The following is an account of my time spent as an intern on the Trump campaign and how I applied the principles of Machiavelli’s The Prince to my daily routine.
I volunteered for the Donald Trump Presidential campaign. In addition to this volunteer role, I also headed up my university’s Students for Trump coalition. This internship experience was far different from my internship experience in the state legislature, in that the work I was doing was far more exciting and meaningful and therefore fulfilling on a level that public administration simply cannot compete with. Additionally, this internship ended with a huge win so that was extremely exciting for me; it was also the first time I voted for the winner in a Presidential election, which was very satisfying for me.
This internship allowed me to learn a lot about Presidential campaigns and I also gained a lot of skill and experience that I never previously had. Along the way, I also got to see and meet a lot of very cool and famous people, such as Donald Trump, his son Donald Trump Jr., his daughter in law Lara Trump, Rudy Giuliani, and Chris Christie. All in all, interning for this campaign was an incredible experience that made me much more prepared to work in the real world on Presidential campaigns.
Prior to becoming an intern, had I attended two Donald Trump rallies in the Midwest. Both events had ridiculously huge crowds; I had to wait an hour just to get inside the first rally. The second rally was a particularly cool experience because it was inside an aircraft hangar with the garage doors open to expose the runway and I got to actually witness his jet land and take off.
One of the most important things I did while working on the campaign was to receive gear from the campaign to distribute to students. As the leader of the student coalition on campus, I was responsible for hyping up the candidate as much as possible on campus. To do this, I received shirts, buttons, stickers, and signs to distribute to students.
These materials were also crucial in the process of enticing students to come help volunteer and knock doors on the weekends. My fellow students were enamored with the campaign materials and I could hardly keep enough shirts and signs to go around. This should be surprising to many of our opponents, who doubted Trump’s popularity with the youth.
As the leader of the coalition on campus, I worked closely with the College Republicans, an organization I had previously been the president of. Unlike some chapters across the nations, my chapter of College Republicans fell in line and voted unanimously to endorse the Republican Presidential candidate. Certain chapters of College Republicans at various schools decided to stand against their own candidate and those chapters look foolish now.
I basically had the entire College Republicans at my disposal to help campaign on campus. Critics of my candidate would again be surprised to learn that our chapter of College Republicans who unanimously voted to endorse Donald Trump is almost entirely women. This fact is also important because of the overwhelming support from college women we received at all levels of the campaign operation.
An important role I played in the campaign was recruiting people to come out to rallies, which was also one of the most fun and rewarding aspects of the campaign. At the rallies, hundreds of thousands of people would be crammed inside somewhere to see Donald Trump or one of his many surrogates speak. One of the most significant of these events was the millennial roll-out, which was made up of thousands of college students from all around the state being bused in from their universities to see the man himself, as well as Rudy Giuliani. At this event, me and several other students waited for Donald Trump for several hours while campaign staffers tossed out campaign gear, played music, had surrogates speak, and got everyone pumped up.
Another great event I went to was a happy hour event at a bar near campus, where I got to meet Donald Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump. Myself along with dozens of other students joined her for drinks and to listen to her defend her father-in-law’s policies.
Overall, this campaigning experience was invaluable to me and I would not take it back for the world. Before working on this campaign, my range of experience was that of a foot solider, pretty much restricted to just basic grassroots activism. Throughout my internship with the campaign, however, I learned a great deal about event planning, volunteer coordination, volunteer recruitment, as well as other new skills I had never had experience with, such as on Election Day, when I operated the poll flushing hotline from inside the war room. Stationed in a few offices inside an upscale hotel downtown, the war room was operated by the state party with the help of the Trump campaign, as well as volunteers like myself. One office was reserved for the legal team and I did not see much of what went on in there. The office I worked in was the poll flushing hotline for the poll watchers in the field. On this hotline, I dealt with tech support for the field team, handled cases of voter fraud, as well as cases of possible fraud and other sketchy activity.
