You can’t handle “your truth”!

Oprah Winfrey’s Golden Globes speech sure struck a chord, didn’t it? The erstwhile talk show host and current media mogul said enough to spur online discussion of a made-for-TV 2020 Presidential matchup.

There’s certainly plenty to say about what the whole concept says about current affairs, politics, and culture.

Ben Shapiro of The Daily Wire and the Wall Street Journal’s Byron Tau, among others, picked up on a phrase Winfrey used, “your truth.” The context (from the full transcript):

What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have. And I’m especially proud and inspired by all the women who have felt strong enough and empowered enough to speak up and share their personal stories.

This is one of those tricky phrases that means different things to different people, which makes discussion difficult. Critics of Winfrey’s phrasing note that the truth is the truth. People may have different perspectives or opinions, but objective facts are objective facts.

That’s certainly accurate, from a certain point of view. One person may look at a three-dimensional cube and, seeing only one side, claim it’s a square. Their perspective – or lack of it in this example – does not change the objective fact that this is a cube.

That’s not really what Winfrey’s talking about, though.

As the mentions in her speech, Winfrey’s life experience meant living through turbulent times when being black carried overwhelming social baggage. As a woman in show business in the 1980s, she likely had to deal with the same harassment issues that are only now being brought to light. Today, you may look at Oprah Winfrey and see the “truth” of a powerful, car-giving-away, bread-loving media empress who could build or ruin a career at whim. Her vantage point is different; when thinking about her “truth” Winfrey also remembers the local news anchor struggling her way up the ladder.

“Truth” is a strong and probably miscast word for perspective, but intentionally so. Its strength validates experiences. In the immediate context, it validates women who suffer harassments in all walks of life, and see those experiences echoed in the current mess in the motion picture industry. It isn’t just your story, Winfrey seems to say; for you, it is the absolute truth.

There’s a parallel to draw from President Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric, which so famously used language that most politicians did not, and Winfrey uplifting her audience through subtlely coded language. In each case, it fosters a connection with the audience that just about every speaker tries for, but which few can establish.

The next election sure ought to be fun, huh?

What if Obamacare HAD been repealed?

Even with Russian investigation news sucking up oxygen during the last half of the week, Republicans have egg on their faces after swinging and missing on so-called “Obamacare repeal.” After seven years of campaigning on health care, the GOP had nothing to offer on health care.

But can you imagine if they had passed a plan? Over at Medium I point out that the now-endless campaign cycle means the histrionics would have started before President Trump had finished signing the new bill. It would have meant an ugly few years of Democrats essentially accusing Republicans of murder. I bet the GOP wasn’t ready for it. They’re probably lucky the bill failed.

The most convince-able President in recent memory

Earlier this week, I posted a piece on LinkedIn discussing how the failed Republican health care push showed how much President Donald Trump is willing to let others handle the details for even his biggest policy goals.

This business in Syria makes that even more obvious.

President Trump’s shift on Syria – from isolationist to hawk – isn’t something typically seen of politicians. But it tracks pretty closely with the way plenty of Americans view the situation. It also fits with his over-arching message of renewing the perception of America’s strength on the international stage, even if the specific policy (military involvement in Syria) runs against what he has previously advocated.

None of this is necessarily a bad thing. Cynics will note – correctly – that such willingness to change course suggests a President who lacks grounding in a set of deeply held core beliefs. We typically long for elected leaders who take bold stands and stick to their guns.

Look at the Senate this past week to see how those qualities don’t always work out as planned.

But there is a positive side to having an opportunistic deal maker in the big chair. It means that if you can make your case for your cause – regardless of party or philosophical lines – you might just win an ally.

First with healthcare, and now with Syria, President Trump is showing he’s more pragmatist than ideologue. Will anyone take advantage?

 

 

 

 

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 .

The poetic end to your holiday season

It’s only the 11th Day of Christmas, so technically there’s still time to enjoy this Christmas gift to the world of literature from Matt Lewis and me. If you’re just stumbling back to work this week and looking for an excuse to put off productivity, all the better.

