The Corner

Trump as Billy Mays

I wrote for Politico today on Trump as the late, great pitchman Billy Mays:

Mays became a very wealthy man pitching everything from OxiClean to Mighty Putty to — who can forget? — Zorbeez.

A Mays pitch was high energy (“Hi, Billy Mays here for . . . ”). It was simple and easy to understand. It was full of superlatives. The Quick Chop, to take one example, was the fastest, easiest and safest way to chop anything — and, of course, the best deal on TV. And his pitches included offers of free stuff: in the case of the Quick Chop, a Quick Grater thrown in at no cost (as well as a second Quick Chop, if you paid separate process and handling).

A Fortune magazine article on Mays, who learned his craft on the Atlantic City Boardwalk, noted that his methods go back to the old carnival days. Trump instinctively understands the art. The candidate knows how to “bally the tip,” or create a spectacle to draw a crowd, and how to “nod them in,” or say things to get a crowd of potential customers to nod along (e.g., we are going to build a wall and Mexico is going to pay or it).

An admirer of Mays writes that he “learned on the Atlantic City Boardwalk that buyers want to be led. From the moment pitchmen like Billy Mays open their mouths, they make sure you understand he’s talking to YOU, that he understands the problems you have and, most importantly, he has the perfect solution.” Sound familiar?

What is most disturbing about Trump’s infamous and eponymous scammy business ventures, like Trump University or the failed multilevel marketing venture, the Trump Network, is that they bear such an unmistakable resemblance to his campaign.


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