Posts Tagged ‘political analysis’
This morning, Anthony Weiner’s attempt at a comeback began with a high-profile cover story in The New York Times Magazine.
It’s a fascinating story worth a full read, but one line in the lengthy article is garnering the most attention: “At breakfast, Weiner quickly put all the speculation to rest: he is eyeing the [New York City] mayor’s race.”
Personally, I don’t believe that Mr. Weiner has any place in public life. Not only did he exercise ludicrous judgment by sending lewd texts to strangers—but his deeds came with a hefty price, turning a reliably Democratic district red (his district voted for a Republican to replace him; the district turned blue again earlier this year).
Regardless of my personal feelings about Mr. Weiner, my goal in this post is to analyze the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of his first detailed public confessional from a PR perspective.
Let’s start with the good. In some ways, Mr. Weiner appears to “get it” and displays remorse—particularly regarding how his behavior affected his wife, Huma Abedin (a top aide to Hillary Clinton). The reporter noted two times when Weiner cried during the interview; in once incident, she recounted:
“He paused and took a deep breath and started to cry. ‘She’s given. . . .’ He stopped again, could barely get the words out. ‘She’s given me another chance. And I am very grateful for that. And I’m trying to make sure I get it right.’
Weiner says he’s been in therapy since resigning his post, and he seems to be making a real effort at both understanding and modifying his behavior.
He also benefits from his wife’s forgiveness. Unlike other spurned political wives who have famously stood by their men at press conferences during their moments of humiliation, Ms. Abedin didn’t. But she willingly participated in this interview, titled “Anthony Weiner and Huma Abedin’s Post-Scandal Playbook.” If they didn’t look like a solid team two years ago, they sure do now.
But in many other ways, Weiner strikes me as a man who is still very much in the process of trying to figure things out—and who still has a long way to go.
I’ve been right in making those types of judgments about Weiner before. On June 2, 2011—in the early days of the Weiner scandal—I wrote on this blog, “I can’t shake the feeling that his actions are consistent with those of a man who doesn’t want his wife to learn what he’s been up to.” In this interview, Weiner confirmed my analysis, saying, “I lied to her. The lies to everyone else were primarily because I wanted to keep it from her.”
Weiner blames his reckless behavior on his need to be liked, saying:
“’There just wasn’t much of me who was smart enough, sensitive enough, in touch with my own things, understanding enough about the disrespect and how dishonorable it was to be doing that. It didn’t seem to occupy a real space in my feelings…‘I wasn’t really thinking. What does this mean that I’m doing this? Is this risky behavior? Is this smart behavior? To me, it was just another way to feed this notion that I want to be liked and admired.’”
That quote, in addition to others, leaves me with the inescapable conclusion that he’s still trying to figure it all out. On a human level, that’s appropriate, and I respect that he’s doing some hard work in therapy. But on a political level, that’s just not good enough. Until he can more accurately diagnose and account for his own motivations, he’s not ready to be entrusted with the second act the public so often grants to politicians.
Plus, there’s this “pass the buck” gem, about Twitter:
“If it wasn’t 2011 and it didn’t exist, it’s not like I would have gone out cruising bars or something like that. It was just something that technology made possible and it became possible for me to do stupid things. I mean, the thing I did, and the damage that I did, not only hadn’t it been done before, but it wasn’t possible to do it before.”
So without Twitter, his reckless behavior wouldn’t have emerged in other ways? Unlikely.
Then again, a potential run for NYC mayor may not be about trying to win the race. As one pundit said:
“Is this about winning?” asks the political adviser. “Or is this an attempt to get the scandal off the books? Then the next time he runs for something, he can say: ‘You know what? We talked about that last time. Aren’t we beyond that?’
And that might be the most brilliant PR strategy of all.
What do you think? Can Anthony Weiner’s political career be resurrected? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
Tags: Anthony Weiner, crisis communications, political analysis
Posted in Crisis Communications | 3 Comments »
I’ve spent the past two years following politics more closely than most other people.
