On Tuesday 14th of March the Henry Jackson Society welcomed Karen Giorno, who was a Senior Advisor to the Donald J. Trump for President Campaign, to discuss how Trump won the 2016 election. At the age of 22 and for her first job after college, Giorno worked in the White House of George Herbert Walker Bush. After leaving the Whitehouse, she worked in grassroots campaigning and became a political consultant. When Giorno was first asked to work for the Trump campaign she initially said no, but later agreed to help him contest the state of Florida for the Republican nomination. Demographics are key in Florida politics and the state itself is a snapshot of how the country will vote, not just in the general election but in the primaries. In addition Trump, although he had business interests in Florida, was up against a former two-term Governor of Florida in Jeb Bush and a sitting Senator for the State in Marco Rubio.
Giorno went on to describe how she put together a very strictly controlled budget and courted Ted Cruz’s TEA Party supporters and Ben Carson’s evangelical supporters to support Trump during the campaigning in Florida. Trump himself, she describes, was larger than life, curious and asked good questions for a first-time candidate. Trump ended up winning 66 out of 67 counties in Florida, which had never been done before, and forced Marco Rubio to suspend his campaign. Despite this overwhelming victory, the Republican establishment along with Cruz and Kasich continued to challenge Trump for the nomination and attempted to convince delegates to change allegiances in a contested or brokered convention. This meant that Giorno had to plan for future primaries whilst consolidating delegate gains that Trump had already won from previous contests; the need to secure delegates that had already been won had no precedent and it took people a long time to accept him as the Republican nominee.
The question therefore is: how did Trump win? Giorno argued that this question can be answered, in part, by looking back to the 1990s and how small media outlets were bought out by special interests and multinational corporations. This began a shift from independent and investigative reporting that focused on facts to a blend of opinion news and hard journalism which was much more interested in making money. In addition, although America is a diverse nation it has a distinct culture and with problems like higher taxes, many Americans felt that they were not listened to and that they worked for the government as opposed to the other way around. Many Americans who had grown up to love America and wave the flag were now being accused of being xenophobes and not liking immigrants.
Giorno argued that the election itself was more about leadership than party and that the electorate wanted a leader who could acknowledge the problems that America faces whilst providing solutions to those problems; the election was therefore not about ideology. It was a perfect storm for Donald Trump because he was a political outsider with no political record to defend or to justify, just forty years of opinions. Critically, Giorno stated that Donald Trump was the only candidate she had worked for that had 100% name recognition and therefore there was no need to spend time introducing the candidate to the electorate which is a unique situation. She ended by talking about how the social media team for the Florida campaign were able to give information directly to the people as opposed to filtering it through journalists which allowed them to hear it directly and that this, with rallies, allowed unfiltered and direct access for the people to an authentic candidate.