"But David, I'm not going to say anything bad about... John McCain! He's a war hero and a distinguished senator. That would sink my candidacy for sure," begged Donald Trump.
I had been coaching Trump, a political novice, through the ins and outs of a campaign for the highest office in the land. The last few months had gone well in the polls, but the candidate was still hesitant to trust my advice completely.
"Listen Donny, John McCain is a loser. He lost in 2000 and '08. Do you like losers?" I snapped back.
"Well, no," Trump meekly replied, "But he survived five years in a POW camp in North Vietnam. He has fought tirelessly against the practice of torture. That deserves at least a modicum of respect."
I frowned, "I like people who weren't captured. I don't know about you, Donny."
I knew I had gotten through when Trump was asked about the former '08 presidential runner up at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa a few days later. "He's not a war hero," Trump began, "He was a war hero because he was captured? I like people who weren’t captured."
YES! Much better than his half-hearted Mexican rapist comments at his initial announcement. I knew something the experts didn't: the Republican base wanted their id stroked. These were the sort of people who watch NASCAR in hopes of witnessing a fiery crash. They don't have time for nuance. They want to win and take down Others while they do it. And they haven't been winning much lately in an increasingly globalized and tolerant world.
But then, near disaster. Trump equivocated. He claimed he called McCain and apologized. For his part, McCain denied that any call was placed and demanded Trump apologize to veterans and retract his remarks. Fortunately, Trump countered that he didn't regret his comments. "You do things and you say things," Trump responded on the radio show Imus in the Morning, "And what I said, frankly, is what I said. And some people like what I said if you want to know the truth. There are many people that like what I said."
The mainstream media thought the spat would destroy Trump's prospects, but I knew better. He shot up in the polls once again. Still, I didn't yet have Trump's full trust and his (thankfully inaccurate) assertion of apology showed it. I still had more work to do.