Trump gifted at promotion, has shortcomings as speaker

Nancy Benac
Associated Press

Washington — Republican nominee Donald Trump, who’d never participated in a debate before the presidential primaries, is keeping his preparations for Monday’s leadoff general-election debate low key — no mock face-offs or the like.

“Really, you’re preparing all of your life for these,” he told Fox Business Network recently. “You’re not preparing over a two-week period and cramming.”

Is he ready?

Experts on public speaking find all kinds of faults with Trump’s oratory: His vocabulary is juvenile, his syntax is jumbled, he’s casual about accuracy, he’s demeaning, his voice is thin and nasal, he’s weak on policy details and more.

And yet, Aaron Kall, who directs the University of Michigan’s Debate Institute and debate team, will venture to tell you this: “He performs like a maestro.”

“He’s a media natural,” says Kall, who edited a book about Trump’s primary debate performances. “He really understands audiences and tailors a message to what he thinks that they want to hear.”

Trump inherited a flair for promotion from his father. Fred Trump, who built homes and apartments in Brooklyn and Queens, used all sorts of gimmicks to sell his properties. His son Donald never passed up an opportunity to be on camera.

Long before NBC’s “The Apprentice” turned Trump into a reality TV star in 2004, he was advancing his biz-whiz image in TV and movie cameos, chatting up Howard Stern on the radio and filming ads for Pizza Hut, McDonald’s and more.

Then, over 14 seasons of “The Apprentice” and “Celebrity Apprentice,” he sharpened his ability to work the camera, think on his feet and promote the Trump brand.

As a presidential candidate, he’s drawn on those same skills to keep himself in the news, dishing out provocations and insults sure to guarantee the public’s attention.

“Across his history, he evolved from a builder to a brand,” says Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. “He would not be successful were it not for his ingenuity at securing publicity.”