Shattered-freude

Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign has become predictably popular inside the Beltway. But in a piece over at Medium, I argue that it isn’t for the right reasons.

Campaign 2016 taught plenty of lessons to those who were willing to listen. The major news media could have learned that their reporting was rightfully distrusted. Democrats could have learned that talking about opponents in caustic, derogatory terms assigned more passion to politics than most people feel. Republicans could have learned that playing to the base means more than simply checking ideological boxes.

The Medium piece picks on Republicans with a shallow treatment of Shattered – at least, those reading it to relive the upset of election night, watching Hillary Clinton play Charlie Brown as America yanks the football away. They aren’t the only ones who watched a historic upset but failed to learn anything.

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Clinton lost the Obama coalition (and they should have seen it coming)

FiveThirtyEight’s analysis of the 2016 electorate shows that Hillary Clinton’s loss was indeed due to low voter turnout. Apparently, high numbers of Democrats and Independents (and even a good number of Republicans) didn’t feel it necessary to go out and make a choice between two horrible candidates.

Who could have predicted such a thing? Turns out, it was easy to spot as far back as June 2015. As (obviously) any dolt could see, Clinton’s strong numbers against a fractured Republican field belied real issues among key demographics. And the issue wouldn’t be losing votes to the eventual Republican nominee, but in losing raw voters period. Polling can offer people a chance to see preferences, but judging intensity of preference requires a deeper reading of the numbers.

Clinton’s people should have seen this. (If they did, they figured to correct it by scaring the bejesus out of people by telling them how bad Trump was. That strategy typically invites failure.)

On its face, FiveThirtyEight’s analysis gives Clinton supporters some cover: They can claim that if the turnout had only been higher, their team would have won. (If only it hadn’t been for James Comey/the Russians/fake news/okay maybe Comey again?) But such face-saving leaves unanswered questions about why turnout was so low. Refusing to vote is a vote, as well. People think of political campaigns as an effort to get a voter to choose candidate A over candidate B, but in reality the first challenge is getting voters to make the choice at all.

Trump’s answer on data is actually the right answer

Donald Trump says his Presidential campaign will be about personality, not data:

In his AP interview, Trump discounted the value of data: The “candidate is by far the most important thing,” he said. He said he plans a “limited” use of data in his general election campaign and suggested Obama’s victories — universally viewed by political professionals as groundbreaking in the way data steered the campaign to voters — are misunderstood.

“Obama got the votes much more so than his data processing machine, and I think the same is true with me,” Trump said, explaining that he will continue to focus on his signature rallies, free television exposure and his personal social media accounts to win voters over.

That’s exactly the wrong answer on an 8:00 a.m. conference call, but it’s exactly the right answer for an interview – which is something many political professionals miss. In the quest to sound smart to industry press, operatives can fall into the trap of talking too much about process. But voters don’t care.

Yes, the data-driven campaigns President Barack Obama ran in 2008 and 2012 were groundbreaking. But people voted for Obama’s message. The data elements helped them vote, but they made the choice, ultimately, based on the message.

In this cycle, polarizing figures with limited crossover appeal lead both major parties. Both presumptive nominees face divisions within their parties. Voter turnout could suffer, which could make the ground game vital. If the race is close, it will likely be the campaign with the better turnout operation that comes out ahead.

But a candidate has three jobs: 1) Ask for votes; 2) Ask for money; 3) Don’t mess up. Chatting about campaign tactics is not on the list.

Maybe Trump has a basement full of nerds chained to computers analyzing data sets to develop the winning turnout plan. Even if he does, it wouldn’t help him to brag about it. Even if the Trump campaign proved to be the most sophisticated data operation in the history of ones and zeros, it would only serve to amplify his message.

Campaign tactics may drive votes, but personality wins voters.

Running independent? Better start now.

Donald Trump heads into March like a lion, leading polls and looking to emerge with a delegate count that may put the Republican nomination away. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are taking their whacks at him more aggressively than before – and even if they can’t nudge Trump out of the race, they can extend the nominating contest until it falls under the arcane rules of the party convention.

All these turning gears have the more speculative wondering about whether a serious third option could appear on the November ballot for the first time in 20 years. Trump supporters want their guy to have a spot if they feel the GOP finds some kind of black magic to nominate someone else; Republicans fear the Trumpocalypse and don’t want to have to write in Mickey Mouse against Hillary Clinton. These are both significant audiences, so an independent candidate seems like it could make some waves. Michael Bloomberg has been the biggest name to consider an independent run so far.

