Barack Obama: The Most Charismatic Candidate Always Wins

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on November 7, 2012 – 11:01 am

CNN went on the air in 1980, ushering in the era of the 24/7 media age.

For the past 32 years, Americans have gotten to know their presidential candidates better than ever before, with the hopefuls on their television screens seemingly non-stop.

There have been nine presidential elections in the age of around-the-clock media, and one thing has remained true in all nine: the more charismatic candidate has always won. 

Photo credit: Win McNamee of Getty Images

Consider these nine elections:

  1. In 1980, the more charismatic Ronald Reagan defeated dour incumbent Jimmy Carter.
  2. In 1984, Reagan crushed Walter Mondale.
  3. In 1988, George H.W. Bush—never accused of being the most charismatic man in the room—defeated an even less charismatic Michael Dukakis.
  4. In 1992, the super-charismatic Bill Clinton defeated the more patrician George H.W. Bush. He was re-elected in 1996 by beating Bob Dole, a candidate fond of asking crankily, “Where’s the outrage?”
  5. In 2000, George W. Bush defeated Al Gore. Although that election was contested, I’d argue that Bush’s edge in charisma allowed the race to be that close in the first place. And in 2004, Bush won re-election by beating the more patrician John Kerry.
  6. In 2008, Barack Obama beat John McCain, who almost defined the word “cranky.” And in last night’s Election 2012, Obama won re-election by beating the less charismatic—and yes, more patrician—Mitt Romney.

The last time I posted an analysis of this sort, another pundit complained that my analysis was superficial since “N=8.” In other words, he argued that eight points of data weren’t enough from which to form any conclusions.

With last night’s election behind us, “N” now equals nine. The trend is holding.

Why is that? The more time candidates spend beneath the media spotlight, the more time voters have to decide whether or not they like the (usually) men running for office. That may seem like a superficial way to choose a president. But it also makes sense that voters want to elect the candidate they’d rather spend the next four years looking at in their living rooms.

Whatever the reason, one thing is undeniable: voters have elected the more charismatic candidate every time.

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Live Blog: Election Night 2012

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on November 6, 2012 – 6:42 pm

The Election Night live blog is up! Just click the link at the bottom of this post to join and hang out with me throughout the night.

In addition to discussing each state’s results—and what they mean—I’ll also be commenting on the speeches given by President Obama and Governor Romney (assuming, of course, that we’ll know the winner by the end of the night).

Your voice is a critical part of the live blog. I hope you’ll keep it up on your browser and comment throughout the night. I’ll post many of your comments to the blog.

And good news: There’s no need to refresh your browser. New comments will appear automatically.

Here we go!

Read more »

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Election Night Live Blog Begins Tonight At 7PM

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on November 6, 2012 – 6:06 am

Please join me tonight at 7 P.M. eastern as I live blog the election results as they come in.

In addition to discussing each state’s results—and what they mean—I’ll also comment on the speeches given by President Obama and Governor Romney (assuming, of course, that we’ll know the winner by the end of the night).

As always, your voice is a critical part of the live blog, so I hope you’ll keep the live blog up on your browser and comment throughout the night. I’ll post many of your comments to the blog.

In the meantime, get out and vote! And check out our “Ten Worst Media Gaffes of Election 2012.”

Hope to see you later tonight for the official end of Election 2012.

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The 10 Worst Media Gaffes Of Election 2012

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on October 28, 2012 – 12:10 am

Next Tuesday, millions of Americans will head to their local polling places to select the next President of the United States.

It’s about time. We’ve been subjected to a two-year campaign in which the candidates have been on our television screens for hundreds of hours. Most of those hours have been unremarkable—but a few memorable moments turned into PR disasters for the campaigns.

This post will highlight the ten worst media disasters of the 2012 presidential campaign.

You will notice that there are more Republicans than Democrats on my list. That’s not due to political bias, but simple math: There were eight Republicans competing for their party’s nomination, while President Obama ran unopposed. Republicans debated one another during the primaries almost two dozen times; President Obama debated no one on the Democratic side.

