Schwarzenegger Suggests a Way to Battle Trump

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Has Arnold figured out how to counter The Donald?

Trump, via Twitter, went after the Governator last week—dissing him for the low ratings of the first episode in which Schwarzenegger took over for Trump on “Celebrity Apprentice.”

“Wow, the ratings are in and Arnold Schwarzenegger got “swamped” (or destroyed) by comparison to the ratings machine, DJT,” Trump tweeted, adding. “So much for being a movie star-and that was season 1 compared to season 14. Now compare him to my season 1. But who cares, he supported Kasich & Hillary.”

Trump’s Twitter attacks have cowed big media and major manufacturers, and created all sorts of headaches for all sorts of people who were attacked, particularly as Trump-loving hordes savage them on social media. Fighting back against Trump hasn’t worked. Ignoring Trump hasn’t worked. Acknowledging Trump is right only keeps the bullying president-elect going.

Schwarzenegger didn’t do any of these things. But he won the exchange. How? In four ways.

  1. Don’t be defensive.

Schwarzenegger didn’t try to defend himself or his ratings. He didn’t get in a tit-for-tat, or even bother answering the attack. Trump loves to draw people into those kind of fights.

  1. Pivot back to him.

Schwarzenegger’s first tweet in response raised the question of why Trump was worrying about reality TV show ratings – without defensively saying that. “There’s nothing more important than the people’s work, @realDonaldTrump,” read Arnold’s Tweet.

  1. Indicate you’re rooting for Trump.

Schwarzenegger then added: “I wish you the best of luck and I hope you’ll work for ALL of the American people as aggressively as you worked for your ratings.” Again, that is a fist – focus on your job and represent everybody – wrapped in a velvet glove, of bowing to Trump’s ratings.

  1. Take the long view. And to close it out, he circulated a video of himself quoting Lincoln’s “Better angels of our nature” from that president’s first inaugural address. That set up a contrast between Lincoln and Trump, without attacking Trump. Lincoln also has new dimensions when quoted in an Austrian accent.

The whole approach was good natured, without attacking or giving an inch. Impressive.

It left me thinking: We just watched the president-elect, a former reality TV star, try to embarrass a movie star governor, now a novice reality TV star, for his low ratings.

And the guy in reality TV responded by taking the high road.

These are strange times.

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