So could it happen?

The major problem is logistics, as Ballotpedia’s page on Presidential ballot access makes clear. While the major political parties pretty much have a free spot on each state ballot, running an independent bid means petitioning 50 separate state election authorities. Signature requirements range from 1,000 in Idaho to nearly 180,000 in California. (Thresholds for getting on primary ballots tend to be easier, and petition signatures can be supplanted by filing fees.)

Getting on all 50 ballots means collecting over 900,000 signatures. But wait, there’s more: As anyone who has handled ballot access can attest, fake and invalid signatures are a major problem. People who sign petitions may not be registered to vote, or they may use a fake name, or they may violate some other arcane rule (such as Nebraska, where a signatory must not have voted in either party’s primary). Campaigns generally try to capture at least twice as many signatures as needed for just this reason, so the real magic number is about 1.8 million signatures.

The first deadline for access is in Texas, where a candidate needs about 80,000 signatures by May 9. That’s significant, because an independent offshoot of the Republican primary would surely look to Texas as an opportunity to pull support. And though a smart operation might cherry pick friendly states to focus efforts there, such a plan requires much advance data work. Either way you slice it, a third party effort has to start almost immediately.

The candidate would almost have to be a self funder, or have access to a very generous fundraising network; they would also have to have a good amount of political savvy to build the organization necessary for the task. Most of the current candidates couldn’t pull off the optics of positioning for a third party run while also running for the nomination, but Trump could probably get away with it. If Trump is the nominee, Mitt Romney, Carly Fiorina, and Jeb Bush are in the sweet spot of the money/strategy Venn diagram, though it’s tough to imagine they would do more than split votes and toss some close states to Clinton (or Sanders).

Rick Perry has floated the idea that he’s open to a second crack at the nomination at a contested Republican convention, but he offers a compelling case as an independent candidate as well. Winning Texas and maybe a handful of southern, western, and midwestern states could disrupt Electoral College totals enough to push the race to the House of Representatives. Another, center-left independent (like Bloomberg or Jim Webb) would make that outcome even more likely.

It makes sense why the prospect of a candidate beyond the two major parties holds considerable sway this cycle. Yet, the election laws in place greatly discourage it. Beyond smaller third parties and failing an indictment, Americans are likely stuck choosing between the two candidates who emerge from the party conventions this summer.

Does Clinton run anything by anyone?

The other morning, news outlets carried the clip of Hillary Clinton doing her impression of a lie-detecting dog, barking from a stage in Reno.

This is the predictable result:

This is an obvious response. So glaringly obvious, it’s incredible that Clinton ran her little Lassie impression by any one of the people she pays to help her seem more relatable. If she had, surely that person would have told her to skip the canine theatrics.

One can only imagine the poor, cringing communications staffers, watching from backstage, as Clinton diverged from the script and ventured into animal kingdom. It shows not only a lack of discipline, but a lack of self-awareness. It’s why Clinton is losing her grip on the Democratic nomination (again) and why she shouldn’t beat any Republican who isn’t named Trump in November.

The Jeb we need to see tonight

Governor Jeb Bush, your country needs you.

When you take the debate stage tonight, you will be in a different position than you likely imagined a year ago. You haven’t come close to victory in either of the first primary states, and your poll performance has lagged for months. Some are calling for you to leave the race. But there is work to be done, and no other candidate seems willing to do it. The mantle of service falls to your shoulders.

Donald Trump needs to go.

You know this, which is probably why this commercial exists. Commercials alone won’t do it, though.

Here’s the real problem: righteous indignation is the most effective emotion a politician can evoke when seeking support. Voters are angry, and they want candidates who are share a controlled version of that anger. Trump’s messages have resonated because of that fact. But there’s another maxim of politics: Don’t get mad except on purpose.

The public doesn’t need to see Trump angry, they need to see him lose his temper and behave like the manchild he is.

Let’s be honest here, Governor Bush: You are probably a long shot for the nomination. Also, you come off like a high school student council nerd frustrated that the class clown got enough people to write him in that he can blow up your weekly meetings. Those two points make you the perfect person to execute this plan.

