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!

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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 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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Joe Biden vs. Paul Ryan Debate Scorecard: Oct 11, 2012

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on October 11, 2012 – 11:42 pm

During tonight’s vice presidential debate, Vice President Biden repeatedly laughed at inappropriate moments. He continually interrupted both his opponent and the moderator. He looked a little too angry for his own good at certain moments. His tone vacillated wildly.

And he won the debate.

If Mr. Biden’s job in this debate was to staunch the bleeding caused by President Obama’s phoned-in performance at last week’s presidential debate, he succeeded. In contrast, Congressman Ryan—who was more consistent in tone throughout the debate—too often appeared rehearsed, flat, and junior.

I suspect many readers will disagree with my conclusion. And they have some reasonable ammunition with which to disagree.

Dissenting readers will likely point to Mr. Biden’s demeanor. And they’d be right that four different Bidens showed up for the debate. First, the Biden who smiled and laughed at forced and inopportune moments; second, the Biden who repeatedly interrupted; third, the Biden who became heated and angry; and fourth, the Biden who was quiet and reflective.

Watching Biden’s performance was a bit like watching Showtime’s “United States of Tara.”

Despite all of that, Mr. Biden was simply more effective at controlling the debate, challenging his opponent’s premises, and delivering memorable messages. Unlike the president he serves, Mr. Biden confronted Ryan directly throughout the debate, memorably saying, “Stop talking about how you care about people. Show me something. Show me a policy.”

Even more importantly, Biden forged a warmer and more emotional personal connection with viewers, particularly when addressing seniors regarding Medicare by looking directly into the camera.

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If Mr. Biden’s job tonight was to change the media narrative, Mr. Ryan’s was to prove that he’s ready for the vice presidency while holding the ground Republicans have gained over the past week. He met that challenge tonight, but didn’t exceed it. My guess is that his performance will be almost completely forgotten by next week.

Watching these debates is a bit of a Rorschach test, in which viewers see what they’re conditioned to see. What I saw in Mr. Ryan was a serious student who had studied his materials well but who had tried a bit too hard to memorize his lines—and who lost some of his authenticity as a result. With the exception of a couple of well-delivered anecdotes (particularly on his 2002 trip to Afghanistan), he came across as rather academic.

And Ryan came dangerously close to Dan Quayle territory when he referenced John F. Kennedy. “Now you’re Jack Kennedy?” an incredulous Joe Biden asked.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Still, Mr. Ryan had several good moments. He delivered a strong closing statement about the national debt, and did a credible job of discussing Afghanistan later in the debate. One highlight came when Ryan turned to Biden and said: “With respect to that quote [Mitt Romney’s infamous 47 percent comment], I think the Vice President knows that sometimes the words don’t come out of your mouth in the right way.” Unfortunately for Mr. Ryan, Biden had the perfect retort: “But I always say what I mean, and so does Romney.”

There were two other moments worth noting. First, Mr. Ryan took a deep breath in before answering a question about the availability of abortion in America under a Romney-Ryan administration. That may hurt with pro-choice voters who occasionally swing right. Second, Joe Biden chose to label Paul Ryan “my friend” 13 times during the debate, which became an insincere distraction.

Overall, Joe Biden displayed all of the passion for his job that Democrats wish President Obama had last week. And Paul Ryan held his own, even if his performance is likely to disappear into the political ether within days.

Grades: Joe Biden: B+  Paul Ryan: B-

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

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Mitt Romney’s Secret Video: 5 Reasons It Hurts

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on September 17, 2012 – 5:07 pm

In 2008, candidate Barack Obama had to contend with a media firestorm when comments he made at a San Francisco fundraiser were covertly recorded and released to the public:

“People have been beaten down so long, they feel so betrayed by their government…it’s not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them.”


Today, Mitt Romney may be facing his “cling to guns” moment.

In an exclusive video released by Mother Jones Magazine, a liberal publication, Governor Romney is seen at a fundraiser—reportedly after he clinched the Republican nomination—sharing his view of Obama voters:

“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. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…My job is is not to worry about those people.”


Later, he reportedly said:

“There is a perception, ‘Oh, we were born with a silver spoon, he never had to earn anything and so forth.’ Frankly, I was born with a silver spoon, which is the greatest gift you can have: which is to get born in America.”


I’ll deal with the second quote first. The fact is that Mitt Romney is right—being born an American offers enormous advantages over people born in many other parts of the world.

But he should have known better than to ever utter such a phrase—something I refer to as a “seven-second stray”—since it would so predictably be used against him. That’s true even for “closed door” meetings, since candidates have little control over a rogue attendee who might secretly film unhelpful comments using their mini smartphone cameras. And given how the late Texas Governor Ann Richards used the “silver spoon” line so viciously against George H.W. Bush in 1988 (“silver foot,” actually) you’d think Romney would have learned his lesson.

But the first part of the quote is entirely in context. For Mr. Romney, his covert tape presents at least five problems:

  1. 1. Some of his support surely comes from people who don’t pay income taxes—a group he is now at risk of alienating.
  2. 2. It undermines his pitch that he, more than President Obama, is well-positioned to care for the middle class.
  3. 3. It will encourage other discouraged conservatives to question the effectiveness of his campaign (some conservative stalwarts have publicly castigated his campaign over the past few days), and will extend the “Romney can’t win” storyline.
  4. 4. The very nature of the covertly recorded video will support the narrative that he speaks one way in private and another way in public.
  5. 5. He appears to be saying that he disagrees that people should be entitled to “food,” and that he doesn’t worry about people who can’t earn it for themselves.

I’m curious to see how the Romney campaign responds to this latest off-message moment. I suspect they’ll start by attacking the mainstream media, but my hunch is that they’ll need something better to get past this latest embarrassment.

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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.

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    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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