I’ve watched and written about every Republican primary debate (20 in all), both political conventions, and the three presidential debates. I’ve read hundreds of polls. I’ve spent hundreds of hours on Twitter following the latest political news and gossip shared by Washington reporters.
And after investing all of those hours in the 2012 election, I’m left with one unanswered question: Are the political press making life impossible for political candidates by demanding two almost completely incompatible traits?
On one hand, the political press reward authenticity, knocking candidates who don’t live up to their standards of “authentic.” They mocked Mitt Romney’s awkward attempts at playing the common man, such as when he told a group of unemployed voters that he, too, was unemployed. In earlier elections, they scoffed as John Edwards, an advocate for people in poverty, paid $400 for a haircut, just as they laughed at the patrician John Kerry for going duck hunting shortly before the 2004 election.
Politicians viewed as more authentic, meanwhile, make the political press swoon. Think about the fawning coverage John McCain earned during his first presidential run in 2000 while speaking to reporters on his bus, “The Straight Talk Express.” Or the admiring coverage the self-possessed Barack Obama received in 2008.
But on the other hand, the political press spills barrels of ink on every “gaffe” committed by a politician or candidate. I’m not talking here about a particularly stupid remark that deservedly ends a political career (think “legitimate rape” or “Macaca”), but the types of gaffes (“I like being able to fire people,” “If you have a business, you didn’t build that”) that receive days’ worth of coverage, knocking the candidates who say them badly off script.
So which is it? Do the press want candidates to be authentic, meaning that candidates will be more “real” but occasionally imprecise, or do they place a higher value on candidates who avoid gaffes, even if it means they appear more scripted?
Whether it’s reasonable or not, they clearly want both. And as a result, that means that candidates have to perform a high-wire act that few human beings—never mind politicians—can live up to.
Think it’s easy? Imagine trying to be truly yourself while discussing policy and having cameras capture every public moment over a two-year period. Do you think you could avoid saying anything embarrassing during that time, when you’re not only stressed but suffering from chronic sleep deprivation?
As a media trainer, I place a high value on authenticity. I wish public figures could live a life without being so constantly on guard. But in a media environment in which a single media moment is all it takes to destroy a career, I’d be committing professional malpractice if I didn’t teach spokespersons how to avoid such gaffes.
Oftentimes, that means they need to show a little less of themselves and stick to their talking points.
And that’s a shame for all of us.
This post originally ran on the Politix website. Brad Phillips is author of the forthcoming book The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview.
Tags: political analysis
Posted in Political Analysis | Please Comment »
Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post was written by Ben Donahower, an experienced campaign operative and award-winning Toastmaster.
Politicians – and their campaigns – too often overlook their audiences. But campaigns that strategically think about to whom the candidate is speaking, and when, get the most value out of political speeches. So how should candidates plan their speeches throughout a campaign?
The best game plan for political speeches follows the campaign plan. Winning campaign plans start with voter outreach among likely supporters, transition to neutral voters, and finally return to the candidate’s base.
Political speeches should follow the same pattern because they reinforce campaign phone banks and canvasses and because it’s a formula for giving the right speech, at the right time, when the candidate has the right skills.
THE RIGHT SPEECH
A persuasive speech takes time. Candidates can use friendly audiences as a proving ground for introductions, key points, conclusions, and more subtle elements of a stump speech. A candidate’s base is a forgiving audience, so it’s a perfect group to experiment on without fear of the political consequences.
AT THE RIGHT TIME
Timing is critical on a political campaign. Campaigns should use early speeches to define the candidate and the opponent, and to detail the policies that the candidate will focus on or implement when elected. Unlike the persuasive speeches given to undecided voters over the course of most of the campaign, these early speeches are best suited for voters sympathetic to the cause. As Election Day approaches, the message on the stump changes to getting out the vote. Who is the candidate speaking to when the message is to show up at the polls on Election Day? Supporters, of course!