Therefore, Republicans were much more visible during much of the campaign, occupied a lot of the media airtime and headlines, and had more opportunities to make mistakes. For that reason only, you’ll see more of them on this list.


10. Newt Gingrich: I’m Going To Be The Nominee

Last December, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich made a confident declaration:

“I’m going to be the nominee. It’s very hard not to look at the recent polls and think that the odds are very high I’m going to be the nominee.”


Mr. Gingrich’s time at the top of the polls quickly ended after he declared his intent to build a moon colony by 2020. He ended up carrying only one state outside his native Georgia.


9. Michele Bachmann’s Dubious “Mental Retardation” Claim

Michele Bachmann opposes a mandated HPV vaccine, which helps protects young women from cervical cancer. But she went a step too far when she shared an anecdote about a woman on the campaign trail who said her daughter “suffers from mental retardation” as a result of getting the vaccine.

Rep. Bachmann later defended herself by claiming she was just passing along a story without judging it as true. But her dubious medical claim put at risk people who decided to forgo the vaccine as a result of her misinformation.


8. President Obama: “The Private Sector is Doing Fine”

At a press conference in June, President Obama uttered a phrase he came to regret.

While speaking about the economy, he said, “The private sector is doing fine.” By some measurements, that may have been true. But by making such a declarative statement, he handed his opponents a perfect opportunity to paint him as an out-of-touch politician who was disconnected from economic reality.


7.  Herman Cain’s “Rolling Disclosures”

When faced with allegations of sexual harassment last November, Herman Cain responded in the worst possible way: with a series of “rolling disclosures.”

“Rolling disclosures” occur when a spokesperson fails to disclose everything they know from the start, opting instead to drip out information slowly. As a result, every time the spokesperson reveals a new detail—no matter how trivial—new oxygen gets pumped into the story. That approach has the net effect of extending the shelf life of the crisis while diminishing the believability of each new iteration of the story.

Herman Cain’s time at the top of the polls ended due not to the allegations—but his handling of the allegations.


6. Mitt Romney’s $10,000 Bet

When Mitt Romney turned to Republican primary opponent Rick Perry and challenged him to a “$10,000 bet,” he reinforced his image as an out-of-touch rich guy. It wasn’t just his $10,000 bet. He also told one audience that his wife drives two Cadillacs, told another that they should just borrow money from their parents if they’re short of cash, and told a radio host that although he doesn’t watch NASCAR, he’s friends with some team owners.



5. President Obama’s “You Didn’t Build That” and Mitt Romney’s “I Like Being Able to Fire People”

I’m judging both of these as equal gaffes—mostly because both lines were taken out of context by political opponents.

Opponents accused President Obama of saying that small business owners didn’t build their own businesses but that government did. (In reality, he appeared to be saying that business owners didn’t build the roads that led customers to their doors or the Internet they use to conduct business.)

Opponents accused Governor Romney of saying that he liked to fire people. (In reality, he appeared to be saying that he liked being able to cancel policies from bad health insurance companies.)

Regardless, both lines were damaging to both candidates. And it proves that in this media age, you can’t afford to commit the deadly seven-second stray.


4. Herman Cain Draws a Blank on Libya

We’ve all had that terrible moment when we’ve gone completely blank. Unfortunately for Herman Cain, his moment was caught on video. When he was asked why he opposed President Obama’s policy in Libya, let’s just say he struggled to come up with an answer.


3. Mitt Romney’s Secret “47 Percent” Video

At a May fundraiser, Mitt Romney shared his views of President Obama’s voters in a secretly filmed video that was later leaked to the liberal Mother Jones Magazine. In the video, Mr. Romney, said:

“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it….My job is not to worry about those people.”


The video was a disaster for Mr. Romney’s campaign, taking them far off their desired messages just two months before Election Day.


