An interesting thesis has emerged about the rise of Donald Trump and it comes from Clay Shirky. For fun, he tweeted an entire essay about the subject and you can read those here. His argument is simple. Rather than the two parties deciding who will be their presidential nominee, the Internet and social media have opened up the field. As a result: “Who needs a third party when the existing two parties have become powerless to stop insurgencies from within?” This is an old story about digitization or the Internet disrupting old practices by eliminating barriers to entry. Ben Thompson expands on this idea and thinks about the role of the media in the political process when the media now includes social media. Put simply, candidates can connect directly with voters and so don’t need the party machine, big donors or traditional media.
All this is, of course, important. But with regard to Trump, he is not just an unconventional candidate not of “The Establishment” but, instead, is one that “The Establishment” appear to hate and will actively oppose. That is no, Barack Obama who opposed the Iraq War is now able to be elected situation. That is no, Bernie Sanders who thinks US health care should look like healthcare everywhere else type support. Instead, this is a person who has hijacked the establishment primary and nomination process (that they themselves set up) and, in the process, is displacing the establishment. It is not a third party situation any more than a compete break with the past and a subversion of why the party exists — to represent a coalition of shared interests.
For that reason, and because it is on my mind, I have wondered whether we should look at the rise of Trump from the viewpoint of the theory of disruption. I’m not the only one. In the New Statesman, Ian Leslie, draws the analogy between the GOP and Kodak. Kodak was disrupted by digital cameras in phones and did not see that as competition. That is what Leslie says although I have to admit that is not quite the narrative I had researched in The Disruption Dilemma. But that is not the point. He argues, consistent with Christensen style demand-side disruption theory, that Donald Trump hit the GOP from the “low end” — literally the gutter — and they did not see it coming before it was too late. But here is the problem: in this style of disruption, the incumbent’s response is to retreat to the “high end.” I don’t know what you want to call the low or high end here but Rubio’s anti-immigration, Cruz’s carpet bombing and Bush’s religious card holding do not seem to be the establishment in retreat of the new force. They moved towards it and lost.
In the Harvard Business Review blog, I took some time to apply my view of disruption on the rise of Trump. I argue that Trump has appropriated money by having it himself which has led him to grab share in traditional media and that has given him his support. There is nothing important going on with regard to digitization in that story. If there is something disruptive it is that Trump does not appear to be playing the traditional Game of Scrutiny.
That game’s rules are simple.
(1) You do stuff.
(2) The media reports it.
(3) If it is “bad,” you lose support from money and/or voters.
We know that rule #3 hasn’t applied to Trump, which makes it look like the rules of the game have indeed changed.
You can read the argument in full but the bottom line is I am not sure the Game of Scrutiny has left us. Trump is getting around it, for now, but there is still a chance it will come to play when he actually has to do stuff. More critically, no one else has got away with not seeming to play the game. That, at least, gives us hope (if that is what you want) that the traditional model of party politics in the US has not been disrupted for the long-term.