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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Scorecard: January 16, 2012 Republican Debate

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on January 16, 2012 – 11:46 pm

I know, I know. The Republican race is over, so why am I still covering these debates?

Well, although Mitt Romney will probably be the Republican nominee, he hasn’t earned the nomination quite yet. And it’s important to place this nominating race in a historical context:

  • In 2008, Barack Obama was “definitely” going to be the nominee after his Iowa win – until Hillary Clinton won the New Hampshire primary and complicated his path to the nomination for months.
  • In 1984, Walter Mondale (who eventually won the Democratic nomination), won the Iowa caucus before losing seven of the next ten primaries to Gary Hart.
  • In 1968, Ronald Reagan earned the most votes in the Republican primaries but didn’t win the most delegates, allowing Richard Nixon to become the party’s nominee.

My point? Weird things happen in politics, so it’s still just a bit too early to declare Mitt Romney the winner.

Here are tonight’s grades in order of best to worst:

NEWT GINGRICH (1st Place, Grade: A)

Recent polling shows Gov. Mitt Romney pulling away in South Carolina (which votes this Saturday), with Speaker Gingrich in a strong second place.

With time running out on his chances, Mr. Gingrich made the most of tonight’s debate. He had the single most dramatic and memorable exchange of this election cycle, during which he defended his attacks on President Obama as a “food stamp president.”

The moment occurred when moderator Juan Williams accused Speaker Gingrich of racial insensitivity – but instead of backing down, Mr. Gingrich doubled down. The strength of his reply – which led to a standing ovation – evoked President Reagan’s infamous 1980 “I paid for this microphone!” moment.

Mr. Gingrich’s response gets stronger as it goes on – it’s worth watching the complete clip as a memorable example of political rhetoric:

Mr. Gingrich looked weak when he went after Mr. Romney on his Super PAC’s incorrect ads; Romney confronted him by asking what he could do differently, and Gingrich admitted there was nothing else Romney could do.

But that didn’t matter. Mr. Gingrich won the night in a performance that is likely to play very well with South Carolina Republicans.

RICK SANTORUM (2nd Place, Grade: B)

Sen. Santorum remains an eager and effective attack dog.

In one notable exchange tonight, he put Mitt Romney on the defensive regarding whether or not felons should be able to vote once they paid their time (Santorum said yes). Romney’s Super PAC had attacked Santorum’s views on the issue, but Santorum attacked hard, backing Romney into a corner which had him fecklessly stumbling for the right answer.

He also put Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich on the defensive about their unambitious plans to curb entitlement spending.

Unfortunately for Mr. Santorum, Speaker Gingrich emerged as the conservative star tonight, likely diminishing his shrinking chances for an unexpected South Carolina victory even further.

RICK PERRY (3rd Place, Grade: B-)

Gov. Perry earned the second most enthusiastic applause from the local crowd tonight when he proclaimed that, “South Carolina is at war with the Federal Government.” He attacked the Obama Administration for going after South Carolina on right-to-work issues, and said it had declared “war on religion.”

Mr. Perry also scored pointed when he challenged Gov. Romney to release his income taxes, saying, “We cannot fire our nominee in September. We need to know now.” Mr. Romney limply replied with a non-committal and overly-cautious “maybe.”

The problem for Rick Perry is that this relatively good performance is too little, too late. He, like Rick Santorum, suffered from being outshined by Speaker Gingrich tonight, and as a result, Perry will likely have little impact on the remainder of this nominating contest.

MITT ROMNEY (4th Place, Grade: C-)

Mitt Romney started strong tonight, deflecting a few early attacks with agility and ease. His game plan coming into the debate was clearly to appear magnanimous. But when his opponents began attacking him – and most of them did – he began to look increasingly agitated, like a man who didn’t have any place to duck.

That’s not to say he didn’t try to duck:

  • He refused to commit to releasing his tax returns, suggesting he might release them in April but that “time will tell.”
  • When confronted by Rick Santorum about his views on whether or not felons who served their time should be allowed to vote again, he stalled for time, clearly calculating what the correct answer should be.
  • When asked if he’s hunted since he famously claimed he hunted “small varmints” in 2007, he said he had recently been moose hunting. The he corrected himself and said he had been elk hunting. 