In one instance, I reported suspicious activity to the legal team and they reported back that I had actually discovered a serious problem. The report I received was from a poll watcher who said the precinct was claiming to be out of ballots and instead issuing absentee ballots for people to vote with. I am not familiar with all the nuances of campaign law and electoral protocol, but it was deemed suspicious enough to be handed over to the legal team, who told me that the same thing was happening in seven other counties. I do not know what happened with that or if there was any actual illegal activity, but I assume it was dealt with properly.
When the polls finally closed on Election Day, I went with some other student volunteers first to the state Republican Party election night party, then to the Trump Campaign election night party, but in the end returned home to watch the results come in from the comfort of my couch. The campaign had become such a big part of my life that I was emotionally invested in the outcome. Needless to say, I stayed awake all night waiting for the results to come and keeping up to date with the latest news and analysis of the election thus far. It was not until about three or four in the morning when they finally called the election results, but when Trump was finished giving his victory speech, I was too excited to sleep.
As trivial as it is, I did use a slightly Machiavellian trick to convince some students to vote for Trump: I misrepresented his view on medical and recreational marijuana policy in order to sway some Gary Johnson supporting students to my side. Again, definitely a petty tactic, but I felt like since the ends justified the means it could slide.
Trump himself was more the master of Machiavellian campaign strategy this election cycle. Machiavelli asked whether a ruler should be loved or feared; judging by the Hitler comparisons leading all the way up to the mass hysteria following his victory, most would probably say Trump chose to be feared. However, I think he achieved the perfect Machiavellian balance: being loved by his supporters and feared by his opponents.
The energy at a Trump rally is like the energy at a rock concert or football game. I will admit it, it is a little weird how much some people loved Trump. It was not uncommon to see grown men dressed up as Trump, people decked out in all American flag colors, homemade shirts with memes printed on them, and a whole plethora of oddball figures who look like they belong at a college tailgate. To add to the energy, there were always amateur vendors and angry protesters.
Because Trump was able to mobilize such an enthusiastic support base, it gave him the freedom to engage in behaviors that were erratic or unprecedented. To the supporters, this sometimes fed the fire of their enthusiasm, while to his opponents, it struck fear in their hearts. A great example of this would be his comment in the final debate claiming that if he were in charge of the law, Hillary Clinton would be in jail. To Democrats, these were the words of a dictator ready to imprison political dissenters — many said the United States would be a ‘banana republic’. But to Republicans, this was a call to restore order and ethics in government and it became one of the most popular chants at his rallies: “Lock her up”.
The more afraid his opponents became, the less effective their opposition became. It is hard to convince an undecided voter to not vote for Donald Trump by frantically calling him “literally Hitler” or by writing an opinion piece about how Donald Trump is affecting your mental health (as I saw some journalists do). The worst of it was when the Clinton camp’s rhetoric devolved to strange conspiracies involving Russian, neo-Nazi, and Ku Klux Klan involvement in Trump’s campaign.
This is not to say Trump did not do any fear mongering of his own, I just think his worked better, by connecting to people better. For example, his capitalizing on the economic anxieties of Americans worked well because a majority of Americans believe the country is headed in the wrong direction according to Pew Research Center. So, looking at the election in a historical context, based on that piece of data alone one can conclude that it is unlikely someone will be successful campaigning on the policies of the current President like Hillary Clinton did.
Looking at the broader scope of Trump’s political ideology, I think it is fair to say that it has a lot of influence from Machiavelli in the form of pragmatism or realism in regards to governing. Even his campaign slogan, “America First”, states one goal and pledges to pursue it. It is definitely obvious that he mostly cares about what is going to work well instead of ideological red tape like liberalism or conservatism. This was something that set Trump apart from other Republicans. Instead of mindlessly following the guideline of limited government, the constitution, lower taxes, and decreased government spending, Trump’s policies are unrestricted by these nuances. By defying the Republican establishment, Trump was able to say the things he needed to in order to win.
This is why it was so hard for pundits to characterize his actual ideology, which ranges from moderate to slightly liberal to downright authoritarian. I think he adopted this style from his experience as a business executive, who sometimes needs to act in an unrestrained, dictatorial manner to accomplish what must be done. A business executive has no political ideology, only the goal to make things run smoothly and ensure a profit.
