’s conservative nature might have been influenced by his past as someone who was once spiritually and emotionally broken to someone who was able to overcome the difficulties of alcoholism and keeping the wrong friends through self-regulation.
In contrast with Bush and Obama’s stories, in many ways the narrative identities of Trump and Romney were very similar. For starters, both men were descendants of entrepreneurial immigrants who managed to become wealthy in America. As a result, the two men grew up surrounded by privilege, and were also exposed to the world of business through their parents at a very early age. In addition, they were raised in religious households: Trump, a Protestant (Schmitz, 2016), and Romney, a Mormon (Smith, 2014). The biographies of the early childhood of Trump and Romney even reveal that they were mischievous during their youth. Further, they were both graduates of two of the country’s most notable business schools, Wharton and Harvard Business respectively, and ultimately created their own personal fortunes through a variety of ambitious entrepreneurial endeavors.
Despite having awfully similar trajectories, the American electorate, for the most part, viewed Trump and Romney as almost complete opposites. At the beginning of his bid for the White House, Romney used his track record at Bain Capital, the private equity firm that he co-founded, as a case study of how he would run the government if he were to be elected.
This strategy quickly changed as investigative reports on the transactions that Romney and his firm pursued became popular new stories during the election cycle. In the latter months of his campaign, Romney began to distance himself from not only the very company he founded, but also the personal fortune that he had created (Levasseur & Gring-Pemble, 2015). The complexity of Romney’s history at Bain made it very easy for his opponents and the media to frame his past in a negative manner (Borchers & Miller, 2014). He used offshore tax havens and was perceived to be profiting off of the bankruptcies of companies that were financially healthy prior to Bain taking control of them. This gave the electorate the impression that Romney was simply a greedy vulture capitalist who wanted to help make the rich get richer (Decker, 2012).
On the other hand, President Trump, who once described Romney as “basically a small business guy”, is a lot wealthier than Romney and was never afraid to flaunt his wealth through his brand to the voters. His announcement speech was held in the gaudy lobby of Trump Tower, and the majority of his subsequent campaign events were staged at Trump branded properties around the country. He even went as far as using his private Boeing 757 as a backdrop at several of his rallies. Trump, a man who built his entire career on craving attention and being brazen (Elovitz, 2016; Gallagher, 2017), was definitely not afraid to flaunt his affluence to the majority of Americans who were by no means in his class. He shamelessly shared his accomplishments and somehow managed to skillfully weave his failures, including multiple corporate bankruptcies and a more than $900 million loss, into positives.
Unlike Romney, his wealth did not hurt him, but rather became one of his strongest campaigning tools. President Trump’s fortune gave him the ability to finance his run and turn down millions of dollars in campaign contributions from donors (as he often claimed he did). The American working class saw him as the “people’s billionaire” who could not be bought or sold. On the other hand, Romney was portrayed as an elitist candidate, whose focus was not on the “people”, but himself and those like himself. President Trump had a populist message that was very much similar to President Andrew Jackson (Jones & Khoo, 2017). As a result, many of his supporters were so loyal and hopeful that they even supported the billionaire’s campaign with small donations.
In order to determine the extent to which the Trump presidential campaign of 2016, and the Romney presidential campaign of 2012, used the business successes of their candidates as an argument for their qualifications to serve as the President of the United States, the researcher conducted a narrative psychological analysis of various political events that were put on by both campaigns. This analysis also helped the researcher to determine whether or not the two campaigns differed in the way they went about leveraging the business careers of their candidate.
In particular, the researcher analyzed the transcripts of Trump and Romney’s candidacy announcements and party nomination speeches. These exhibits were primarily chosen to conduct this study because throughout the history of American politics they have always played a very vital role in the initial dissemination of a candidate’s overall political message.
Usually, a candidate’s first opportunity to sell the electorate on why they are best qualified to serve as President is done through his or her candidacy announcement speech. It is not unreasonable to expect that such an important presentation to voters would highlight some of a candidate’s accomplishments that they feel have prepared them for the demanding job. For this reason, the transcripts of their announcement speeches were a very critical pair of exhibits for this study.
For the most part, a party’s nominating convention could very well be described as a week of free national advertising for their nominee. Acceptance speeches tend to be watched live by tens of millions of people. With this in mind, party nominees use their acceptance speeches as a way to introduce the American public to their life stories and to their proposed political agenda. Therefore, the speeches made by Trump and Romney at their respective conventions are undoubtedly useful for this study.
