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Trump’s ‘Teflon’ effect likely to continue into his presidency, says U of T marketing expert

President-elect Donald Trump answers questions at today's news conference at Trump Tower in New York City (photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Under explosive news reports that Russian officials have compromising information about him, U.S. president-elect Donald Trump held his first news conference today – the first time since the November elections.

He called the leaking of classified documents a “disgrace,” denied any wrongdoing and called the unsubstantiated news reports “fake news.”

The recent controversy follows a slew of criticism that has followed him during the campaign, the election and now the run-up to his Jan. 20 inauguration. But so far none of the criticism – everything from his treatment of women to his conflicts of interest and ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin – has caused any dents to his popularity.  

Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan also had this same sort of resilience, earning him the nickname “Teflon president.”

“Ronald Reagan was often criticized for quite a number of things that happened over the course of his eight years as president, and yet his popularity always remained very high,” says David Soberman, a professor of marketing at U of T's Rotman School of Management.

“That's where he got the term the ‘Teflon president,’ the idea being that none of the bad news sticks to him. It slides off similar to a Teflon pan.”

U of T News spoke with Soberman about Trump’s “Teflon” effect and the latest controversy.


Are the latest allegations against Trump the ones that’ll finally stick?

To be frank, these things do not affect the day-to-day lives of most Americans. Employment, health care, macroeconomic management, education and taxation do affect the day-to-day lives of most Americans, yet these things seem to be on the back burner.

I believe that one of the reasons that people in democracies are so disconnected or disillusioned with politics in general (take a look at the voter turnout numbers) is that all we hear about are scandals, mudslinging, conflicts of interest, etc…not enough political discourse is about things that really matter to the average person.

Part of this is the fault of the media. They can get a lot more viewer attention by reporting on a president’s sexual dalliances – take a look at [former U.S. president] Bill Clinton or [French President] François Hollande – than by reporting on a new school program that helps children with a disability integrate into a general school population, for example.

Part of this is the fault of political parties who know they can take the opponent down with this sort of mudslinging. The Republican party used a massive propaganda effort to destroy Hillary Clinton’s reputation when solid evidence of her having done anything truly corrupt is scarce.

Part of the fault lies with ourselves. Voyeurism and sensationalism plays an important role in determining what the average person watches so can we blame the media or politicians for talking more about sexual scandals and corruption than things that really matter.

Trump announced he will relinquish control of his business holdings, but with his family still running the organization. Will that lead to any conflict of interest issues during his presidency?

I would predict it's not going to be a problem because in the United States, Canada and most Western countries, many of the politicians who get into power do have businesses. They kind of put them on the back burner while they're in power, and they may go back to them afterwards. That's one place I think the media is pretty good. If they see that a decision is being made that is only in the interest of the company and not in the public interest, it can become a real public relations disaster.

There's probably never been a president that's had a more public image than Donald Trump. He has businesses, has his name on buildings all over the place. The media in the U.S. tends to have a liberal leaning, and they're going to be looking for that sort of thing. So if there's zoning decisions that are made or there's decisions with regards to taxation that unfairly benefit his corporation, that will come out and cause him a great deal of harm.

Will Trump's presidency be beneficial to his business empire?

I don't think it will hurt at all. Unless he does something that is so ridiculous and so offensive to people that a majority of people are really against what he does, I think it's probably going to help him because it's creating a lot of awareness.

He does have a certain knack for putting businesses together that people seem to like and people are interested in. 

People that voted for him are expecting change, and there is going to be change because he is significantly different than Obama.

People who didn't vote for him and are making a lot of noise in the media are almost talking like it's going to be the apocalypse. Their expectations are so low that even if he's halfway to being a good president, he's going to exceed expectations.