I should note that this is definitely not something we pushed out in a couple of days to avoid doing real work in the week before Christmas. An excerpt from this masterpiece:

“You and the rest of the talking head group
Have treated my campaign supporters like poop.
I’m not quite as bad as you paint me to be.
Go ask your Mom just how much she likes me.

“So I’m making my rounds on this special night
Settling scores and setting you right.
And believe me, I didn’t start this but the media is more unfair to me than to any other candidate or President or possibly person in the history of American politics. It’s very important. Very important. And I could do other things. Just tonight, an old friend came to visit me, a guy I did a lot of business with back in the 80’s, a guy I made very rich. Hugely rich. I thought he was dead years ago, but he showed up at Trump Tower tonight, on Christmas Eve. Came in, no warning, looked like death. Kept muttering something about ‘chains he’d forged in life’ and trying to let me open my house for his three friends. What a deadbeat. Some people can’t handle winning. My people, my supporters, they love winning, but Jake was a loser.”

Keep on reading, and have a Happy New Year!

There probably won’t be an independent Presidential candidate

National Review hopefully touted a poll that showed 21% of the electorate would support a hypothetical third-party candidate.

Not so fast. As grassroots political consultant Chris Younce points out in a recent interview on some crummy little podcast, there are major logistical challenges to a candidate. It’s one reason why efforts to draft an independent ticket have failed so miserably.

But there’s another, bigger reason to take that poll with a grain of salt: There is no such thing as a “generic” independent candidate. As the survey shows, people across the board are dissatisfied with the parties’ nominees.

But each of the 997 survey respondents probably has their own idea of what that independent candidate might look like.

Any ticket that takes votes from Hillary Clinton is probably features a left-leaning candidate and siphons off disenchanted Bernie Sanders voters. Efforts to draft a “#NeverTrump” candidate have largely focused on Republicans who would give conservative base voters a place for this election.

In either case, once the “generic” independent becomes a real independent, those numbers will shift. An independent candidate will start out a lot lower than 21%.

You can’t beat somebody with nobody, and it’s getting to late to find another somebody.

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.

 

 

 

 

Remember the greatest GOP field in history?

A year ago, it looked like 2016 would be a good year to be a Republican.

While the Democrats had pretty much resigned themselves to the reality that Hillary Clinton (and baggage which, despite early polling, made her a general election crapshoot) would win their nomination, the Republicans enjoyed an embarrassment of riches. There were seven multi-term governors, most of whom could point to a record of conservative reforms in purple-to-blue states. There was one freshman Senator whose background as the sone of immigrants read like an instruction manual for acheiving the American dream, and another whose libertarian leanings offered a fresh prism through which to view conservatism. A former CEO and a retired neurosurgeon offered unique and diverse perspectives. Other candidacies, especially those of Lindsey Graham and even Ted Cruz, seemed more like attempts to bring certain issues or viewpoints into the discussion. And other candidates, like Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and Jim Gilmore, were obvious grasping for book deals or gainful employment.

But a funny thing happened to the Dream Team on the way to Iowa.

The most obvious element is Donald Trump blowing up the race, but Trump is more accurately labeled a symptom than a disease. The Republican Party came down with what the folks at the Mayo Clinic might call Three Stooges Syndrome: There were so many candidates trying to get through the door, no one made any progress among the electorate.

With so many candidates, it has been easy for a loud, celebrity self-funder like Trump to swoop in and make waves. He didn’t have to spend last summer doing the behind-the-scenes organization building and fundraising that keeps most candidates out of the limelight. When Trump roared, he filled a media vacuum and shot to the front of a crowded field.

He wasn’t – and still isn’t – particularly popular among Republicans. The problem was – and is – that so many candidates in the big crowded field had a legitimate shot to win the nomination with just the right breaks. Even now, there are seven candidates left in the race today and all but Jim Gilmore and Ben Carson can honestly chart a path to victory. Sure, they aren’t all particularly likely paths, but until the money runs out why not give it a try? What does Jeb Bush or John Kasich have to lose by hanging around?

The candidate with the most reason to drop out right now, oddly enough, may be Marco Rubio. His debate gaffe is not necessarily fatal, but it makes his climb a bit steeper. As a relatively young guy, there’s time for him to make a second run in four or eight years after rehabilitating his image. At the same time, he has to look at the primary calendar and think – accurately – that he has a better shot than Bush or Kasich.