It is quite usual for the list of featured speakers at a nominating convention to include members of a candidate’s family. Family members can help to give the voting public an inside perspective of what it is like to grow up in a household with the nominee. The speeches given by President Trump’s wife, Melania, and his four adult children – Don, Ivanka, Eric, and Tiffany were analyzed. His three eldest children have worked for their father for most of their adult careers. Their speeches could provide some insight on what it was like to work with Trump. I also analyzed the transcripts of speeches that were made by two of Trump’s business partners and friends, Phil Ruffin and Tom Barrack. Speeches made by Romney’s wife, Ann, and his son Craig were also used as exhibits. The disparity in the number of speeches taken from the Trump and Romney conventions are only a result of Romney having primarily establishment politicians speak at his convention as opposed to former business associates. This could have been an attempt to follow a more traditional path rather than be seen as an outsider.
In addition, the biographical videos that were used to introduce the candidates at the convention were obtained and used as exhibits in this study. These were gathered from Youtube.com. Unlike political speeches, convention bio videos effectively condense the more softer and personal side of a candidate into easy to follow audio-visual clips. Their primary objective is to convey a carefully crafted narrative of a candidate that goes beyond their policy. In the past, these videos highlighted the major accomplishments of a candidate and tried to make the case as to why he or she was qualified to serve as the next President. Their achievements as entrepreneurs played significant roles in the lives of Trump and Romney. One could even go as far as to conclude that their political ideology was greatly crafted by the many experiences that they had in the business world when it came to paying taxes and the government regulations on things such as employment and construction. As such, one would expect that a fairly good portion of the bio video would be spent on sharing the entrepreneurial achievements of the candidates.
In order to come up with valuable findings, this research paper was conducted using qualitative analysis. The exhibits that were used in this study were placed into four groups. These groups were the announcement speeches, speeches made at the convention by family and friends, convention biographical videos and the nomination acceptance speeches. The groups were then subdivided among each candidate, Trump and Romney.
Each exhibit was examined, both by reading the transcript and also watching the actual deliverance of the speech, with the goal of collecting the central themes and frequently mentioned common ideas found in that exhibit. The findings were placed in their respective groups and were subsequently compared with the corresponding exhibit for the opposite candidate. The observations, along with other findings that happened to surface, were noted.
Romney Believed in America While Trump Believed in Himself
The extent to which Trump and Romney would use their successes as businessmen appear to have differed right from the beginning. Trump, who for several decades had been described as a larger than life character, declared his candidacy in his flagship building in New York, “Trump Tower”. In keeping with traditional norms of having a new candidate being introduced to the electorate by a member of his family, Trump’s older daughter, Ivanka Trump presented him to the people. This is often done to help soften a candidate’s image. It also gives the electorate a different perspective that is usually hidden from the public eye.
Ivanka’s position was not just as the “daughter”. Her speech did not follow the usual pattern of speaking from the personal side, but rather she spoke to the many accomplishments that she had witnessed her father achieve while working closely with him in the family business. She notably stated that, “He [Trump] enjoyed success in a vast diversity of industries because the common denominator is him—his vision, his brilliance, his passion, his work ethic and his refusal to take no for an answer.” From the beginning, Trump wanted to send the message that the skills he had acquired from more than thirty years of deal making was exactly what the country desperately needed.
Trump’s speech was clearly not scripted or prepared. He spoke off the cuff, and this eventually became a trait that many of his devoted followers fell in love with. He “rambled” on a number of topics for more than an hour. It came across as though he spoke about the first thing that came to his mind at the time. Trump’s speech was blunt and clear: he would be the guy to fix America amidst economic uncertainty.
He constantly referred to his life as a businessman and his amassed wealth. He notably stated, “I’m really rich” and shortly after making that statement declared that his net worth was in excess of $8 billion. Other bold statements that caught the ears of many were: “I love the Saudis. Many are in this building”, “I just sold an apartment for $15 million dollars to somebody from China. Am I supposed to dislike them?” and “The largest bank in the world is a tenant of mine.” Trump was obviously set on the precise message he wanted to share and the expensive pink marble and extravagant architecture of Trump Tower was a shining example of his message.
In contrast, Romney’s announcement ceremony was a lot less lavish. Instead of using one of his children that he worked with in the business world, Romney had his wife Ann introduce him. Ann’s speech was a lot shorter than Ivanka’s and it focused on more of the typical personal side and characteristics of Romney, rather than his competence and ability to run the country successfully.
