Exceptionally candid and compelling, A Bigger Picture is the definitive narrative of Malcolm Turnbull’s prime ministership. Turnbull’s life has been filled with colourful characters and controversies, success and failure.
With revelatory insights on the workings of Canberra and the contentious events of Turnbull’s life, A Bigger Picture explores the strengths and vulnerabilities of one of Australia’s best known and dynamic business and political leaders. Read an extract below.
“Don’t worry, Malcolm. The American people will never elect a lunatic to sit in this office.”
So Barack Obama had enigmatically assured me in the Oval Office in January 2016, when I asked him about the presidential race.
Well, it was now November and the unthinkable had happened. And lunatic or not, Trump had won.
It wasn’t only Americans who were stunned. Nobody had expected a Trump victory and truthfully few were prepared for it.
He’d run a bombastic campaign, much of which seemed to us to be designed to ensure he wouldn’t win. What sort of candidate would refer to his opponent, a distinguished former first lady and secretary of state, with a nickname like ‘Crooked Hillary’ and beam as his supporters chanted “Lock her up”? How could you get elected in (by Australian standards) prudish America when you have talked about ‘grabbing’ women ‘by the pussy’?
We knew what he’d said in the campaign, but did he mean it? After all, everyone seemed to accept he didn’t expect to win. Was the whole campaign just an enormous exercise in self promotion?
Every country and every leader tried to work out how to deal with Trump. Elaborate psychological analyses were written in foreign capitals – including our own. The general conclusion was that Trump was a narcissist who’d respond well to flattery. ‘Lay it on with a trowel’ was the consensus, echoing former British PM Benjamin Disraeli’s advice on how to deal with royalty.
I felt this approach was quite mistaken. I’d never met Trump or dealt with him but knew plenty of people who had. He was typical of more than a few of the billionaires I’ve known – Kerry Packer, Conrad Black, Jimmy Goldsmith and Bob Maxwell, just to name a few. And the one thing I’d learned with bullies is that sucking up to them is precisely the wrong way to go.
Just as imperial powers regard deference as their due, so do bullies – especially powerful ones – expect to be flattered. It doesn’t win respect, nor does it earn gratitude. And if the bully in question is a particularly manipulative one, the flattery will be used against you. Personalities like that often appear utterly lacking in emotional intelligence, devoid of empathy. But that’s not the whole picture: in my experience, the successful narcissistic bully is able to manipulate others effectively because he has a keen sense of others’ vulnerabilities. Like any predator, he can sense fear and weakness from miles away.
So, the best way to deal with someone like Trump is to be frank and forthright. Be yourself, always be courteous – there’s nothing to be gained from rudeness or scratchiness. But stand your ground. That suited me.
There was a scramble to contact Trump once the election result was known. He had no transition team in place, but, thanks to Joe Hockey, I got a number from US-based Australian golfing great Greg Norman and I was able to call Trump on 10 November and pass on my congratulations.
However, a major storm awaited us.
A Bigger Picture by Malcolm Turnbull published by Hardie Grant Books is available now in bookstores and online.