THE RIGHT SPEAKING SKILLS
Public speaking skills come with practice, and practice comes in two forms: preparation and delivery. This audience strategy helps reinforce public speaking skills like these: Brevity: All other things being equal, a short speech is better than a long speech. Candidates are often speaking at events where they are one of many speakers. In these cases, it’s especially important to be respectful of the time allotted and voters will thank you for it! Speech speed: Early political speeches from candidates usually have a dangerous combination of nervousness and enthusiasm, which manifests itself in very fast speeches. These tips on handling a fear of public speaking will help slow candidates down and so will practicing pauses. The most important the point, the longer the pause. Storytelling: The single most important technique to engage the audience in a stump speech is to tell a story, especially about an individual. Stories are incredibly persuasive without having to speak in terms that alienate people, they are memorable, and they imply more than the sum of the words.
THE AUDIENCE STRATEGY THAT WORKS
Finally, if there is one thing that can throw a wrench in a speech, it’s nerves. Speech-destroying nervousness is relative to the size and type of the audience. Sequentially speaking to supporters, then undecideds, and back to supporters prepares candidates for gradually more nerve racking audiences while complementing the field plan and other moving parts of the campaign.
Ben Donahower is an experienced campaign operative and award-winning Toastmaster. Connect with Ben on his website, Campaign Trail Yard Signs.
Tags: Ben Donahower, guest posts, political analysis
Posted in Reader Submissions | 1 Comment »
Rep. Rick Berg, a candidate for North Dakota’s open Senate seat, was recently asked a straightforward question: “What’s the state’s minimum wage?” He didn’t know the answer – and he’s far from alone.
The Huffington Post points out that four candidates at a recent Senate debate in Missouri also didn’t know the minimum wage. And that’s surprising, considering that this is a perennial question that trips up candidates in virtually every election cycle.
So today, I’m offering all campaigns and candidates a free prep sheet to help them avoid these obvious errors.
Here are ten questions you should be prepared to answer during your race:
1. What’s the Minimum Wage? The federal minimum wage is $7.25. Some states are higher. The full list is here. Candidates should also be able to answer similar questions about their state’s unemployment and home foreclosure rates. Here’s Rep. Berg’s attempt at answering the minimum wage question:
2. What’s the Price of Milk? Reporters ask these types of questions to gauge how much a candidate understands the struggles of “real” Americans. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a gallon costs $3.50. (A handy list of other product costs is here.)
3. What’s the Price of Bread? The average price of a loaf of white bread is $1.40.
4. How Much Is a Gallon Of Gas? The national average for a gallon of unleaded regular gas is $3.87. That’s up from $3.55 last year, $2.78 in 2010, and $1.95 in 2009. Candidates can accurately say that the price has doubled in the past three years. Also know your state/local gas price averages.
5. Why Do You Want to Be a Congressman/Senator/Governor? You’d be surprised how many people blow this simple question. In fact, that very question derailed Ted Kennedy’s presidential bid in 1980.
6. What Mistake(s) Have You Made, And What Have You Learned From It (Them)? This question is sometimes intended as a “gotcha,” but can be a perfect opportunity for candidates to explain a position change.
7. Who Is Your Favorite Supreme Court Justice of All Time, and Why? Candidates should also be able to name a decision they agreed with and one they disagreed with. In recent years, these types of questions have tripped up both Christine O’Donnell and Sarah Palin.
8. When Is The Last Time The (Local Sports Team) Won The Championship/Pennant/World Series/Stanley Cup? During a Democratic debate for Massachusetts Senate late last year, four candidates, including Elizabeth Warren, couldn’t list the years their beloved Boston Red Sox had won the World Series in this century. Candidates should also have similar answers ready for local college teams, and should be able to name their favorite players, as well.
9. Who Is Your Personal Hero? This is a cliché question which typically elicits cliché answers. But unless Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, or Eleanor Roosevelt are really your personal heroes, try to come up with something more original – and more revealing about who you are and what moves you.
10. What Newspapers Do You Read? After Sarah Palin’s disastrous handling of this question from Katie Couric, other candidates can expect similar questions. Be ready to name your favorite journalists, newspapers, radio stations, news programs, and websites.
