Kelly Conway is the president and CEO of Mattersight, a provider of personality-based SaaS applications.
It’s the question that has been circulating around Donald Trump ever since the earliest rumblings of his candidacy: Will he or won’t he? Will he enter the race? Will he win the primary? Will he be the Republican nominee?
Today, at the end of a long string of yeses, only one “will he” remains—the only one that really matters: Will he be president?
Whatever the answer to that question may be, one thing is certain: Thanks to Trump’s personality, we’ll know it long before a single vote is cast.
Language, more than any other factor, identifies personality, and personality directs behavior. This means that you can know someone’s personality style simply by listening to him or her, and that once you do, you can predict with a tremendous degree of accuracy how he or she will respond and act in a given situation.
Donald Trump—the “biggest” personality of them all, and never short on language—is unmistakably a doer: charming, adaptable, and persuasive in his best moments, manipulative and bullying in his worst.
Like all people with this core personality style, he is driven by incidence: excitement, action, the juice. This isn’t a want or desire. It’s a deep-seated psychological need. He is programmed to speak and behave to feed this need, and his language is a constant advertisement of it: It’s “huge.”
Up to now, the campaign’s crowds, adulation, and constant battles have satisfied Trump’s craving for incidence. He has created an environment of constant unscripted, spontaneous chaos around him and he has thrived on it.
Over the past few weeks, however, that chaos and the appeal it generated seem to have waned. He’s trailing Clinton in the polls and in fundraising, two facts that are becoming harder to shrug off with each passing day.
To turn the tide on both fronts, he’s being called upon to become a politician—in short, to do everything he hates doing: being disciplined, staying on-script, and perhaps worst of all, reading a speech from a teleprompter. It’s not that he can’t do it. It’s that he doesn’t want to. Where’s the juice in reading a speech off of a teleprompter to a small, politely supportive crowd?
Trump won’t stay in a situation where his need for incidence isn’t being met. No doer would. But it’s also true that winning is built into the doer DNA. They always find a way to come out on top—even if they have to change the game to make it happen.
The combination of the lack of excitement, along with lagging polls and diminishing odds, could drive Trump to shift his focus from winning the vote to winning the narrative. If he does, it will be in plenty of time to be able to claim victory on his terms (if not by the nation’s or history’s standards) come election night, and visible to the public well before they head to the polls.
How will we know that shift is happening? Look for these clues in Trump’s language and behavior:
He veers red, not purple
A Trump who’s confident of electoral victory will go to battleground states that could decide a close election. A Trump who senses defeat will limit his travel to deep red states to receive total adulation from the already-converted.
He ups the crazy talk
If Trump can see the White House at the end of the tunnel, he’ll stick to winning issues: immigration; trade; economic growth. If he can’t, he’ll revert to pure provocation and wild conspiracy theories (“Obama is secretly Muslim—that’s why he’s soft on terrorism,” etc.)
He paints himself as the victim
Part of an on-his-terms but not on-the-books victory will involve a lot of victim speak from Trump: “Look, people, I tried to be the greatest president ever, but the press, Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, the Bushes, the GOP establishment, they were all against me, they had it in for me.”
He starts to mythologize the past instead of proclaiming the future
If Trump has decided he can’t win the electorate, you will likely hear him blast the airwaves with all of the victories he can claim: “People said it was impossible,” “I got the most votes ever by a Republican,” “Look at my crowds,” “The debates had the highest ratings ever…”
Donald Trump will not be a “loser” in this election, even if he doesn’t become president. The Republican Party and any people who have supported him may go down in defeat, but whatever happens, Donald the doer will absolutely—always—win.