Here we are in August and there’s less than three months to go before the presidential election. After a horrible couple of weeks of ongoing verbal jousting, outrageous comments and misinformed statements, Donald Trump has started to rapidly sink in the polls, with one having Hillary Clinton ahead nationally by 15 points.
I have purposely avoided making any predictions regarding this election, especially since I was among the many who believed that America would never elect a black man named Barack Hussein Obama to the presidency. Almost a year ago, I wrote an observational post about Donald Trump called, “An unPRecedented candidacy” in which I noted, “There are PR lessons to be learned here, both good and bad, as the Summer of Trump is sure to be found in case studies textbooks someday. I wonder what the final chapter will look like.”
I still wonder. In another blog post during the primary season I said, “I feel badly for the other Republican candidates. I’ve blogged about the GOP’s efforts to re-brand the party and how it was reaching out to women, young people and Spanish-speaking voters. Trump has effectively undermined this agenda with his brash and careless comments. And the unprecedented 17 other Republicans running have been unable to effectively get their message out because Trump is literally sucking up all the air. He has become a ratings winner, so media programmers are devoting more time to him than all other candidates combined.”
Trump not only sucked up all the air; he emerged as the Republican candidate for president of the United States. There were thoughts he would shift gears and become more “presidential” in his tone. This turned out to be wishful thinking. The opposition worried that nothing he would say or do would ignite the public’s anger and sink his candidacy.
However, the cumulative public relations effect of Trump’s racist, sexist, narcissistic comments are now doing the job. He seems incapable of acting differently, or even nearly “presidential.” I’d like to predict we’re seeing the end of Trump’s flirtation with the White House. But I’m not making any predictions. Your thoughts?
If you believe polls, Tuesday’s New York presidential primary this Tuesday will see Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump emerge as winners. Both New York residents will have what is typical of most primaries: victories in their home state.
New Yorkers can only cast a vote for a candidate in the party in which they are registered. Republicans will decide if they support the controversial GOP front-runner Trump or one of his remaining rivals. Registered Democrats must choose between Clinton and Bernie Sanders, the former New Yorker who has surprised pundits by giving Hillary a run for her money.
Sometimes the decision on who to vote for isn’t based on a “favorite” candidate; rather, it’s a pragmatic determination. If you’re a Democrat, you might consider who has the best chance of beating Trump or whomever the GOP nominates at its convention. If you’re a Republican, you may reflect on whether you’re happy with Trump as our potential president, or whether you should support Ted Cruz or John Kasich if they have the better shot at beating the Democrat.
You also could base your decision on who most closely reflects your own political views, or the candidate who you simply find more likable. Trump and Sanders supporters seem to favor their candidates’ tendency toward blunt talk and how they often avoid “political correctness.” In Trump’s case there’s no such thing as political correctness, and a lot of people find this appealing. Many find it appalling, not only because much of what he says is outrageous on many levels, but because he is a public relations nightmare. One can only imagine how his lack of a PR filter would be perceived and interpreted on an international stage.
Despite public relations debacles that would have sidelined any other candidate, Donald Trump is leading his primary battle. But blunt, unfiltered words are likely to become damaging to national policy and politics. I’ll base my vote on whose words and positions–and whose PR filter–will effectively lead us for the next four years. It’s a choice not to to be taken lightly. Your thoughts?
From time to time Public Relations Nation posts a guest blog written by a Hofstra student. Danielle Kent is a senior majoring in public relations at the Lawrence Herbert School of Communication at Hofstra University. The observations expressed here belong to the writer:
Donald Trump. The man whose notoriety once stemmed from firing contestants on “The Apprentice” has since been making waves as a political front runner. Reports of an anti-Trump Super PAC within the GOP have many wondering how a man whose party so openly criticizes him has garnered such impressive national support. Trump has beat competitors in most GOP primaries–taking Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and others out of the race– and has gained voter support across most demographics.
Though liberals tend to knock the GOP for having an unclear stance on issues currently plaguing the U.S., Trump is certainly not ambiguous and Americans love it. Trump is transparent about his intentions to halt immigration by building physical borders and mass deporting illegal aliens. He also intends to overturn Obama’s Affordable Care Act, a once controversial act that has reduced the number of uninsured Americans by millions.
Trump certainly lacks originality; his ideas, though extreme, are not revolutionary. He also lacks a strong conservative backing. His platform is conservative-leaning, but surprisingly moderate. So why do some keep voting for him?