Meanwhile, look at even a partial list of people who have already bowed out: Rand Paul, Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina, Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, and Rick Perry. In another year, those profiles would make for a compelling primary slate on their own.  In this cycle, they are also-rans.

 

 

Distrust and Trump

It’s funny to watch talking heads on television news ponder why Donald Trump enjoys apparent popular support, even while making controversial comments that draw criticism from across the political spectrum.

Victor Davis Hanson has as good an analysis as anyone:

The first reaction of Attorney General Loretta Lynch after the recent San Bernardino terrorist attack was to warn the country about Islamophobia. Her implicit message to the families of the dead was not that the government missed a terrorist cadre or let Islamic State sympathizers carry out a massacre. Instead, she worried more about Americans being angry at the inability of the tight-knit Muslim community to ferret out the extremists in its midst…

The government reports that a record 94.4 million Americans are not in the labor force. That is almost a third of the country. How can the same government declare that the official unemployment rate is only 5 percent?

Aside from a government so obviously unmoored from reality, most people watch a 24-hour cable news media where facts are equally alien. Consider that in the 16 hours after the San Bernardino shooting, early Twitter-fueled reports the attack on misguided anti-Planned Parenthood activists, white supremecists, and a workplace dispute, before the facts actually came out. The need for speed has surpassed the need for accuracy.

There’s also a willful tone-deafness to opposing views which creates distrust. Megan McArdle got it right in a column about the public discussion about Syrian refugees that sprang up right after the Paris attacks. McArdle, who supports taking in more refugees, had plenty of criticism for the holier-than-thou voices from her own side of the argument:

Perfectly reasonable people are worried that a small number of terrorists could pretend to be refugees in order to get into the U.S. for an attack. One response to these reasonable people has been: “How dare you say people fleeing terrorism are terrorists!” This is deeply silly. Obama administration officials have admitted that they can’t be sure of screening terrorists out from asylum seekers.

As a result, media and politicians wringing their hands over Trump lack any moral authority to do so. It’s no wonder negative news stories and condemnations from his oppoenents don’t affect this guy’s polling numbers.

(Sidebar: There’s also the whole question about whether the poll numbers translate into a viable campaign. Some media outles have started asking those questions now. Why now? Why wasn’t that considered relevant four months ago?)

 

Hillary ALMOST nails the anti-Trump message

Donald Trump had barely finished his call for a ban on Muslim travel to the U.S. when Clinton and Co. fired back. Naturally, because it’s Hillary Clinton, it came through a fundraising email pimping her new “Love trumps hate” bumper sticker over Huma Abedin’s signature. And in equally typical Hillary Clinton fashion, her message was almost off.

It started off promisingly enough:

Last night, when I heard Donald Trump’s hateful comments about banning Muslims like me from entering the United States, I was shocked, offended and angry. But after I saw the flood of responses from this team — and across the country — saying that Trump’s comments were absolutely unacceptable, I was overwhelmed with a different emotion:

Love.

That’s actually a pretty cool, positive response. Not only does it make the point that Trump was wrong, it changes the “hero” in the story. When Candidate A condemns Candidate B, A is trying to look like the hero sticking up for the little guy. Such self-aggrandizing rhetoric can ring hollow.

By referencing the public response, Abedin and Team Clinton share the spotlight with the person reading the email – and who doesn’t like getting a little shine, right?

It also marginalizes Trump, disconnecting his inflammatory rhetoric from the rank-and-file voters. For a candidate who referred to political opponents as her enemies, this is an important distinction. But the next paragraph blows up that concept:

Let’s show Donald Trump and his supporters that we won’t be torn apart by his hateful rhetoric.

It’s bad politics to blame Trump “supporters” for the ills of America, no matter which party you’re in. Its logical end is a misstep like Mitt Romney’s “47%” comments – essentially giving voice to the campaign’s plan to divide the electorate and work on getting their own supporters out to the polls. That may reflect a strategic reality, but it doesn’t mean a campaign has to say it publicly.