The secret to Trump’s success, the insight that has separated him from his competitors, is that he has cared less about the nature of the coverage he received than that he received coverage at all.One reason this worked so well for Trump in the election is that many Americans are bored by politics. The issues that dominated serious political news in 2016 – Iraq, Afghanistan, China, health care, illegal immigration, taxes, etc. – were pretty much the same issues that dominated the news in 2004. No recent political figure in America has had much new and interesting to say, or many new ideas about how to govern. Trump at least sounded different from all the other politicians, and I think that was hugely helpful to him.
“Even a critical story, which may be hurtful personally, can be very valuable to your business,” Trump said in his 1987 book The Art of the Deal. He goes on to recall the lesson he learned being attacked for a particularly gaudy skyscraper he sought to build. “The point,” he says, “is that we got a lot of attention, and that alone creates value.”
This is the law by which Trump lives his life. Attention creates value, at least for him. Before Trump, every politician hewed to the same basic rule: You want as much positive coverage, and as little negative coverage, as possible. Trump upended that.
His rule, his realization, is that you want as much coverage as possible, full stop. If it’s positive coverage, great. If it’s negative coverage, so be it. The point is that it’s coverage — that you’re the story, that you’re squeezing out your competitors, that you’re on people’s minds.
This was Trump’s true political innovation: He realized that presidential campaigns — and particularly presidential primaries — had become reality shows, and the path to victory was to get the most attention, even if much of that attention was negative.
Another thing that helped Trump was that all American media outlets are in a desperate war for attention. Because they crave attention so badly they can't bring themselves to ignore any story that might get a lot of clicks, even if they know featuring that story will only help demagogues or reward mass murderers or whatever other moral reason you can think of.
So here is the lesson of Trump's rise: to win elections, make yourself the story.