Attention, would-be Donald Trumps -- It's not so easy

Story highlights

  • Joel Sawyer says the candidates around the nation who are trying to imitate Donald Trump should beware of the difficulties
  • They lack his money, name recognition, media profile, Sawyer says

Joel Sawyer served as communications director for former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford and as executive director of the South Carolina GOP. He is currently an account executive at CampaignGrid, a digital advertising firm. The opinions expressed in this column are his own.

(CNN)Now that Donald Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee, political professionals across the country like myself are being asked: "How do I tap into what Trump has tapped into, and run a campaign like he is running?" Already, the Wall Street Journal is reporting candidates across the country are emulating the Trumpian message, if not tactics, in their own bids for office.

While I'm tempted to respond by telling the erstwhile candidate to find the brattiest, most entitled, 16-year-old boy you can, emulate him systematically, and to throw in a dash of xenophobia and a sprinkle of misogyny, the real answer is: You can't.
Only Trump can be Trump.
    Inasmuch as Trump has obliterated conventional wisdom, his feat is unlikely to be repeated for a host of reasons.
    First and foremost, your last name isn't Trump.
    While it's debatable how much Trump is worth -- a number that varies with his "feelings," by his own admission -- he's worth a lot more money than most of us will ever see in our lifetime.
    But what isn't debatable is that he has been an incredibly savvy marketer of his surname. Over the past decades, he has with Kardashian-like efficiency created value for his last name alone.
    As John Oliver pointed out, the name "Trump" is synonymous with wealth and success. Hell, I owned a copy of "Trump" the board game" growing up. Companies gladly pay money to slap his name on everything from hotels to steak to vodka.
    No matter how well known you are back home, "Trump" is on a whole other level than having your granddaddy's name slapped across the front of the local library.
    Second, the media needs Trump because it is failing as an industry. Your local media doesn't need you.
    It's undeniable that Trump has received an unprecedented amount of free media coverage. But the real story isn't that he's been covered, it's the way he's been covered. The media is supposed to act as a gatekeeper. Call it a filter, if you like, but their job is to provide context and fact-checking as a balance against candidates' bluster. And when it comes to Trump, they've failed miserably in that regard.
    There are countless examples, but most recently BuzzFeed editor in chief Ben Smith highlighted the media's inability to dispel the notion that Trump had opposed the war in Iraq.
    It's no mystery why -- they did it for the ratings. But your local TV station and newspaper are selling plenty of ads for Bob's Used Car Emporium without you. Not only that, but they may not even have a local political reporter anymore.
    Trump's plane landing has been carried live by cable news, multiple times. Trump is frequently allowed to phone into network interviews, when other candidates were forced to either appear in person on via satellite. Media outlets won't give you the same luxury.
    Third, you need to hire professionals. If there has been an Achilles' heel with Trump's political organization, it's been that until the recent additions of folks like Paul Manafort, Trump's campaign has been more akin to a series of surreal tent revivals than an actual, well, political organization. In addition to his political work in the U.S., Paul Manafort is best known for being a consultant to dictators around the world, and you cannot afford him.
    If Trump had organized an actual turnout operation, he may have very well won Iowa, something that he himself kinda sorta admitted in his own very Trumpian way.
    You aren't going to draw Donald Trump numbers to your events. In fact, you'll be lucky to pack the local barbecue joint. With family. And free food. And you can't afford to simply broadcast your message to any random yahoo who may or may not actually show up to vote. As already noted, Trump leveraged time and money with an awful lot of help from cable news. You'll be lucky to pull two sticks to your press conference to tell folks what you're mad as hell about today. That's why you have to invest in a real ground game, and make damn sure your folks show up on the only day that matters.
    Finally, you don't have a fake army of Twitter bots backing you up.
    The Donald's Twitter minions could make the Beyhive blush, though it's probable that many more of Beyonce's validators actually have a pulse. Patrick Ruffini spent some time digging into Trump's Twitter followers, and you can draw your own conclusions about how real they are.
    You're not going to get very far hate-tweeting and throwing tantrums at real or perceived slights, while thousands of dutiful bots wait to spread your every word to all eight of their own followers. To build an online presence, you're going to have to invest time and money into social media, and back to the earlier point about turnout, in voter-targeted digital technology.
    Sure, I'm a political professional, and so it's not surprising that I'm writing to tell candidates they need to hire pros. I get it. But what I'm laying out is nothing new -- it's the basic blocking and tackling of any campaign that will work for anyone whose last name isn't "Trump."
    And my professional advice to little Donalds is that your campaign will still need data-driven messaging, real polling, message experts, policies grounded in fact, and a decent campaign infrastructure, if you want to win.