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Tags: debate, media training tips, politcs, political analysis
Posted in Media Training Tips | 7 Comments »
President Obama appeared on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon Tuesday night and participated in a recurring bit called “Slow Jamming The News.”
Almost immediately, conservatives began attacking the President’s appearance as un-presidential.
Fox and Friends host Gretchen Carlson, for example, called his appearance “nutso,” and said, “I personally do not agree with the highest office of the land, the most important figure in the world going on these comedy shows. I think it lowers the status of the office.”
Is she right? Do these types of appearances lower the status of the office? First, watch the clip below to decide for yourself whether this skit went too far:
Ms. Carlson is right that this is all very new: President Obama is the first U.S. president to appear on a late night television comedy program during his presidency. But late night appearances are almost de rigueur for presidential or vice presidential candidates these days – and have been for more than a half-century. Here are seven examples of candidate appearances on comedy programs:
June 16, 1960: Senator John F. Kennedy appears on Jack Parr’s Tonight Show:
1968: Richard Nixon delivers a signature line on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In:
March 13, 1975: Ronald Reagan appears on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson (although he was not a candidate at the time, he announced his candidacy for the 1976 race months later)
1992: Bill Clinton plays sax on The Arsenio Hall Show:
2000: George W. Bush delivers a Top Ten list on Late Night with David Letterman:
2008: Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin raps on Saturday Night Live (presidential nominees Barack Obama and John McCain also appeared on different episodes)
March 2012: Mitt Romney appears on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno:
Candidates regularly appear on late night comedy shows to display their “human” sides and to appeal to younger voters. It’s often a smart political decision, since many independent voters base their decisions primarily on personal factors, not policy or ideological ones.
Ms. Carlson’s angst may be legitimate, and it’s fair to argue that the President should uphold a certain level of dignity. But I couldn’t find any evidence that Ms. Carlson spoke out against Mr. McCain’s or Ms. Palin’s appearances on Saturday Night Live in 2008. In fact, her weekend counterparts at the time called Sarah Palin’s appearance on the show – the one in which she “raised the roof” during a ludicrous rap – “hilarious,” “great,” and “clever.”
Is Carlson’s line really that it’s fine for a Republican or Democratic nominee to appear on these shows, but not the sitting president? It’s her right to believe that, but I see it as a distinction without a difference. If anything, it seems to me that a presidential aspirant has to work harder to be seen as presidential than the incumbent.
The debate, therefore, is somewhat predictable, with pundits on both sides playing a set role and performing set lines, as if on cue. Appearances on late night comedy programs are good if the pundit likes the candidate, and bad if they don’t.
To answer the question posed by this post, President Obama definitely explored new turf in his appearance. But Americans are used to people in power appearing on these shows – candidates Kennedy, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, and Bush (and others) paved the way – and Mr. Obama’s appearance is a logical continuation of that tradition.
An increasingly diffuse audience means that politicians have to use different means to reach their targets. And President Obama was perfectly on message. I think this appearance was on the right side of the line, if only barely. But expect to see a lot more of them from future presidents.
What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
Tags: Bill Clinton, comedy, Fox News Channel, Gretchen Carlson, John F. Kennedy, mitt romney, political analysis, president obama, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Sarah Palin
Posted in President Obama | 5 Comments »
Talk about an awkward debate moment!
Things got a little uncomfortable during a debate in Nebraska last week when one Republican Senate candidate accused another Republican Senate candidate of being “creepy” for following his 14-year-old daughter on Twitter.
Jon Bruning, Nebraska’s attorney general, lashed out at his opponent, Nebraska Treasurer Don Stenberg, for trying to follow his teenage daughter.
Let’s just say that Mr. Stenberg was caught off-guard. Here’s the video:
"Let me ask you this, Don. This Sunday, my daughter walks in, and says, ‘Don Stenberg’s trying to follow me on Twitter.’ My daughter’s 14-years-old. Now you tell me: I’d like to know, why does a 62-year-old man want to follow a 14-year-old girl on Twitter? I’d really like to know. She said, ‘Dad, that’s kind of creepy.’"