Similarly, it could be argued that the country should be run less on arbitrary ideological lines and more on the principle of what will make the nation prosper. Perhaps Trump’s brand of light civic nationalism could just be the translation of business administration principles to public administration: government employees acting as trustees of the country on behalf of their stockholders, the American citizen.
Some other policies of Trump break away from Republican groupthink for a more realist worldview, most notably his foreign policy. There is no doubt the Iraq War ended up being really unpopular with a majority of Americans. Trump was one of the only Republicans to admit so, and then suddenly any Republican who disagreed with him on it fell in the polls, like Jeb! Bush after he horribly backtracked on the issue.
Another foreign policy position of Trump’s that fits into the realist model worldview is his stance on the Syrian Civil War. As it stands now, we are fighting the war on multiple fronts, seeking to overthrow President Assad while also trying to fight the Islamic State. Trump’s position has always been to forget about overthrowing President Assad to focus on the more important fight against the Islamic State. This would ease tension with some of the countries who are seen as the bad guys, such as Russia and Iran, who are allies with Syria.
Less military or more focused military involvement in Syria would also ease tensions domestically at home, hopefully keeping things stable so that Trump’s popularity and approval rating will stay up. Additionally, Trump has said he plans to claim the oil fields the Islamic State controls, which could help improve the economy and lower gas prices under his administration, further helping his approval rating.
Going into his Presidency, Trump had opportunity to govern in a very Machiavellian way, similar to how Obama did in my assessment. Conservative pundits constantly link President Obama to Saul Alinsky, who shares some intellectual common ground with Machiavelli, in my opinion, in that they are both focused pragmatism, using the ends to justify the means, and achieving a goal (through governing for Machiavelli and through community mobilization and activism for Alinsky).
During Obama’s Presidency, the Democratic Party maintained enough control of Congress that Obama was able to advance a lot of his political agenda with little to no Republican support at all. When his political goals could not be achieved through Congress, he used Executive Orders, like in 2014 when he issued an Executive Order to grant amnesty to some 5 million illegal immigrants.
Republicans cried out about the Constitution whenever he did this, but Obama was simply implementing his political agenda in a Machiavellian manner. Due in part also to the Congressional Republicans failure to unify and legislate after winning major victories in 2010 and 2014, Obama also did not have trouble suppressing any policy ideas from his opponents. Essentially the entire government was run by Democrats for eight years, so either Democratic milestones were achieved, or nothing was achieved at all.
Trump similarly entered the Presidency with his party in control of the entire government. The advantage he has, though, is that the Republicans also control the Supreme Court for the next generation or so, and the Republicans also control a majority of state legislatures and governorships. This means that even if Trump does deviate from the sacred Republican tradition of the Constitution, he is unlikely to see any challenges to his agenda on the basis of federalism or Constitutionality. It is my hope that Trump can whip the Republican Party in line and make Republican realize that the Constitution is not a suicide pact: The Democrats spent eight years ignoring it so it is in their best interest to use their own methods against them now. Placing the Constitution over your own political goals is just creating red tape for yourself.
All of this is assuming that Trump can maintain this Republican stranglehold of the government for eight years. In order to do this, Trump needs to have a very Machiavellian Presidency, quickly advancing as much of his agenda as he can while also crushing the opposition. A good portion of the country thinks he’s a white supremacist, “literally Hitler”, a Russian plant, or a rapist, so it should not be hard for him to maintain an aura of dominance over these people, many of whom are involved in politics or journalism.
He benefits from this extreme image in another way, too. By pitching extreme policies such as a ban on Muslim immigration, he has set himself so that even if he negotiates down from his initial pitch, he has a lot of room to work with to ensure he ends up the winner. Additionally, when people hear “Muslim ban” and then the actual policy they get is less immigration from countries we have troops fighting in, he seems rational all while discrediting his opponent, the media, who will have then appeared to have cried wolf.
Overall, this was by far the most enriching internship experience, let alone campaign experience for me. I got to learn a lot of the behind the scenes work for campaigning while building on my current grassroots skill set.
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