2. President Obama’s First Debate

In terms of sheer political impact, little comes close to President Obama’s lackluster performance in the first presidential debate. As Mitt Romney attacked his record, Mr. Obama responded without any discernible passion, instead making meandering points full of “uhhhs.”

As a result, Governor Romney delivered a humiliating thumping to the President, who sank in the polls almost immediately. If President Obama loses next Tuesday, historians will cite this debate as a major reason why. If he wins, it will be a lot closer than it otherwise could have been.

This media disaster ranks number two for only one reason: This list is intended to look at short media moments, not entire debates. But this debate was just too impactful to ignore.

The video below is an edited compilation of some of Mr. Obama’s many “uhhhs.” It’s emblematic of how hesitant and unfocused he was throughout the debate.


1. Rick Perry’s Infamous “Oops”

During a Republican primary debate in November 2011, Texas Governor Rick Perry confidently declared that he would eliminate three government agencies. Unfortunately for him, he promptly forgot what they were.

For 47 painful seconds, Mr. Perry tried to recall the third agency he would eliminate. He finally gave up, shrugged his shoulders, and lamely said, “oops.” That one moment likely sank any remaining chances Mr. Perry had of winning the nomination. In terms of an immediate and spectacular self-immolation, nothing came even close.


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Obama vs. Romney Debate Scorecard: October 22, 2012

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on October 22, 2012 – 11:32 pm

President Obama got crushed by Governor Romney in the first debate. He arguably won the second debate. And he decisively won tonight’s third and final debate.

The question is whether Mr. Obama’s two narrow debate victories were enough to compensate for the brutal blow in the first one. More on that at the end of this article.

The two men clearly came into tonight’s debate with different strategies. Mr. Romney, who has surged in the polls since the first debate, seemingly came in with two goals: to look like a plausible commander-in-chief, and to appear reasonable and rational in his approach to foreign policy. He accomplished both.

Mr. Obama’s goal was equally evident. Since he’s been sinking in both national and swing state polls, his goal was to go on the offensive and come across as a strong and decisive leader. He, too, achieved his goal.

Photo by Scott Audette of Reuters

There were a few moments that will likely be replayed numerous times on newscasts over the next few days. The first was President Obama’s line about “horses and bayonets.”

That wasn’t the only zinger Mr. Obama came prepared with tonight. Among others, he also said:

“I know you haven’t been in a position to actually execute foreign policy, but every time you’ve offered an opinion, you’ve been wrong.”

“When it comes to our foreign policy, you seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980s, just like the social policies of 1950s and the economic policies of the 1920s.”

“You are familiar with jobs being shipped overseas because you invested in companies that shifted jobs overseas.”

“There have been times, Governor, frankly, where during the course of this campaign, it sounded like you thought that you’d do the same things we did but you’d say ‘em louder, and somehow that would make a difference.”


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Mr. Romney also got off some good lines, including one in which he countered President Obama’s contention that Romney’s foreign policy is straight out of the 1980s because he labeled Russia the number one international threat. Romney’s retort included a sly dig at something President Obama was caught saying on an open mic to Russian President Medvedev earlier this year (video of Obama gaffe: see #4).

But all in all, Mr. Romney’s plan tonight was not to execute a series of good lines. It was to appear thoughtful, sober, and serious—which he largely accomplished.

Mr. Romney also did a nice job tonight of moving the conversation away from foreign policy and back to the domestic economy. This may have been a foreign policy debate, but uncommitted voters in Ohio, New Hampshire, and Colorado are likely more interested in the economy. President Obama also discussed the economy, but Romney spent more time on it.

I always take note of the body language at the beginning of the debate versus the body language later in the debate. President Obama’s body language didn’t change—he appeared supremely confident and relaxed the entire time. Governor Romney’s, on the other hand, got tighter and more strained as the debate continued.

I believe Mr. Romney made a mistake by not responding to a few of Mr. Obama’s attacks, including the one about horses and bayonets and another about the difference between his and Mr. Romney’s trips to Israel (below).