In return, Mr. Stenberg said the following:
"Quite honestly, I don’t do my own Twitter. Dan Parsons does it for me. We’ve got thousands and thousands of folks, and as soon as we get done here, I’ll call Dan and make sure that’s taken off. I don’t think it’s appropriate."
That’s not a bad verbal response, but note his body language. His vocal delivery is much less sure than it was in his previous answer, and his post-answer body language reveals obvious anger. It’s hard to tell whether his ire is directed at his opponent or at his aide who requested to follow Bruning’s daughter; either way, his annoyance is obvious.
He lost control of the moment – and as a result, he lost the exchange.
In these situations, maintaining control is critical. Mr. Stenberg’s approach of running toward the charge (“I don’t think it’s appropriate”) was a good one. But he should have delivered that line (or my suggested lines below) with full confidence:
“Jon, I agree with you. Children should not be fodder in political campaigns, and this is the first I’m hearing that one of my campaign aides tried to follow your daughter on Twitter. As soon as this debate ends, I’m going to have a conversation with my staff and make sure nothing like that ever happens again.”
Once he successfully finished running toward the charge, he could have taken the opportunity to counter-attack:
“But you know, Jon, I’m disappointed in you. Instead of speaking to me privately about this, one father to another, you opted to use this situation as an opportunity to score cheap political points. That’s exactly the kind of political stunt voters are sick of, and as far as I’m concerned, you oughta be ashamed of yourself.”
It’s easy to come up with the right responses in hindsight, and Mr. Stenberg’s reaction was entirely human. But he missed a golden opportunity to thwart the attack by turning it against his opponent – and unnecessarily lost the exchange as a result.
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Tags: debate, Don Stenberg, Jon Bruning, political analysis, social media, Twitter
Posted in Crisis Communications | Please Comment »
On February 23, comedian Bill Maher announced that he was giving a one million dollar donation to President Obama’s Super PAC.
Conservatives immediately cried foul, pointing to Maher’s history of making incendiary – and often misogynistic – comments on his HBO show Real Time with Bill Maher and during his stand-up act.
Among other comments, Maher has referred to Sarah Palin as a “cunt,” called Michele Bachmann a “dumb twat,” and asked whether the real name of Bristol Palin’s book should be retitled, “Whoops, There’s a Dick in Me.”
ShePAC, a political action committee that supports conservative women running for office, compiled a few of his more incendiary comments:
Six days after Maher gave his gift, conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh created an even bigger stir when he attacked Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke by labeling her a “slut.”
As liberals protested Limbaugh’s ugly comments, conservatives asked why the left wasn’t similarly outraged that President Obama’s fundraisers accepted a check from Maher, whose comments also disparaged women.
Bill Burton, the head of Obama’s Priorities USA Action SuperPAC, tried to explain why Mahers’ comments were different:
“The notion that there is an equivalence between what a comedian has said over the course of his career and what the de facto leader of the Republican Party said to sexually degrade a woman who led in a political debate of our time, is crazy.”
David Axelrod, President Obama’s campaign senior strategist, took the same approach:
“Words Maher has used in his stand up act are a little bit different than — not excusable in any way — but different than a guy with 23 million radio listeners using his broadcast platform to malign a young woman for speaking her mind in the most inappropriate, grotesque ways."
Both men are trying to dismiss Mahers’ comments as somehow different than Limbaugh’s. And I agree with their assertions that comedians should have more license to push the rhetorical envelope than others in public life, and that Limbaugh’s vicious, days-long attack on Ms. Fluke was more egregious than name calling by a comedian. But the standards of politics, not stand-up comedy, started to apply the moment the President’s SuperPAC accepted Maher’s high-profile, seven-figure gift.
By accepting Maher’s donation, top Obama officials are now forced to spend valuable time parsing the differences between the appropriate and inappropriate uses of misogynistic language, having to explain to voters why calling Sarah Palin a “c*nt” is different than calling Sandra Fluke a “slut.” As a result, the Obama Administration – and more broadly, the Democratic Party – is ceding the moral high ground it temporarily claimed after Limbaugh made his incendiary comments.