Step 1: Debate prep

Don’t shave. You need to go into this debate with a healthy fice o’clock shadow. Skip the tie and consider jeans. And – this is important – get a little buzzed but not too drunk. You will need to deliver a coherent message, and slurred speech won’t help. But you will need to loosen up a bit.

Step 2: Show everyone the “New Jeb”

Saunter out on the stage like you own the place. Dole out high fives all around, maybe even to a few people in the front row. Give fist bumps to the moderators. Set the tone that you will be a different person tonight – laid back and at ease. Smirk the whole time.

Step 3: Call out the loser

Make frequent reference to Trump’s long list of business failures and bankruptcies. Trump’s defense so far has been to claim he “uses the system” to protect assets, and to use that as evidence that the system is broken. Call him out on being a glorified three-card-monty player and remind everyone that “using the system” still means you failed. Suggested line: “The only thing you were good at was hosting a reality show where you pretend to be a good businessman. And then your ratings started to suck so you ran for President.”

Step 4: Badger badger badger

This is where you really have to break character. Trump has upended the rules of the campaign, so you have to upend the rules of the debate. Consider interjecting during his answers (“Nope,” “That’s not true,” and or “Wow, that’s a whopper!”) to shake his focus. Laugh in his face. Call him a wimp, a loser, a failure, a carnival barker, and a giant orange baby. (Definitely call him a giant orange baby. Maybe make some cooing and goo-goo noises, too.) Even if it means crashing the debate.

Eventually, Trump will lose his cool and blow up. This would be a good time to have a baby’s pacifier on hand to offer to him as he is melting down. Props are usually a bad idea, but this would make for an excellent GIF.

Remember, Governor Bush, this is a kamikaze mission, so even if you pick up a negative image, it’s ok. But if you succeed, you might find there are a lot of conservatives who are happy you stood up to Trump in a way your father and brother never would have been able to. Maybe there’s redemption on the other side of this. Your current path is certainly a dead end.

Heck, even if you just utter the words “giant orange baby,” you’ll have my vote.

 

 

 

 

Cruz missed an opportunity with “porn star commercial”

Ted Cruz had pretty good, biting commercial knocking his GOP rivals in the week before the South Carolina primary. Then the Daily Caller noticed one of the actresses in the spot had done some films that were, uh, not exactly family friendly.

The Cruz crew have since pulled the ad off the airwaves and released a statement on how such a thing could have happened. A campaign spokesperson blamed a casting company for not properly vetting actress Amy Lindsay, and said the campaign wouldn’t have let her be in the commercial if it had known about her late-night Cinemax past.

What a mistake.

The ad in question is pretty good. It sets the framework for Cruz to draw contrasts with both Marco Rubio and Donald Trump as the “true” conservative in the race:

Pulling the ad represents a misstep for a Cruz campaign which has been smart and overperformed expectations so far. The error isn’t just in pulling a quality ad off the air, but in possibly missing out on a valuable surrogate or at least a nice message:

Prior to the Cruz campaign pulling the ad, Lindsay told BuzzFeed News in a phone interview on Thursday that she’s a Christian conservative and a Republican. While she emphasized that she did not do hardcore porn and that she also appeared in non-erotic films, Lindsay said she thinks it is “cool” that an actor who has appeared in softcore porn could also appear in Cruz’s ad.

“In a cool way, then hey, then it’s not just some old, white Christian bigot that people want to say, ‘It could be, maybe, a cool kind of open-minded woman like me,’” she said of people supporting Cruz.

Since the ad came down, Lindsay has said she is still deciding where to direct her vote, wavering between Cruz and Trump. That’s a shame.

Cruz’s core audience is largely Christian social conservatives, so you can see why the campaign wants to distance itself from the situation. But in doing so, they are undermining their own message. The ad tells us that, no matter your past, there’s a place for you in the Cruz campaign. (This is also a major theme of Christian teaching.) The campaign’s subsequent statements and actions suggest the opposite.

It seems like some legwork from the campaign could have told them that Lindsay wasn’t necessarily a liability, and in fact identified as a potential Cruz supporter. Now, she’s been very publicly rejected and has every reason to keep this story in the news for as long as the reporters call her.

Post-South Carolina, there figure to be a number of Republican voters looking for a new horse to back, so it’s a good time to lay the groundwork for a message of inclusion. This situation offered the Cruz crew a chance to show their arms are open. Did they ever whiff.