What is Donald Trump’s strategy?


As the United States party primaries edge toward the finish line, the two leading contenders, Hillary Clinton and her unlikely adversary, Donald Trump, are in full political strategy mode. Both are very different candidates and with entirely different political and business strategies, but what each seemingly appears to have in common is a dogged determination to win.

Looking at Donald Trump specifically, his strategic bid for The White House has taken up many column inches, with talking heads and media personalities all reaching to define exactly what his strategy is. The contentious candidate is seen by some to wield a domineering power, seeking dispute with happy abandon, while others consider aspects of his campaign to reflect a more mathematical approach, similar to that of Game Theory.

Controversy as a strategy

The gleeful way Donald Trump has courted controversy throughout his political campaign for the Republican nomination can be tied into that old adage – there is no such thing as bad publicity. Many commentators have claimed that this strategy serves to keep him ‘relevant’ and in the press – in front of our noses and glued to our smartphone screens – but is bad publicity a good strategy?

Many in the American press have pointed out that this latest round of media tricks has kept Trump’s presence blanketed over the cable news segments. But is his bombast working for him politically? A recent Reuters poll suggests that if the election were held on the 17th of June, Clinton would have gotten 45.5 per cent of the vote, compared to Trump’s 34.8 per cent – the remaining 19.7 per cent representing the other/wouldn’t vote/refused category.

Staying on the front page appears to be a strategy of Trump's.Staying on the front page appears to be a strategy of Trump's.Staying on the front page appears to be a strategy of Trump’s.

Game theory

Whether you love or loathe Donald Trump, his strategies – according to Steven J. Brams professor of politics at New York University – are consistent with two principles of game theory. These two core principals are to be firstly unpredictable – something Trump touts in spades – and a secondly a strategy titled by Brams as “madman” theory.

Madman theory was one used by Richard Nixon and is intended to create and provoke fear in your opponent by appearing to be crazy and dangerous – so much so that you may cause harm even to yourself, all in the name of brining down your opponent.

In the world of Game Theory, both of these theories work to force your competitor to respond, whether that is a positive for your campaign or not. This ‘all on the line’ approach may not be the best strategy in politics, and may not bring about the end result Trump is looking for. But at least for now, it does appear to be generating the publicity he craves.