Playing The Trump Card

America is fascinated with Donald Trump.

In public opinion polls, as a constant media presence, and on NBC’s The Apprentice, Trump seems to have been cornering the media with talk about his future political prospects. In fact, a recent poll by the Pew Research Center found that Trump is ‘trumping’ the GOP field in media attention. In the last week of April, voters reported seeing or hearing more media coverage about Donald Trump than the entire Republican field combined. As cited by Pew: “Trump is standing out in a contest that has yet to draw much public interest or media coverage.”

Several national opinion polls taken during April focused in on Trump, demonstrating that the public was seriously considering him as a contender for the Republican nomination. That was in spite of the repeated barrages of dismissive pundit ramblings struggling to downplay his prospects at the time. In a field of contenders that (depending on whose counting) includes close to a dozen candidates, Trump was the one standing out without ever being a declared candidate.

His popularity rise had a lot to do with the fact that Trump, a master of modern media, was doing everything and anything he could to engage in relevant debate with direct, frank communication tactics with the American people.

Now, with the news that he’s not planning to run for president, what does this mean for other candidates?

At their core, elections are about choices. And choices are defined by contrasts. Regardless of your opinions of Trump, one thing is certain; with every single comment, he painted a clear difference between himself and the status quo. He wasted no time linking every problem to its cause and reminding people in no uncertain terms how he’s the polar opposite. The result was that people understood his positions; they were identifying, and responding. The choices were clear.

Tough talk and transparent opinions helped Trump appeal to voters that desperately want change. Republican primary voters are close to revolt over what they’re seeing in Washington, and the Obama administration has them steaming over bailouts, healthcare, spending and deficits. His clear positions on hot issues are engaging their support by eliminating ambiguity. While you may question where others stand, Trump’s position has been crystal clear in comparison.

What’s shocking has been the relative absence of other messengers countering Trump’s rapid rise. The same polls that have showed Trump surging also reveal a mostly tuned out electorate. More than half of the people Pew surveyed “could not name anyone when asked which GOP candidate they have been hearing the most about.”

But just last week, a poll emerged telegraphing the first Trump slip, sliding behind more known quantities like Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, though Huckabee himself has also stepped out of the ring. It’s a reminder that short term popularity doesn’t always translate into long term gains. In the end, voters have to like what they find to stay on board.

Donald Trump’s short, energetic rise is a lesson to all candidates in the power of effective communication. While Trump’s competition avoided sharp distinctions between themselves, Obama and the status quo, Trump did the opposite. The result was a rapid increase in popularity, buzz, and support.

Elections are about contrast and explaining clear choices for voters. Voters will gravitate towards candidates who communicate clearly defined differences.

Does your campaign offer a clearly defined choice? If it does, it could be your ‘Trump card’ on Election Day.