By not responding, Romney allowed the attacks to sit unanswered–giving them additional credibility–since many viewers will conclude that Romney would have countered them if they weren’t true.


I believe that the Obama-Biden team won three of the four debates. But Governor Romney won the first one by the widest margin, and he surged in the polls as a result.

My final conclusion from debate season 2012 is this: The first debate mattered the most and made an indelible impression. Yes, I judged President Obama the winner of the final two debates, albeit by narrower margins. But Mr. Romney’s gains in the polls after the first debate aren’t likely to reverse back to pre-debate levels.

As a result, judged in the aggregate, the Romney-Ryan ticket benefitted more than the Obama-Biden ticket from the combination of all four debates.

Tonight’s Debate Grades: President Obama: A  Governor Romney: B

What do you think? Please add your thoughts to the comments section below.

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A Memorable Message: Mitt Romney’s “Romnesia”

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on October 21, 2012 – 1:41 pm

President Obama debuted a new stump speech late last week in which he accused Mitt Romney of suffering from “Romnesia.”

As Mr. Obama defined it, Romnesia occurs whenever his opponent tries to “forget” the policy positions he held during the primaries in an attempt to appeal to less conservative voters.

I strive to make this blog nonpartisan—so if you’re conservative, my advice is to read why I think this is such an effective political message—and then try to use the same elements when composing a message for candidates and causes you believe in.

Here’s an example:

“I do want to go over some of the symptoms with you. Because I want to make sure no one else catches it. If you say you’re for equal pay for equal work but you keep refusing to say whether you would sign a bill that protects equal pay for equal work, you might have Romnesia.”


In their terrific book, Made to Stick, authors Dan and Chip Heath identified six critical traits that make stories memorable. They were talking about stories, not political attacks. But I was struck by how many of these traits applied to Mr. Obama’s “Romnesia” attack. The Heaths used the acronym “SUCCESs” to summarize those elements (the final “s” doesn’t stand for anything.)

It’s no surprise that the “Romnesia” video went viral so quickly, as it had five of the six “SUCCESs” sticky traits:

1. Simple: President Obama could have just listed a series of items that he believed Mitt Romney has changed his position on. But doing so wouldn’t have been “sticky.” The word “Romnesia” says the same thing—but in a simple and highly memorable way.

2. Unexpected: The term “Romnesia” was unexpected for two reasons. One, because it’s a term we haven’t heard before but that neatly reinforces the President’s long-held contention that Mr. Romney is a shape-shifter. Two, because Mr. Obama has usually ceded this type of evocative language to Republicans (his opponents have done a much better job of using memorable language, such as “death panels,” “ObamaCare,” and “class warfare”).

3. Concrete: Mr. Obama used several specific examples to make his case on issues ranging from equal pay for equal work and contraceptive care to tax and coal policy.

4. Credible: Partisans may disagree on whether or not this attack was credible. But I’d maintain that Mr. Romney’s image as a flip-flopper was originally cemented by his Republican primary opponents, making this attack more credible than a typical partisan attack.

5. Emotional: This video isn’t “emotional” in the sense that it stirs the soul—but it’s “emotional” in the sense that it’s funny. Unlike the President’s first debate (in which he appeared to be sleepwalking), he appeared to be having fun here, as did the crowd.

6. Stories: This is the one “SUCCESs” element that Mr. Obama didn’t include in his presentation. But he added one element the Heath Brothers didn’t include on their list: humor. In this case, the humorous tone of his delivery helped the video go viral, reinforcing an argument the President has been trying to make for months—but with greater impact.

What do you think? Do you agree that this was an effective political attack, or do you have a different view? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Obama vs. Romney Debate Scorecard: October 16, 2012

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on October 16, 2012 – 11:40 pm

The first presidential debate wasn’t even close. As you may remember, Governor Romney crushed President Obama, leading to liberal despair and sinking poll numbers for the President.

