Van Jones: Past presidents have used new technology to successfully connect with millions, and now Donald Trump is doing the same
Jones: In traditional politics, narcissists do poorly but on reality TV, braggarts get sky-high ratings
Editor’s Note: Van Jones is president of Dream Corps and Rebuild the Dream, which promote innovative solutions for America’s economy. He was President Barack Obama’s green jobs adviser in 2009. A best-selling author, he is also founder of Green for All, a national organization working to build a green economy. Follow him on Twitter @VanJones68. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
FDR was the first “radio” president. JFK emerged as the first “television” president. Barack Obama broke through as the first “Internet” president.
Next up? Prepare to meet Donald Trump, possibly the first “social media” and “reality TV” president.
Everyone is focused on the news that retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson has slipped past the celebrity billionaire in Iowa. But Trump is still the national front runner – placing first or second in every GOP poll taken this year.
The political elite needs to face the facts: a Trump presidency is possible. Just look at history. In every generation, the triumphant politician is the one who first masters his era’s media tools.
FDR’s “fireside chats” are now legendary. And yet we forget how innovative they were. Here was a president using the most cutting-edge technology of the day to speak directly to millions. His radio persona did not simply mask his physical limitations. You could argue that his physical limitations forced him to develop the rhetorical genius perfectly suited to a radio era.
Polished, handsome and energetic, JFK first captured America’s heart through the power of television. He was only outdone when an actual screen actor rose to the highest office in the land: Ronald Reagan. The Gipper’s televised charisma helped earn him the moniker “the Great Communicator.”
More recently, we witnessed Howard Dean’s 2004 campaign pioneer new ways to use the Internet to convert grassroots passion into volunteer energy and small-dollar donations. But it was Barack Obama who perfected the art. His 2008 and 2012 campaigns leveraged email, online video, big data and some social media tools to create a game-changing force.
The winning strategies all look so obvious in hindsight. But in their time, all of these innovators – FDR, JFK, Reagan, and Obama – were criticized, misunderstood and underestimated.
Now, the same thing may be happening with Trump. And it is the reason he could win.
Americans who listened to the 1960 Nixon vs. Kennedy debate on radio famously declared Nixon the victor. But the millions watching the first televised debate picked JFK. The rules of the game had changed, and the spoils went to the person who figured it out first.
The Trump phenomenon flabbergasts pundits like me. We thought the billionaire was leaving the world of Entertainment, climbing over a wall and joining us in the sober domain of Politics. But in fact, the opposite happened. “Trump, The Entertainer” stayed exactly where he was. Instead, he pulled the political establishment over the wall and into HIS domain. The political class is now lost in the world of reality television and social media.