Just as his wife’s remarks, Romney’s announcement speech was short (less than 25 minutes) and was even shorter than Trump’s. While Romney was arguably successful in his own right as an entrepreneur, he only briefly mentioned his accomplishments as a businessman. Even those mentions were pretty vague compared to those of Trump and unlike Trump, Romney did not speak about his wealth (Forbes has estimated him to be worth anywhere from $200 - $250 million). His announcement focused, instead, on his disagreements with then President Obama and his goals and vision for the future of the country.
Romney’s Convention Was Traditional, Trump’s Was Not
The exhibits from the convention began to give an idea of the difference between the messaging that the Trump and Romney campaigns were disseminating. The lineup of speakers at the 2012 convention was very traditional. Several high-profiled members of the GOP were scheduled to deliver presentations during the three-day events. These included governors, congressmen and senators who would be considered as “establishment Republicans”. Although Romney had quite a long career in the private sector, he did not have some of his former business partners speak on what could have been a very insightful perspective on Romney as a businessman, and not a politician. The speakers at Romney’s convention spoke on the importance of stopping the Democrats from having the White House for another four years. They also spoke on the usual Republican talking points such as the importance of repealing and replacing Obamacare and the urgent need for tax reform as a way to stimulate the economy.
The 2016 GOP convention, however, was the complete opposite. There were very few core GOP members scheduled to speak. Instead, the convention’s featured speakers included four of Trump’s own children, his wife, and a handful of business leaders who had worked with Trump on various projects over the years. It was clear that Trump was embracing his “outsider” image that he had developed during the campaign trail. The featured speakers primarily acted as endorsements for Trump; they talked about why 2016 was the year to elect the unconventional candidate for President. His children and business partners spoke about his entrepreneurial acumen and his ability to make incredible deals. Other speakers talked about why Trump’s proposed policies were what the country needed. Simply put, the central message in the majority of the speeches was that Trump was the man for the job and the man who would deliver.
Romney’s Convention Video Barely Spoke About His Business Career
The convention video that was used in the 2012 convention highlighted many personal milestones in Romney’s life. It mainly featured him and his wife talking about their journey and life as a couple. There were two cases studies that were used in the video that focused on Romney’s ability to turn failing projects around. The first case study spoke to the time that Romney took over the Winter Olympics and saved it, while the other case study was on Romney’s success with turning the stationery chain store Staples around.
Trump’s convention video focused a lot less on his personal narrative and more on the accomplishments he had achieved in the business world. The common trend among each case study was that Trump had a remarkable ability to turn failing real estate ventures around through great deal making. The narrative forced the viewer to see Trump as a man that was capable of making the impossible, possible.
The lack of business case study usage in Romney’s convention video might make someone ask the question, “Was Romney intentionally distancing himself from his business career?”
Both Acceptance Speeches Barely Touched the Business Narratives
Surprisingly, Trump and Romney’s acceptance speeches both lacked substance about their accomplishments as businessmen. Romney’s acceptance speech was a little more than thirty minutes in length and was very idealistic. He spoke about what it meant to be an American and why he felt as though President Obama’s policies were failing the electorate. Much like the rest of his campaign, Romney’s acceptance speech was not supposed to be about him, but rather about the problems in the country and the solutions to those problems. There was a chance that Romney’s campaign advisors felt as though it could have been too risky for him to talk about himself as opposed to policy. Solely speaking about the issues could have been a strategy to avoid unwanted criticisms about Romney’s private life and professional career.
Conversely, Trump’s speech was more than double the length of Romney’s and was more focused on the many problems that the country was experiencing. While he did state that he “alone can fix [those problems]”, there was only one statement throughout the entire speech that referenced his business career. It was very brief, however. It is very understandable as to why Trump would want to focus more on specific policy proposals in his acceptance speech. After all, many of the speakers at his convention already touched on his business career. It is interesting though that Romney spoke more to his accomplishments as Governor of Massachusetts (a short term) rather than his accomplishments at Bain Capital.
The above findings could lead one to the conclusion that Donald Trump’s life story falls along the lines of the self-exploration narrative outlined in McAdam’s study on narrative psychology. On the other hand, Romney’s story is one of self-regulation as evidenced by the biographical findings in the study and also by the traditional and reserved campaign strategy he tried so hard to employ.
As explained by research done by Elovitz and Gallagher, Trump is someone who has always been obsessed with discovering his full potential. Despite being born into privilege and inheriting the family business, Trump was never comfortable with settling. His entire life was focused on creating his own name and building upon the family legacy. Trump’s self-exploratory nature could have influenced him to enter into industries beyond real estate (what he and his family were very successfully with). Throughout his career, these industries included casinos, wine manufacturing, clothing and golf courses. It is also quite possible that jumping into the presidential race was a way for Trump to quench his continued self-exploration.