The tables turned tonight. Mr. Obama scored a decisive victory over a diminished Mitt Romney.

Now, I know that some people will say I’m falling victim to a predictable media narrative (the champ falls down, only to rise again), but those critics are wrong. I’m not grading on a curve. President Obama won this debate convincingly.

Other people may complain about Candy Crowley’s moderating, the questions chosen to be asked by the crowd, and the disproportionate amount of time given to Mr. Obama. While those complaints have some merit, they didn’t affect the outcome of tonight’s debate. Good debaters can overcome those obstacles.

Photo Credit: AP

The key moment of tonight’s debate—one that will likely be replayed 20 years from now—came during a discussion about the Administration’s handling of the Libyan embassy attack. This was an issue that Mitt Romney should have dominated, as the Obama Administration has been back on its heels when trying to defend its response.

Instead, a resolute Barack Obama stared at Mitt Romney, pointed his finger, and said:

“The suggestion that anybody on my team—the Secretary of State, our UN Ambassador, anybody on my team would play politics or mislead when we’ve lost four of our own—is offensive. That’s not what we do. That’s not what I do as President. That’s not what I do as Commander in Chief.”


When Mitt Romney tried to respond, he appeared to get one of his facts wrong. Moderator Candy Crowley corrected Mr. Romney, leading to the night’s only spontaneous applause from the audience. That appeared to fluster Mr. Romney so much that he actually turned to Mr. Obama for help in clarifying the record (the President, as one would expect, didn’t help him).

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That exchange was emblematic of much of the debate, during which Mr. Obama appeared confident and aggressive while Mr. Romney appeared somewhat defensive and occasionally annoyed. By my count, Mr. Obama said some version of “that isn’t true” seven times, challenging Mr. Romney in a tone that was nowhere to be found in the first debate.

Mr. Romney had at least two other bad moments.

First, during a question about pay inequality, Mr. Obama began his answer by discussing his own grandmother. Mr. Romney began his answer by discussing his time as an executive, when, as a result of his instruction, subordinates brought him “binders full of women” to consider for a job. Romney’s bureaucratic answer looked small next to Obama’s personal one.

Second, during his final answer, he opened the door to a “47 percent” attack by emphasizing his concern for 100 percent of the American people. That may have been a strategic choice to attempt to preemptively neutralize that attack; it may also have been necessary. But it didn’t work and only served to remind people of his original hidden video.

Still, Mr. Romney had several good moments. He offered a good response about gas prices and trade with China; he also delivered a convincing indictment of the President’s failures over the past four years.

The President wasn’t perfect tonight. While answering a question about women’s pay inequality—which should have been a slam dunk—Mr. Obama lost some of his more important points with a meandering answer. And he was on the verge of overplaying his hand by interrupting Mr. Romney and the moderator, and bordered on smug a couple of times, apparently aware that he was winning this round.

But all in all, this was the President’s night. In my pre-debate post, I mentioned three things Mr. Obama would have to do in this debate: bring his passion, draw a strong contrast, and avoid burying his most important messages. He did all three.

The score is now 1-1. Next Monday’s debate will break the tie.

Grades: President Obama: A-  Mitt Romney: C+

What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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What President Obama Needs To Do Tonight

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on October 16, 2012 – 5:52 am

President Obama is perilously close to snatching defeat from the jaws of victory and losing his bid for re-election.

Although I try to refrain from overstatement on this blog, I truly believe that tonight’s debate, the second, is a make or break moment for the President. If he bombs again tonight, I believe odds are good that we’ll see Mitt Romney sworn in as the 45th President of the United States on January 20, 2013.

Those are shocking statements considering that Mr. Obama looked like a sure bet just two weeks ago. But that was before he delivered one of the least inspired performances in the history of televised presidential debates and squandered his significant electoral lead.

Photo credit: Michael Reynolds of Getty Images

How bad was President Obama’s debate performance?

