Embracing chaos

Matt Lewis likened President Donald Trump’s White House to the “Bronx Zoo” New York Yankees of the 1970s and 1980s, and there is a fair amount of merit in the comparison. By now, the hand-wringers so worried about the chaotic Trump Administration should understand: This is a feature, not a bug.

As President Trump prepares to  launch his policy agenda in a congressional address, don’t expect the chaos to dissipate. But, as I wrote in a post on LinkedIn, that represents a big opportunity for anyone laying groundwork for the 2018 elections – or, for that matter, future policy battles that come up before .

Hillary Clinton will not be your next President

Way back in the day, then-candidate Barack Obama got a really flattering picture in the paper. Actually, it was the New York Times, and actually it looked like a leaked still from an Airwolf reboot.

When I first saw that picture, I believed that Barack Obama would be the next President of the United States. While that picture always stood out in my mind, just about everyone I knew who paid attention to the campaign that year had a similar moment of clarity where they believed Obama would beat John McCain.

It comes to mind now because, a couple weeks back, this horrible video started making the rounds on YouTube:

Someone thought this was a good idea. It’s not simple to put this together – someone wrote the song, hired a band, scripted the video, and apparently wanted to make something that promoted Hillary Clinton while looking like the result of a drunken one-night stand between crappy pop-country and a third quarter earnings presentation. (“Hi, Rascal Flats? It’s PowerPoint. …Yes, I had a fun night, too, but… Well, we need to talk. I’m pregnant.”) It took work and effort, which means someone actually thought about this a lot. And it still got made, incredibly.

The imagery, from the shattered glass ceiling to the man getting on a motorcycle behind a lady is heavy-handed and condescending. And it shamelessly panders to middle Americans, who may love country music but probably recognize when a former Senator from New York is trying too hard.

Oversimplified, poorly conceived messages delivered with insincerity are nothing new to Clinton’s public appearances this year, from the time she started promoting her book to now. This video subtly underscores every negative she currently has. Clinton’s country music video projects someone going through the motions of a campaign as a formality before a Presidency she feels she is owed.

Is it any wonder why the jibber-jabber around Elizabeth Warren as a potential primary challenger has warmed so significantly in the weeks since this video came out?

The political “digital divide” is closing – but not because of this

Politico pointed out that Republicans lead Democrats in viral videos this election cycle:

By generating hundreds of thousands of clicks, the Republicans’ digital success represents a remarkable tech turnaround compared with 2012, when President Barack Obama’s campaign easily outpaced Mitt Romney and the rest of the GOP field in the production of the most popular Web content.

That’s right and wrong at the same time, which is really tough to do.

A higher click total is not a sign of better use of technology, but a sign of better use of message. The article goes on to talk about why the Republican message has been so video-friendly, which underscores the point.

The technology to make an online video is pretty simple, any yahoo with a Mac can make something that looks pretty decent. Clicks come from content – what the video says is more important than Politico lets on.

If you want to know why Republicans have closed in on the Democrats’ tech advantage, look at the actual technology and how it’s being used. For example, i360, a data firm that caters to conservative movement organizations, and DataTrust, the data wing of the GOP, are sharing their voter data. If one of those companies found out that you’re an independent and the other one knows you’re left handed, campaigns would have access to both tags and could use both to shape how they talk to you. That’s a legit tech upgrade over the sloppy, fractured Republican data infrastructure of the past.

The NRSC’s Horrible, Horrible Video Game

The NRSC released Mission Majority this week, a simple online game with an 8-bit look that is just absolutely awful.

The game follows the adventures of an elephant named Giopi – like GOP, get it? – who is collecting keys and flipping switches to help the Republican party take back the Senate.  It’s obviously pure click bait, intended to draw in people and maybe squeeze out a donation.  It is kind of fun to play if you’re looking to waste some time at work.

The real problem is that the NRSC is not a video game company, so making a fun little time-waster isn’t enough. With 64 days to go until Election Day, everything released by a party committee has to have a message. Giopi’s mission is, as the game suggests, winning back the majority of the US Senate.  If you beat the game, you get a congratulatory note about how taking back the Senate will mean the end of the “red tape” and “regulations” holding America back.

“Red tape?” “Regulations?” Is that the compelling case the GOP is making to American voters this year?

People have lost their health coverage or been forced to pay more. Hourly workers are seeing their shifts cut short because the money isn’t there to pay them. Middle East terrorists are operating with no fear of retribution.

Maybe it’s just a game, but the NRSC’s tone deafnesses and inability to verbalize what they can offer the electorate in such an easy setting should be unsettling to anyone thinking about cracking their wallet open.


CDN: Political Ads Face Brave New (On-Demand) World

Nobody likes commercials, so viewers are finding ways around them – through DVRs and subscription-based on-demand programming.  That will make things tough for political advertisers – but certainly not impossible.  My latest column at Communities Digital News explores how political video advertising will have to adjust.  And they will have to – because video remains the best way to tell a story.