Oddly enough, Trump shares a lot of similarities with his liberal opponent, Bernie Sanders. Less concerned with their goals as politicians, Americans sense authenticity in Trump and Sanders that many politicians lack. Trump may make polarizing statements that offend entire groups of people, but he does so honestly without fear of criticism.
Most Americans are skeptical of the government and in light of the many political scandals that have emerged in years past (Watergate, anyone?), this skepticism is not in vain. Both candidates share a similar “buck stops here” attitude, rejecting traditional political practices. They are loud, vulnerable, and unapologetic. Say what you want about Trump’s political views, but he certainly knows his target. The working class loves a success story and Trump positions himself as such.
Regardless of whether or not Trump gets elected, one thing has become painfully obvious: Americans are fed up with the precedents set by politicians of the past and they want real change. Is Donald Trump their answer?
“Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.” — Sen. Lloyd Bensten (1988)
I long for the days when the quote above was the nastiest personal insult ever hurled at a candidate during a televised national debate. Senator Dan Quayle was running for vice president against Senator Lloyd Bentsen and was stating he wasn’t too young for the job. “I have as much experience in the Congress as Jack Kennedy did when he sought the presidency,” said Quayle, which was followed by Bentsen’s hard-hitting put-down.
Bensten’s put-down doesn’t come close to the insults hurled by the Republican candidates for president in 2016. This campaign has sunk so deeply into schoolboy bullying it’s truly horrifying. Up until now, our modern presidential campaigns have been reasonably civil and focused on avoiding potential public relations pitfalls.
However, this isn’t the first-ever nasty presidential campaign. In 1928, Republicans started a rumor that candidate Al Smith, a Catholic, was planning a secret tunnel from Manhattan to the Vatican, and the Pope would have say in all matters should Smith be elected president. Before Donald Trump called his opponent “Little Mario” there was “Little Giant,” Abe Lincoln’s reference to his 1860 rival Stephen Douglas’ height. At 5’4″, others called Douglas “about five feet nothing in height and about the same in diameter.” Douglas struck back, calling Lincoln a “horrid-looking wretch, sooty and scoundrelly in aspect,” and “the leanest, lankest, most ungainly mass of legs and arms and hatchet face ever strung on a single frame.”
In 1828, opposition Federalists called Andrew Jackson’s previously divorced wife–a major taboo back then– a “dirty black wench,” a “convicted adulteress” and said she was prone to “open and notorious lewdness.” And in America’s second-ever presidential election, candidate Thomas Jefferson hired a writer to smear President John Adams, who was referred to as “a hideous hermaphroditical character which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.”
We shouldn’t take comfort in these examples. The current candidates’ presidential vitriol goes beyond anything before it. Decorum, class, and attention to thoughtful communication strategy is, sadly, missing from the GOP primaries. Let’s hope it doesn’t continue. Your thoughts?
As the Nevada primary spelled the end of Jeb Bush’s candidacy, I remained fascinated by a tweet he posted just days earlier, first for its content, second for its feedback, and third for the tactic’s anemic impact.
The former Florida governor posted a photo of a handgun with “Gov. Jeb Bush” engraved on it, with the simple caption “America.”
Was this tweet an attempt to get much-needed attention as his campaign faced extinction? Was is designed to reinforce his relationship with GOP conservatives, gun owners and the National Rifle Association? Bush told a reporter, “The purpose was we went to a gun manufacturing facility where lots of jobs are created, high-wage jobs. And I received a gun and I was honored to have it.”
The Twitter feedback was on one hand predictably supportive and on the other hand predictably angry. The Brady Campaign, a gun safety lobbying group, tweeted, “America. Where #gunviolence kills 33,000 people per year. Thanks for the reminder @JebBush.” The NRA tweeted “America” accompanied by a graphic of the Bill of Rights. Lauren Olin posted “America” with a photo of a crying mother outside Sandy Hook Elementary School. Glenn Greenwald re-tweeted the photo and added, “Ponder all the psychological anxieties and insecurities that would cause someone to post this.”
Eight months ago, Jeb Bush seemed destined to become the third family member to lead a presidential ticket. But a candidate must connect to voters by using the power of words, images, ideas, and the projection of leadership. Bush’s primary numbers had remained in single digits despite spending tens of millions of dollars. Obviously, his campaign became desperate for attention, and so this potentially controversial image and caption was tweeted to grab headlines. However, it was too late. The tweet barely received coverage because interest in his campaign had become about as strong as his poll numbers.
