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How 'Positive Thinking' Helped Propel Trump To The Presidency


At a pre-inaugural luncheon today, President-elect Donald Trump bragged about his cabinet. He said they'll have, by far, the highest IQ of any cabinet ever assembled. That sort of boast is nothing new for Trump. Throughout the campaign, he regularly made statements that were exaggerations, unprovable or plainly untrue. There will be much time in the years ahead to fact-check President Trump. Today, NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith looks at what may have inspired Trump's bravado and helped him reach the highest office in the land.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Nineteen months ago, Donald Trump rode an escalator into the lobby of Trump Tower and, for the first time as a presidential candidate, did something he would do repeatedly during the campaign.


DONALD TRUMP: That is some group of people - thousands.

KEITH: There weren't thousands of people there - more like hundreds - but never mind that.

TRUMP: This is beyond anybody's expectations. There's been no crowd like this.

KEITH: In that moment, the long-shot candidate may just have been employing the power of positive thinking.


NORMAN VINCENT PEALE: Think big, and you'll achieve big results. Think success, and you'll have success.

KEITH: That is the voice of Norman Vincent Peale, the author of the best-selling book "The Power Of Positive Thinking," first published in 1952. In the late 1960s, he had a regular radio segment, which is where this audio comes from. He was also the longtime pastor at the Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan, which Trump attended with his family growing up. Peale even officiated Trump's first wedding.


TRUMP: Norman Vincent Peale - the great Norman Vincent Peale - was my pastor. "The Power Of Positive Thinking" - everybody's heard of Norman Vincent Peale. He was so great.

KEITH: That was Trump in July of 2015 at the Iowa Family Leadership Summit, talking about where he got his religious grounding.

TRUMP: I still remember his sermons. It was unbelievable. And what he would do is he'd bring real-life situations - modern-day situations - into the sermon. And you could listen to him all day long.

KEITH: Peale took a nontraditional approach to Christianity, catering to businessmen like Trump and his real estate developer father with what today would be called a prosperity gospel. Religious faith, he wrote, is not something piously stuffy, but is a scientific procedure for successful living.


PEALE: Once you've determined your goals, paint a mental picture of yourself achieving them. Hold that picture of success before you at all times. Concentrate on it, and it will materialize.

KEITH: In his book, Peale offered advice like - any fact facing us, however difficult, even seemingly hopeless, is not so important as our attitude toward that fact, adding - a confident and optimistic thought pattern can modify or overcome the fact altogether.


PEALE: See yourself not failing, but succeeding. Believe in yourself, in your capacity, in your ability to get good results, and your supply of confidence will become equal to your responsibilities. Confident thinking gets positive results.

KEITH: One chapter is titled I "Don't Believe In Defeat," which easily could have been Trump's personal motto in 2016 as he carefully cherry-picked the few polls he could find that showed him ahead.


TRUMP: Well, we're very close or winning, I think. You know, the IBD poll just came out, and we're two points up.

KEITH: That was Trump calling into "Fox News" two weeks before the election, when virtually every poll showed Hillary Clinton ahead. And it may have been that same power of positive thinking that drove him to campaign in seemingly solid blue upper Midwestern states. At 1 a.m. on the morning of the election, Trump closed out his campaign with a rally in Grand Rapids, Mich.


TRUMP: Today we're going to win the great state of Michigan, and we are going to win back the White House.


KEITH: As Peale wrote, affirm it, visualize it, believe it, and it will actualize itself. And there, in the middle of the night, Trump's crowd really did number in the thousands. A little more than 24 hours later, he would become the president-elect. Tamara Keith, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.