It’s fair to ask whether President Obama’s SuperPAC should have accepted the gift from one of the left’s biggest lightning rods in the first place. But Obama’s fundraising arm also got a bit unlucky. It accepted Maher’s gift before Limbaugh made his comments, and it’s easy to imagine they would have rejected the gift in the wake of the Limbaugh scandal.
Now they face a critical choice: return the gift and reoccupy the high ground, or keep the gift and continue to endure charges of acting hypocritically. They should return the gift and take the issue off the table.
Did you miss the 10 worst media disasters of 2011? Click here to catch up!
Did you miss the 10 worst media disasters of 2011? Click here to catch up!
Tags: Bill Burton, Bill Maher, David Axelrod, election 2012, political analysis, president obama
Posted in Election 2012 (Dem) | 77 Comments »
Perhaps you’ve noticed: Mitt Romney is rich.
Really rich. By some estimates, he’s worth as much as $200 million. He brought in a cool $20.9 million last year.
So it’s no surprise that Romney thinks and acts like a rich guy. And his rich guy persona keeps slipping out, seemingly accidentally, since each slip takes his campaign “severely” off message. He tells audiences that he “likes being able to fire people,” informs interviewers that he’s “not concerned about the very poor,” casually makes $10,000 bets, dismisses his $374,000 in speaking fee income as “not very much,” brags about putting his political opponents into debt, claims that while he’s not an ardent NASCAR fan he has “some friends who are NASCAR team owners,” and stays in the ritziest hotels while on the campaign trail.
I know, it sounds like I‘m begrudging Mr. Romney his success. I’m not. He figured out a legal way to make a lot of money, went after it, and succeeded.
But his condescending attempts to present himself as a “man of the people” have bordered on pathetic. He recently told one audience that, “there were a couple of times I wondered whether I was going to get a pink slip,” and told another, “I’m also unemployed.” He claimed that he lives on the “real streets of America” (many real streets, actually, each with a multi-million dollar home). And he tried to establish his “Buy American” bona fides last week by saying that his wife Ann “drives a couple of Cadillacs.”
As a result, Mr. Romney finds himself in the worst of two worlds. On one hand, he’s a rich guy whose privileged life keeps slipping out through obliviously tone-deaf gaffes. On the other hand, he’s pretending to be a populist who personally relates to the financial struggles of ordinary Americans.
I understand why Mr. Romney’s advisers didn’t want him to run as a “rich guy” candidate. With income inequality at record-high levels and Romney’s image as a corporate raider, his wealth could easily be viewed as a campaign-killing liability. But Mr. Romney’s chronic gaffes have rendered that strategy impossible. It’s time for Romney to start running as the person he really is: a rich guy.
“Rich guy” candidates often win. Jon Corzine served as both Senator and Governor from New Jersey, and Michael Bloomberg is serving his third term as New York City mayor. And although he didn’t win, billionaire Ross Perot led the polls during his 1992 presidential run. But all three candidates used their wealth as a positive talking point, convincing voters that their wealth allowed them to serve without being compromised. Mr. Romney hasn’t sold himself on a similar promise.
Instead of hiding from his wealth, Mr. Romney should start explaining why his wealth will help the American people. His accumulation of wealth has exposed for him both the opportunities that the system affords ordinary Americans, as well as the abusive loopholes that should be closed. That knowledge, deployed properly, could be of great value to the American people.
Since the beginning of the 24/7 media age in 1980, there have been eight general elections. The candidate who has been perceived as being the most comfortable in his own skin has won all eight. Mr. Romney should stop presenting himself as what he thinks the public wants to see from him, and should start being himself. That means we’d see an unabashed rich guy. And as long as he sells that as a positive, it would be a step in the right direction for his campaign.
What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
Tags: election 2012, gop, mitt romney, political analysis
Posted in Election 2012 (GOP) | 9 Comments »