×

How Trump’s unlikely victory will change politics forever

This article is part of a series on the "Future of politics." The series investigates the "Trump effect" on policy, political parties, future candidates, their campaign style and the overall political environment in 2017 and beyond. See the whole series here.

Is it time yet to stop coming up with excuses and wild conspiracy theories about why Donald Trump won the presidential election? Let's hope so, because there are hundreds of aspiring candidates who would like to know whether the president-elect has unlocked any new secret paths to electoral success. Turns out he did, and one of those aspiring candidates has just decided to make a bet he can cash in on it.

That candidate is "Shark Tank" star and CNBC contributor Kevin O'Leary, who announced Tuesday that he is running to lead Canada's Conservative Party and become the nation's de facto opposition leader and likely future candidate for prime minister.

Okay, okay. Canada is not the U.S. But O'Leary running up north so soon after another businessman/reality show star won the U.S. presidential election is no coincidence. And it may serve as a guide to the types of candidates we can expect to run for president in 2020 and beyond.

But first, let's clear away the nonsense and the head fakes about what happened during election 2016. No, Trump didn't win because of the KKK, Russia, James Comey or even any unique economic challenges facing the voters. Trump won because he was simply the more persuasive candidate. Nothing new there. But the way he did it was new and it will change the way people run for office for years to come.

The first and best observer of Trump's unique persuasive powers was Dilbert creator and blogger Scott Adams. He was the first person to publish several online posts dissecting Trump's comments, tweets, and actions through a persuasive filter. Too bad Trump's rivals didn't bother to read them.

Trump wasn't just persuading voters to believe he was a better candidate or his opponents were garbage. He simply succeeded in persuading voters to believe he was "being real." After all, what politician from either party would start his campaign with a seething attack on Mexican undocumented immigrants? What politician would continue to appear with that weird hair and garish skin tone? In every visual and auditory way, Trump was and is the epitome of the anti-politician. As Adams would say, that's "nuclear level persuasion." And that turned out to be his golden ticket. Because cultivating an image as a complete anti-politician is the way to win in American politics.

The best campaign strategists have long known that appearing as a relative outsider is a very good thing. In fact, Trump's anti-politician, "real" persona is something a surprising group of election professionals noticed and promoted to their candidate almost 25 years ago.

"Winfrey could be the most formidable celebrity candidate, as she often devoted her talk show to serious issues and has owned a god-like devotion from millions of Americans for decades."

In a recently obtained 1992 memo just published by the Free Beacon website, Bill Clinton's campaign strategists wrote at length urging Clinton to act less like a stereotypical politician and more like a person more people could find likable. Here's the kicker: One of the people the memo urges Clinton to emulate was — you guessed it — Donald Trump!

Trump's appearance as a bold and fearless speaker in front of large crowds was referenced more than once in the memo. After Bill Clinton won the election, the New York Times even published a piece about how that memo helped transform his campaign for the better. Clinton indeed did start doing things no politician had done publicly before, most famously playing his saxophone on the Arsenio Hall Show. And throughout the rest of the 1992 campaign and his presidency, Clinton scored points for doing "non-political" things. Now we know that Trump played a role in that transformative advice.

By contrast, the one thing Hillary Clinton supporters said the most about her during the election is "she's the most qualified candidate," in reference to her decades of political service and experience. Apparently, for many voters, that was a decided negative.

All of the above makes the case for more "outsiders" like Trump to jump into politics. And Twitter and other social media platforms make the process easier than ever. Look for 2017 to be a year when a number of non-politicians start to get into the political fray and position themselves for national or statewide campaigns.

But there's a catch: Most non-politicians running for president - from Steve Forbes to Carly Fiorina - have failed. And they failed because they did the exact opposite of what they should have done: As soon as they began running, they started to act and sound like politicians. They seemed defensive about having less political experience even though that was the very thing about them that made them the most alluring to voters. They mistakenly followed the conventional wisdom that outsider candidates need to focus first on relieving voters' fears about their relative lack of experience.

One notable exception was Ross Perot in 1992, who maintained his outsider stance. The result was he snagged and impressive 20 percent of the vote on Election Day in what stands as the most successful third party run for the White House in modern history. Trump took that outsider image to the next level. Unlike Ronald Reagan, an actor who became governor of California before he made it to the White House, Trump used his business acumen and his TV persona as his resume. His success will surely encourage other celebrity outsiders to go directly for the top prize.

And that's where the celebrity factor comes in. Perhaps only Trump will have the stomach to act like a controversial non-politician all the time. But this new landscape still favors certain types of outsiders over others.

O'Leary's "Shark Tank" co-star, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, has talked about possibly going into politics. His brash persona fits perfectly into this new paradigm. Cuban's Shark Tank experience is key here because it puts him into contact with more ordinary Americans than most people of his wealth and stature, and it also forces him to perform well each and every show.

Unlike a rich corporate executive who can just make a lot of behind-the-scenes moves, reality TV stars have to use their persuasive powers to win over live audiences in each and every episode. That's the kind of experience Trump got on The Apprentice and Cuban not only gets it on Shark Tank but on the many sports debate shows where he appears as an agile participant. Now that O'Leary is paving the way even further, albeit in Canada, look for the Democratic Party and some of its top strategists to seriously consider recruiting people like Cuban in the coming year to react to Trump by fighting fire with fire.

Still, finding people like Cuban won't be that easy, even though we live in a world with more show business and financial celebrities than ever. For example, contrast Cuban to Facebook CEO and Founder Mark Zuckerberg, who has reportedly started to lay the groundwork for a political career. Other than his old trademark hoodie attire that he ditched when Facebook went public, he's never shown any penchant for looking or sounding unconventional or politically incorrect. He speaks in platitudes too often even now to be considered a maverick and he's not battle tested in way that Cuban is almost every day. Zuckerberg will likely wilt under the pressure of a campaign for anything bigger than mayor of Menlo Park.

Oprah Winfrey and Jon Stewart have been mentioned to be serious contenders in this new atmosphere. Somehow these names are much less laughable now, aren't they? It still doesn't mean that celebrities will have an easy path to politics, it just means that the path is a lot more plausible.

Winfrey could be the most formidable celebrity candidate, as she often devoted her talk show to serious issues and has owned a god-like devotion from millions of Americans for decades. She has polled much higher among women voters than Hillary Clinton, for example. Stewart is also revered by millions of Americans. And the fact that both of them have seemed a bit lost professionally since they left their signature shows could push them closer to trying politics. Don't forget that it wasn't until Ronald Reagan's movie and TV career was truly on the wane that he started to seriously consider running for Governor of California.

The bottom line is that Trump's victory is going to open the door to an entirely new set of candidates for higher office. We will start seeing more of them come out of the woodwork in 2017. Of that group, only one or two will have what it takes to effectively follow Trump's path to the White House. But each contender will now be faced with less natural resistance because someone else from an unconventional background has not only run for the highest office, but won it.

Commentary by Jake Novak, CNBC.com senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.

For more insight from CNBC contributors, follow @CNBCopinion on Twitter.

WATCH: These are America's five richest presidents