What Trump and Harris have to learn from Ron Popeil

Most fundamentally, Popeil respected his audience. He never talked down to anyone and always performed with a bit of a wink, so his viewers knew that he knew they knew the score. It was fine, in fact, if they looked down on him a bit — he not only sold spray-on hair-in-a-can, he brought it into an unrelated infomercial and applied it to his own bald spot, to get a laugh. The Popeil Demographic ate it up and came back for seconds and thirds.

Which suggests a lesson for Donald Trump as much as for Harris. Great pitchmen never get mad, because customers don’t buy after you yell at them. They accentuate the positive, not the negative. All great pitchmen try to amp up the urgency so you’ll buy right now, but Popeil didn’t claim that an apocalyptic future awaited anyone who settled for his competitor’s product. A great pitchman offers you more great stuff, not less disaster.

That’s a good lesson for both sides in our current culture war, but especially for Trump, whose relentless negativity ultimately alienated more voters than it attracted — as well as legislative allies, ones he badly needed. There’s a reason Trump left office with few policy achievements to speak of — and why Biden is currently moving forward with the kind of bipartisan infrastructure deal that Trump kept promising.

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