  • The Real Clear Politics “poll of polls” showed President Obama up nationally by 3.1 percent on the morning of the debate. Mitt Romney now leads by 0.1 percent.
  • State polls show a similar story, with states that looked solid for President Obama—including Ohio, New Hampshire, Virginia, Nevada, and Colorado—suddenly in play for Governor Romney.
  • Since October 7th, New York Times polling expert Nate Silver has downgraded President Obama’s chances of winning the election from 78 percent to 63 percent (update: it’s now back up to 66 percent).

Since this is a media training and strategy blog, I wanted to engage in a bit of a thought experiment. Here is the question this post will answer:

If I was the President’s media trainer, what are the three most important things I would I tell him going into tonight’s debate?

1. Bring Your Passion

Mr. President, it looked like you phoned in the first debate. I’ve heard that you view these debates as unserious and substance-free. You may be right that these debates contain a fair dose of show business. But it doesn’t matter. Mitt Romney didn’t have a problem using this constricting and superficial format to score some points—and you squandered your opportunity to also do so.

Two weeks ago, you gave tens of millions of Americans the impression that you were tired, listless, and out of ideas. Your closing statement lacked energy and looked unpolished compared to Mr. Romney’s (see video below). Tonight, you must look like you want to be there—and that you have a positive and uplifting vision for a second term.

2. Draw a Strong Contrast

Take a cue from your Vice President. At last week’s debate, Joe Biden continuously interrupted Rep. Paul Ryan to take issue with his points. Many people think he went too far in terms of his dismissive tone (he also got some of his facts wrong). Whether or not he crossed a line is subjective. But his instincts were right.

Mr. President, you must draw a contrast with Mr. Romney. If he tries to run as “Moderate Mitt,” as he did in the first debate, you have to point to his conflicting statements from his time running as a “severe conservative” during the primary. Channel Bill Clinton from the Democratic National Convention, who effectively drew clear contrasts in simple terms.

You’re famously conflict-averse. But you have to kill that trait for 90 minutes tonight, look Mr. Romney in the eye (instead of down, as you did during most of the last debate), and challenge his statements with a sense of strength and conviction.

3. Don’t Bury Your Messages

During the first debate, you spoke in meandering sentences. You must have said “uhhh” more than 100 times, which also made you sound hesitant and unsure (this exercise will help you eliminate that verbal filler).

You need to verbally separate your most important sound bites from the words that immediately precede and follow them. You can do that by giving your sound bites a vocal emphasis—preferably by speeding up and getting louder—that make them jump off the screen and into living rooms. And you need to make them 140 characters or shorter so your most important lines can be tweeted around, reprinted as newspaper headlines, and played all day tomorrow on cable news. Otherwise, your most important messages will simply get lost again.

P.S. If you’re wondering why I didn’t mention what Mitt Romney has to do in tonight’s debate, it’s because it would have been a short post: “More of the same.”

I’ll post my scorecard of tonight’s debate by midnight eastern, which will include my grades for President Obama and Governor Romney.

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  • About Mr. Media Training

    The Mr. Media Training Blog offers daily tips to help readers become better media spokespersons and public speakers. It also examines how well (or poorly) public figures are communicating through the media.

    Brad Phillips is the Founder and Managing Editor of the Mr. Media Training Blog. He is the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm with offices in NYC and DC.

    Brad Phillips

    Before founding Phillips Media Relations in 2004, Brad worked as a journalist with ABC's Nightline with Ted Koppel and CNN's Reliable Sources and The Capital Gang.

    Brad tweets at @MrMediaTraining.

    Christina Mozaffari is the Senior Writer for the Mr. Media Training Blog. She is the Washington, D.C. vice president for Phillips Media Relations.

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    Before joining Phillips Media Relations in 2011, Christina worked as a journalist with NBC News, where she produced stories for MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, NBC Nightly News, and The Today Show.

    Christina tweets at @PMRChristina.

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