Trump & the ‘Madman Theory’ of Communication


David E. Johnson, CEO, Strategic Vision PR Group

Since being sworn in as president, everyone has speculated on Donald Trump’s communication strategy.  There seems to be no rhyme nor reason to it.  Many have felt it is a strategy by tweet referring to the President’s constant use of Twitter.  Over the past week, speculation has increased after the President left a scheduled meeting with key Democrats before the meeting actually began.  It led, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to question Trump’s sanity.  What Pelosi and others fail to grasp, is that Trump’s communication strategy is a domestic version of Dwight Eisenhower’s and Richard Nixon’s ‘madman theory’ that applied to foreign policy.  President Trump is taking this and using it as his domestic communications strategy to the consternation of his domestic opponents and delight of his supporters.

So, what is the ‘madman theory’?

In 1953 upon taking office, Dwight Eisenhower’s chief aim was to end the fighting in Korea.  He had campaigned in 1952 promising to end the stalemate in Korea.  Eisenhower let it be known that if no armistice was arrived at in Korea, he would use nuclear weapons to end the war.  He wanted the Soviets, Chinese, and North Koreans to believe that he was crazy enough to use nuclear weaponry.  The result was the armistice that still governs the Korean conflict.  Richard Nixon who studied Eisenhower’s policies as his vice president adopted the ‘madman theory’ when he became president.  He used this policy to ultimately end the Vietnam War, open relations with China, and secure détente with the Soviets.

Since taking office, President Trump has utilized the ‘madman theory’ in dealing with foreign leaders both allies (see Angela Merkel and Justin Trudeau) and adversaries (see little rocket man).  But he has taken it a step beyond that in dealing with domestic policy and communications as well.  What seems like chaos and madness to many, is actually Trump employing the ‘madman theory’ for all policies and communications.

The verdict is still out on how Donald Trump’s ‘madman theory’ style of communications and policy will play out.  But one thing is certain, it won’t be boring.

David E. Johnson: #MuellerReport - Managing the 'Spin' GameAbout the Author: David E. Johnson is the CEO of Strategic Vision PR Group, a public relations and public affairs agency.  Additional information on him and company may be obtained at