Unlike his father and brother, Jeb Bush was unable to break through the competition by communicating effectively, despite well thought-out, realistic positions on major issues. This last ditch effort, a controversial publicity stunt to gain attention, was clearly as ineffective. Your thoughts?
It’s popular to blame “the media” for much of the world’s troubles: cultural decline, celebration of celebrity, negative news, etc. Survey after survey shows many Americans believe reporters are biased, so it’s become good politics to bash those working in media.
This was especially true after last week’s debate in which “candidates were highly critical of the CNBC crew, accusing them of being part of the ‘liberal media,’” wrote Emily Atkin of Think Progress. “At one point, Ted Cruz ripped into the moderators for asking what he called unfair and non-substantive questions. And in two instances, audience members actually booed at questions the moderators asked of Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee.” Even other media types ripped into CNBC; everyone from Anderson Cooper to Stephen Colbert criticized the debate and its seemingly poor preparation, nonsense questions and bias.
Today’s televised debates aren’t really debates by definition; they’ve become opportunities for candidates to attempt to break through the media clutter by creating potential sound bites. The sponsoring media organizations use these political showcases as ratings-getting entertainment, not true public discourse on what matters most.
I have a not-so-novel proposal for improved, more substantive debates. Say there are 10 candidates on stage. Each candidate gets to pick a topic and select any other candidate to debate. The two then have five minutes to discuss that topic with no interruptions. Then Candidate 2 picks a different candidate and does the same. This goes on until each candidate has debated someone; then there’s a round two with different candidates picking different topics and other candidates to debate. A moderator would make sure time is kept and everyone plays fair.
If the politicians are responsible for the questions, there can be no accusations of media bias. We might even hear real questions and significant answers rather than the silliness we’ve been experiencing. Yes, this proposal would have its drawbacks and the format would need to be refined, but I’m up for anything that’ll make the debates more substantive. Public relations practitioners count on transparency and clarity to influence audience attitudes. So should politicians. Your thoughts?
Since I blogged in December 2012 about the horrific shootings of 20 young children and six women in Newtown, Connecticut, there have been many more mass shootings in the U.S., the latest last week at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, where nine people were cut down by a gunman. As a PR guy, I wondered back then how the National Rifle Association (NRA) would react to the horrific shootings. The NRA, which has successfully beaten down efforts to regulate the sale of guns by supporting pro-gun rights candidates, remained silent for a couple of days after Newtown and later accused politicians and others of “politicizing” the tragedy.
Sadly, history has repeated itself. Search “Umpqua” on the NRA web site today and there’s not a single mention of the shootings. However, Jack Levi, the NRA’s assistant deputy press relations chief, spoke out on Friday. “The NRA strongly advises against Americans discussing gun control at this time,” said Levi, suggesting that “letting emotions take over a highly emotional event” will only lead to “the further eroding of our Second Amendment rights to keep and bear arms.” He accused the Obama administration and the “liberal media” of having “created a sense of urgency” when it’s “not necessary.”
But what Levi said next was truly alarming. “It’s just too premature to look at 45 separate school shootings as an indication of a problem that needs solving.” And he added in his estimation, “a minimum of 30 or 40 more” school shootings would be where he’d set the threshold and even then, “you really might be overreacting.”
Thirty or 40 more, Mr. Levi? Are we and the media ever “overreacting” to these heinous mass murders?
Yet again, the gun control battle lines are drawn and, I suspect, with little end result. On the day of the Umpqua shootings, President Obama sadly stated that such events and the subsequent reaction “have become routine,” adding, “This is something we should politicize. It is relevant to our common life together, to the body politic.” True to form, several GOP presidential candidates and pro-gun groups have rejected the president’s “politicization” of the issue.
All summer long I’ve avoided posting anything about Donald Trump. Like many, I haven’t taken his candidacy for president seriously. Ignoring him has been difficult, given how the news and entertainment media have been somewhat obsessed with every word the billionaire utters.
I feel badly for the other Republican candidates. I’ve blogged about the GOP’s efforts to re-brand the party and how it was reaching out to women, young people and Spanish-speaking voters. Trump has effectively undermined this agenda with his brash and careless comments. And the unprecedented 17 other Republicans running have been unable to effectively get their message out because Trump is literally sucking up all the air. He has become a ratings winner, so media programmers are devoting more time to him than all other candidates combined. Could you name most of the other 17 running? I couldn’t.
