And the winner is… personality type in the U.S. presidential race

By anyone’s account, the U.S. election year of 2016 has been interesting. Every day has brought a new turn of events, surprise and/or absurdity. As someone who is fascinated by personality type, I have found it interesting to see which types have attracted the most interest. In 2008, Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton, both Enneagram Threes, battled it out for the Democratic nomination. Subsequently, in 2012, Obama squared off with another Three, Mitt Romney. The fact that this election is attracting another Enneagram type, the Eight, tells us something about the mood of the people in general. There is a reason for the popularity of the Eight who is not afraid to speak his mind and lay it all out on the table. The Eight enjoys a good fight!

The driving force of the Enneagram Eight is Power, with the key emotion of anger. The Eight likes to be defiant, going against authority and challenging those in power while protecting the disadvantaged. Eights are outspoken nonconformists who have no problem being provocative, confrontational and controversial. They enjoy arguing and wouldn’t think of backing down from a good verbal fight. Conflict reveals truth and they respect a worthy opponent. For Eights, compromise equates with weakness. They are leaders and crusaders.  An Eight would not do well in the role of vice president.

I find it fascinating to see the ways in which different candidates’ MBTI type and temperament affect the expression of the Enneagram Eight defense. Watching them in action is like having a living Type Lab in high performance mode right before my eyes.

While I’ve written about Hillary Clinton’s type and the struggles she faces as a Thinking female, the personality that has arguably dominated the scene is Donald Trump. Mr. Trump is an ESTP-8.* The Eight defense is guarding and promoting the values of the ESTP and the SP temperament. The core values of the SP temperament are Fun and Freedom. Fun means living in the moment and enjoying the adrenalin that comes with pushing the limits. SPs value the Freedom to be action-oriented and to move into a situation to make an impact.  Excitement and stimulation are important, drawing them to careers where there are constant challenges. They are natural performers and are adept at any endeavor that is hands-on. SPs are very good in crisis and can find innovative, practical methods to solve problems. They are spontaneous, flexible and adaptable, allowing them to adjust readily to changing situations. They can be impulsive, giving little or no consideration to consequences.  They live in the moment and maximize opportunities to their advantage.

The Correlation Diagram shown here represents how the two parts of Mr. Trump’s personality interact. The two circles in the Venn diagram represent the two parts of personality: Core Self (ESTP), as profiled by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI) system of personality typing, and the Defense System (Eight), as profiled by the Enneagram system. Both the ESTP and the Eight have a distinct set of characteristics or traits. Sometimes these traits are compatible and reinforce each other.  Sometimes they are oppositional, causing a sense of having a continual internal war.  The degree of overlap between the two circles indicates how compatible or oppositional the two parts of personality are.

Appearing on the top and bottom of the diagram are the lists of corresponding compatible traits. These traits are present in both the Core ESTP Self and the Eight Defense System, and reinforce each other. This makes the expression of these traits “exponential” and very marked in the individual. Having the same traits in both the Core Self and the Defense system also precludes much flexibility because the individual does not have much experience living any other way. For example, the first trait at the top and bottom of Trump’s personality diagram is “action/energy/busy” as both an ESTP trait as well as an Enneagram Eight trait. This accounts for his continual references to various opponents as being weak with no energy, and why he is awake and on Twitter at 3:00 a.m. That fact is compounded by the inability of an ESTP-8 to tolerate boredom. The ESTP-8 has a tendency to act out when bored. We would expect an ESTP-8 to be assertive, audacious and controversial, and I think experience bears this out. Both the ESTP and Eight parts of his personality relish attention, which accounts for his thorough enjoyment of the race and the rallies. An ESTP-8 will not be controlled, and so his team has a challenge reining him in. In accordance, an ESTP-8 is not intimidated and does not easily defer to authority. Add to this that an ESTP-8 is non-conforming, uninhibited and impulsive, and it becomes easy to account for some of the outrageous statements and behaviors he is famous for. When a trait appears in both parts of personality, there is no internal frame of reference that would allow for understanding someone coming from a different perspective. We often call these traits the “non-negotiables” because they are so solidly in place. The list of non-negotiables for Trump, such as competitive, direct, controversial, outspoken, impulsive, uninhibited, etc., seem to jump out at us during each debate and rally speech.

The lists of corresponding oppositional traits appear at the left and right of the diagram. These traits are in diametric opposition to each other. When control is located in the Core ESTP Self, an ESTP trait is evident.  When control shifts to the Eight Defense, the opposite trait appears. This type of radical internal contradiction is often confusing for the individual causing, at the least, self-doubt and consternation, but it is also confusing to the recipient. Under calm circumstances, we see ESTP qualities prevail, but under stress and pressure the Eight characteristic is displayed. For instance, under normal circumstances, Trump may be charming and playful.  Under other circumstances where he might be challenged, he can be arrogant, intimidating, critical and provocative. Many people who have known Trump for decades have indicated that they don’t recognize the candidate of today. They report that he was more charming and fun-loving in the past. Now, under pressure and stressed, he is controlled more by the Eight defense than the fun-loving ESTP. Although having conflicting traits causes some internal conflict and confuses other people, it also allows him to understand people coming from either end of the spectrum by providing an internal frame of reference for both.