Great meal. Let’s talk about Obamacare.

The Organizing for America/Obama Campaign folks took some ribbing in the past week for their campaign to get people talking about Obamacare around the Thanksgiving table.  OFA provides you talking points on your way home, and you are supposed to convince your Drunk Uncle that Health Insurance is a good thing.

As silly as the campaign is, here’s the really ridiculous part: There’s no engagement of the actual issues people are talking about.  People are seeing their premiums go up, or losing their plans.  The website is broken, and the government knew it was broken.  There is precious little credibility in even the rosiest talking points OFA offers, and there’s no real guide to handling pushback.

OFA’s effort – in as much as it really is an effort and not just an excuse for periodic communication to keep the email list fresh – will fail because they have no idea how to talk to people who disagree with the concept of Obamacare.  And that population seems to get bigger everyday – without a website full of discussion guides.

Email: The Once and Future King

Harvard’s Nieman Foundation had a post today about The Slurve, a daily digest of baseball.  (While I don’t subscribe, I see plenty about it on Twitter and Facebook from intelligent, baseball-oriented friends to know that I probably will at some point.)  Blogger Adrienne LaFrance opines that journalism-by-newsletter may be underrated:

After political reporting and editing stints at The American Conservative and Business Insider, [Michael Brendan Daugherty] decided to quit his job and launch The Slurve, a daily baseball newsletter that began last March on the eve of the 2013 baseball season.

Dougherty saw the opportunity to create a bespoke editorial product for an audience that was inundated with great baseball coverage but had to traverse a huge swath of the web to find it.

Daugherty’s model is subscription, not advertising-based.  He has built an audience and feeds it with great content, and the subscriptions continue.  It’s similar to the model magazines may have used in their heyday, but without the high costs of printing and distribution.

The Slurve is not the first to use such a model.  A few years ago, the National Journal’s Hotiline was required reading when it popped up subscribers’ inboxes right around noon; Ben Domenech’s The Transom treats center-right subscribers to news and analysis each morning.  At some point, LaFrance speculates, specialty email list curators might find seats in traditional media.  She may be right; former Hotline editor Chuck Todd has certainly done so.

In making her point, LaFrance may have hit on something traditional media need more of as they claw their way into the digital age: a direct conduit into the inbox.  Sure, news organizations love to invite viewers to “join the conversation” on Twitter or Facebook.  But doing so is a thin attempt to appear multi-directional: CNN really doesn’t care what you tweeted about Syria, even if it posted your tweet on the air.

News organizations are a one-way conduits of information.  People who know stuff about the world are paid to tell you about it, if you’re interested.  If they are interested in finding your eyeballs online, they would be wise to reach out through your email inbox.

Why Bankrupting America’s New Web Series Actually Works

This week, Bankrupting America launched “The Government,” a new web series this week parodying both government spending and The Office.  Unlike many attempts at politically themed humor, it actually works.

There are some over-the-top spots – the introduction of the (probably?) fictional Department of Every Bureaucratic Transaction comes to mind – but nothing that detracts from the main joke.  What makes the video click is its natural dialogue, solid acting, identifiable characters, and subtle jokes (such as the employees walking around in the background holding golden coffee mugs with oven mitts).

In other words, structurally, it entertains for the same reasons The Office did, which means it’s a great approach to this type of communication.  If future episodes hit these same beats (and patch up some of the rough spots), Bankrupting America will have a pretty powerful messaging device on its hands.

Unions Clamor For Smaller Government

This ad opposing Common Core standards popped up on a few right-leaning blogs this week, advertising the website StopGovernmentOverreach.org:


Clicking through led to this landing page:


Who’s behind these right-wing clarion calls to limit expansive government?  The AFL-CIO, of course.  They don’t particularly hide their involvement, but they don’t bang the drum to call attention to their funding either.

It’s actually a smart and mature move.  Opposition to Common Core education isn’t the sole dominion of people who would rather not see teachers held accountable; there are also people who hold principled stances against national standards superseding local control of education.

What would be interesting to know is how the AFL-CIO uses this data.  For an advocacy group, a list of people on the other side who agree with you on certain issues is an underrated asset.  If they can turn other policy positions into small-government arguments, they can go back to that list for future action.

Mel Kiper for Pandora?

Contextual advertising is a good thing.  The NFL Draft is the biggest sports story going on, so the ads Pandora placed on ESPN encouraging husbands to “pick the right gift” is pretty clever.  (And let’s be honest – this is definitely about targeting a guy buying for his wife or baby mama and staying out of the dog house.  There’s nothing wrong with that.)

But the image of Mel Kiper peeking from the bottom?  That’s unnecessary… and maybe a little creepy.

Kiper Ad