Conversely, the Donald Trump Show has worked to Hillary Clinton’s advantage. While we don’t know how serious the investigation of her email will become, without Trump, Hillary’s issues would be receiving far more attention. It’s attention she doesn’t want; she’s still the front-runner and she’ll need far more positive coverage to stay ahead. As public relations students and practitioners understand, grabbing an audience’s attention and making positive impressions is crucial to success whether for a candidate, product or cause.
When I teach PR history, I talk about P.T. Barnum, the shameless 19th century promoter of his circus. The National Review’s John Fund recently wrote, “(Trump) is the P.T. Barnum of American politics, a brilliant self-promoter who knows exactly what he’s doing and who changes his opinions constantly to match what he thinks audiences want to hear, much as Barnum used to switch out circus acts between towns on his tour.” Now Trump is out-Barnum-ing Barnum; as a presidential candidate, his domination of the news so early in the race is unprecedented.
There are PR lessons to be learned here, both good and bad, as the Summer of Trump is sure to be found in case studies textbooks someday. I wonder what the final chapter will look like. Your thoughts?
Let’s start with full disclosure: I generally support President Obama and the Democratic Party. I usually avoid politics in this blog, but there are a few public relations lessons to be learned from Election Day 2014.
It’s generally agreed that Democrats suffered significant setbacks, losing several governorships, House seats, and the Senate majority. I believe a combination of tactical errors caused their losses, while a consistent strategy propelled the Republicans. The news media also played a significant role in influencing this election’s outcome.
Let’s look at some PR maxims and how they relate:
1) Accentuate the positive — PR people promote the good stuff. But Democrats never took ownership of significant achievements. Under the party’s president and the Senate majority, the country avoided a depression, has lower unemployment and higher stock prices, millions more have health insurance, the environment is better protected, two wars are over, and Bin Laden is dead. The Dems didn’t run on their positives.
2) Be consistent — PR people understand branding. Republican candidates never strayed from their umbrella theme that President Obama is a failure and, therefore, so is anyone from his party. This relentless messaging helped propel GOP candidates to victory.
3) Support your organization’s leadership — PR folks know it’s never constructive to badmouth the boss. Democrats not only gave in to the constant focus on Obama’s lower approval rating, they ran from him and some actually denied ever supporting him.
4) Understand the media’s hunger for contests — Journalists and pundits know that drama is good for ratings. Because they were highly focused on Obama’s approval numbers and Democrats’ efforts to avoid him, the election’s outcome became a self-fulfilling prophecy. There was little discussion about issues, and few policy questions put to the politicians who have blocked Obama’s every move. Instead, a shift to the GOP was framed as a possible solution to the gridlock that was purposely created.
5) Communicate your successes — I say President Obama has been pretty inadequate at highlighting and articulating the good things he’s done. PR people know that lack of information breeds misinformation.
OK, that’s my election analysis as it relates to PR maxims. Your thoughts?
Since Mitt Romney’s loss, the GOP has hired experts to help move the public opinion needle and re-cast itself as more mainstream and in-touch. Perceptions held by many as a white, male-dominated, anti-immigrant, anti-gay, anti-minority, anti-science, anti-et cetera organization has repeatedly hurt the party’s chances to win presidential races (it has done so twice in the last six elections).
So one has to wonder how more moderate Republicans feel about the latest slap in the face to a very large demographic: women. It came to light recently that a former member of the Bush Administration is quietly heading a nonprofit group called The Hillary Project, dedicated to stopping a Hillary Clinton presidency. On its website is a game which invites the user to hear sound bites of Mrs. Clinton, and then use an animated hand to slap her as she speaks. Created by the “SlapHillary Team,” the Hillary Project site features other amateurish animated games including “Dancing Hillary” and “Street Fight: Obama vs. Hillary.”
While this juvenile stuff may appeal to certain members of the GOP fringe, it has the opposition really angry. Charles Clymer wrote in the online site Politics, “It was only in February that 22 senators and 138 representatives (all Republicans) voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act on the grounds that it protects gays, Native Americans living in reservations, and undocumented immigrants.” He went on to note, “No Republican leader has denounced the game, which leads one to believe they’re testing the waters to see how it pans out with the public.” A group called Left Action wrote on its site, “This ridiculous behavior is why no amount of ‘re-branding’ is going to help Republicans win over women voters — they just don’t get it. Violence against women isn’t a ‘game.’ Slapping a woman for speaking isn’t actually a joke. It’s just gross.”
I surely agree. The GOP’s re-branding efforts have to start with a denunciation of such things, or a White House victory will surely elude it again. Your thoughts?