A trait of the Eight that is illustrated particularly well with Mr. Trump is the ability to instinctively know where an opponent is vulnerable and to go for it. News commentators have noted how he systematically goes after a designated opponent’s most vulnerable area or issue, such as Jeb Bush’s family or “low energy”.  He demonstrates another Eight proclivity better than anyone I’ve ever encountered.  Eights go to either end of a spectrum but anything in the middle is seen as wishy-washy. So it is either The Best, The Greatest, The Most Expensive, The Biggest, Fabulous or it is The Worst, Disgraceful, An Utter Failure, etc.

An interesting MBTI contrast to Mr. Trump is Senator Bernie Sanders as an INFP-8. Senator Sanders falls in the NF temperament, with the core values of Helping People and Spirituality (not religion). Those core values and the devotion of the INFP to justice are what compel him to be a Democratic Socialist. The Eight not only goes against authority, but staunchly defends the powerless and the downtrodden. It is that aspect of the Eight that lines up so well with the INFP.

Here we have the INFP-8 diagram:


In the list of non-negotiables at the top and bottom of the diagram, “called to serve humanity” appears under INFP and “crusader” under Eight. These reinforce each other, making Sen. Sanders passionate about going to bat for people, especially the little guy. He is the mirror opposite of Trump, whose ESTP is more in line with the expression of the power and dominance aspects of the Eight rather than the Eight’s need to protect and fight for the underdog. On occasion, caring for the disempowered comes through for Trump. For example, he declared he would not let people lie dying in the streets but would provide healthcare for the poor. However, the ESTP is more compatible with the forceful, controlling aspects of the Eight.

Sen. Sanders has “persistence” and “determination” in both his INFP and his Eight defense. Even though he was not taken seriously in the beginning of the race, with Secretary Clinton all but declared the nominee, he pushed on despite early discouraging poll numbers. Even at his age, his energy and determination ignited a significant response in the early primaries and caucuses.

With Sen. Sanders’ INFP-8 diagram, there are more oppositional traits than compatible traits.  The relational, compassionate and empathetic aspects of the INFP are in conflict with the outspoken, critical and intrusive aspects of the Eight. He told Barbara Walters he would want to be “a compassionate president.” Sanders’ INFP wants harmony and dislikes conflict, and therefore made the effort not to run a negative campaign against Sec. Clinton. But his Eight will argue with her into next week! 

There is another interesting Eight who is not running for President, although many people wish he would: Jon Stewart, former host of The Daily Show. I bring him into this discussion because he is an ENTP-8 and therefore in the NT temperament. The immediate similarity to Trump is Stewart’s Extraversion, which is in sharp contrast to Sanders’ Introversion. As an NT, Stewart’s core values are intelligence and mastery. NTs do not suffer fools gladly. They are competitive, but mainly with themselves in always trying to learn, excel and do better.  NTs have a wicked sense of dry humor, with a liberal sprinkling of sarcasm thrown in for good measure. It is his NT humor and intelligence combined with his bodacious, confrontational, take-no-prisoners style that has garnered him a staunch and devoted following.

Jon Stewart’s diagram looks different from the previous two:


The first thing you might notice is that there are not many oppositional traits. The Eight and the ENTP come together companionably in being outspoken, challenging, breaking the rules and pushing the limits. Stewart maximizes playing devil’s advocate and relishes the Eight’s playful verbal banter. He is a living, breathing illustration of the Eight’s penchant to be uninhibited, impulsive and a risk-taker. Stewart demonstrates the Eight’s core characteristic of empowering the powerless by mentoring and championing many formerly unknown comedians and catapulting them into stardom, without wanting anything in return but the satisfaction of helping the underdog. He has also used the platform of his show to challenge authority and question the structure of our culture by employing the NT’s respect for knowledge and competency.

Those as interested as I am in the nuances of type and the interaction of these two typing systems have had a rare opportunity to witness how the expression MBTI type is impacted by the Enneagram, and vice versa, during the course of this election year. It’s been great for learning… now let’s see which type prevails.

©Pat Wyman 2016

*This article was first published in the APT Bulletin early in 2016 in which I looked at Trump as ESTJ-8.  Since then, I’ve been able to study Mr. Trump in greater detail and have learned of some previously unknown early history causing me to change my take on his type designation to ESTP.

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