The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

How to be a ‘straight shooter’ like Donald Trump, in 7 easy steps

We were unable to find a photo of Donald Trump with his mouth closed. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Placeholder while article actions load

Somehow, Donald Trump has a reputation as a "straight shooter." There are any number of examples of people offering this accolade, but my favorite is probably the praise offered by KISS' Gene Simmons. "His children are terrific," Simmons said. "He’s anti-drug, anti-booze. The guy is a straight shooter." Everything you need in a president.

Anyway, Donald Trump is not a straight shooter. Donald Trump is a loudmouth who says whatever comes into his head. Almost always what comes into his head is something that lies on one of the poles of the "very good-very bad" spectrum. During his announcement, Trump declared that his family, Tennessee, Trump Tower, bridges in China, his father's negotiating ability, his net worth and his lobbyists were all "great," and that's only a partial list. His knee-jerk use of the adjectives "huge" and "classy" are now punchlines.

But it's when Trump flips to the negative end of the spectrum that he gets into trouble, particularly as a "presidential candidate." We've now seen two examples of Trump's response strategy, elegant in its simplicity and baffling in its effectiveness. Here, before Trump can copyright the tactic and offer it at a premium at his Trump University (or not there, I guess), it is.

1. Get mad at somebody.

This is a very important part of the process.

Donald Trump is mad at the government of Mexico because he won a lawsuit against former business partners but can't collect thanks to the country's "corrupt court system." In February, Trump called for a boycott of the country.

Trump is also mad at Sen. John McCain because McCain said that Trump had "fired up the crazies" with his anti-immigration rally in Arizona two weekends ago.

These things made Trump mad.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said on July 18, 2015 that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was not a war hero because he had been captured. (Video: C-SPAN)

2. Say something outrageous and indefensible.

Something like "When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. ... They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists." Or that McCain is "a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren't captured."

3. Immediately modify the outrageous thing you said.

A less experienced hothead would simply say something rude or offensive and then cross his arms and pout. But Trump is the greatest, classiest hothead, with enough experience to know better. So right after he calls Mexican immigrants rapists, he adds, "[a]nd some, I assume, are good people." Right after he says that John McCain is "not a war hero," he says, "I believe, perhaps, he's a war hero."

Could that possibly fool anyone, you might wonder? Well, yes. Former CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson determined that our coverage of the event was faulty because Trump several times said McCain was a war hero. It's right there above! He "is a war hero," Trump said! (Because he was captured.) That's like movie trailers that only highlight the "non-stop thrill ride" part of a review calling a movie a "non-stop thrill ride of horrible garbage."

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump refuses to apologize for saying that Sen. John McCain is “not a war hero.” (Video: Reuters)

4a. Stand by your comments.

Part of maintaining a reputation as a "straight shooter" is never admitting you're wrong.

Will Trump apologize to McCain, ABC News asked on Sunday? "No, not at all," came the response.

Would Trump take back his comments on immigrants, Bill O'Reilly wondered in June? "No, because it’s totally accurate," Trump replied.

Of course, it was not "totally accurate." It was barely "sort of accurate." So:

4b. Pretend you were really talking about something else.

After he'd been battered for a week for defending his incorrect comments on immigration, Trump released a statement insisting that he was talking about the Mexican government all along, not regular immigrants.

"I don’t see how there is any room for misunderstanding or misinterpretation" of that, the statement read. Then he quoted his own speech, adding the following parenthetical: "When Mexico (meaning the Mexican Government) sends its people, they’re not sending their best." How could anyone misunderstand the thing that Trump needed to clarify in his quote of himself?

As for McCain, Trump insists that he lashed out at the senator because he is "another all talk, no action politician who spends too much time on television and not enough time doing his job and helping the Vets." (By contrast, a "Trump administration will provide the finest universal access health care for our veterans," Trump wrote in a USA Today piece.) It had nothing to do with criticism of Trump, mind you, but McCain calling Trump supporters "crazies." OK.

5. Use selected public reactions as a justification.

The last line in Trump's statement responding to criticism of his campaign remarks was this, which, if there is any fairness in the universe, will become one of the go-to punchlines of the 2016 campaign:

"Note, Mr. Trump left [the stage] to a long lasting standing ovation, which will be by far the biggest ovation of the weekend, and much congratulatory praise."

He similarly used his increase in the polls as a defense of the immigration comments. "The fact is that I’ve made a point, the point has now been accepted," he told Fox Business last week. "It was very hot a week ago, and now everybody’s saying 'Trump is right.'"

Oh, and then there's Twitter, where Trump compulsively retweets the many people willing to come to his defense. The most recent, as of writing:

6. Convince yourself that you're just speaking the truth.

"I will say what I want to say," Trump told ABC's Martha Raddatz on Sunday, "and maybe that’s why I’m leading in the polls because people are tired of hearing politicians and pollsters telling the politicians exactly what to say."

7. Repeat until the last light on the last camera flicks off.

If it ever does.

Since Donald Trump announced his presidential bid, he's drawn plenty of controversy and outrage for his comments. Here are some of the key moments. (Video: The Washington Post)