Gov. Romney is still in the pole position, both in South Carolina and nationally. But just as Bill Clinton became known as “Slick Willie,” he’s at risk of becoming “Slick Mittie.”  He can’t continue answering every question by transitioning to a vague but patriotic-sounding and platitudinous talking point, and he should stop trying to “out-bellicose” Newt Gingrich – it ain’t going to happen. 

Finally, he had a curious moment when he proclaimed that “McCain-Feingold is a disaster.” Funny that the legislation didn’t seem to bother him when he proudly accepted John McCain’s in-person endorsement earlier this month. Overall, a lousy performance that could hurt his vote totals on Saturday.

RON PAUL (5th Place, Grade: D+)

What happened to Ron Paul tonight?

He started the debate strong, blasting one moderator’s question by saying, “Your question suggests that you’re very confused about my position.” He continued by giving a solid answer on the difference between defense spending and military spending, offering an effective analogy that, “The embassy in Baghdad is bigger than the Vatican.”

But Dr. Paul was awful during the rest of the debate, giving long and winding answers that lacked both energy and a central thesis. Overall, a bad night that may cost him a few votes in South Carolina, and one of his worst performances of this election cycle.

COMMENTS? Do you agree or disagree with my analysis? Please leave your opinion in the comment section below, but remember the blog’s comment policy – no ad hominem attacks or pejorative name-calling will be posted.

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Is Your Blinking Sending The Wrong Message?

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on January 12, 2012 – 6:23 am

What does it say about you if you blink too much?

Is excessive blinking a sure sign that you’re nervous, uncomfortable, even a liar? And do you even know whether you’re guilty of too many blinks?

A post on the Smart Politics website this week analyzed the blinking rates of the Republican candidates, finding that Rick Santorum blinked almost twice as much as anyone else in a recent debate – a whopping 61.4 times per minute. In contrast, Rick Perry blinked the least, just 15.9 times per minute. The analysis concluded that:

“Potential voters are no doubt more at ease with a candidate who looks them straight in the eyes and does not pepper their speech with repetitive non-verbal tics.”


The author’s conclusion is undermined by the fact that Mr. Santorum beat Mr. Perry in both Iowa and New Hampshire. Despite that, his conclusion may still be correct.

But – and there’s a big but here – no matter how people perceive the meaning of excessive blinking, the opposite may actually be true. Liars, aware of the risks of avoiding eye contact, usually maintain eye contact longer than non-liars while they’re lying.

According to the Journal of Non-Verbal Behavior and reported by The Telegraph:

“Liars blink less frequently than normal during the lie, and then speed up to around eight times faster than usual afterwards.”


And according to Body Language for Dummies:

"”Under normal conditions, the blinking rate is between six and eight blinks per minute. This can increase by four or five times when you’re feeling pressure….Sometimes a high blinking rate doesn’t mean anything other than that a person is under pressure, [but] when people lie, their energy increases, and when concocting an answer to a difficult question their thinking process speeds up.”


So what can you do if you’re an over-blinker? First, you may have an underlying medical condition that can cause excessive blinking, anything from dry eyes to Tourette’s syndrome. But assuming you don’t have a physical condition leading to excessive blinking (in which case medical treatments might help), what should you do if you blink too much?

I haven’t found any silver bullets to this challenge other than practicing your delivery while focusing on maintaining steadier eye contact. I’ve found that awareness itself can help modify the behavior, but it usually requires time and practice for it to become more natural.

Finally, reducing your fear of public speaking may reduce your stress level – which, in turn, may reduce your blinking. Some of these relaxation techniques may help.

I’d like to ask readers to weigh in – how can a speaker reduce excessive blinking? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

h/t Political Wire

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Scorecard: January 8 2012 Republican Debate

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on January 8, 2012 – 11:39 am

Instead of enjoying my typical Sunday morning ritual of sipping a warm cup of coffee, listening to Miles Davis and reading the paper, I was instead assaulted by politicians on my TV screen calling one another “liars.”

It will be interesting to see how New Hampshire’s voters react to the Sunday morning assault – will they punish the more hostile candidates and reward the more respectful ones?

Here are this morning’s grades in order of best to worst:


JON HUNTSMAN (1st Place, Grade: A)

What a difference a day makes.

This was Gov. Huntsman’s best debate of this cycle, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

He came across as serious, mature and tough, wisely adopting the uplifting rhetoric Americans demand from their leaders:

“I’ve heard a lot of obfuscating up here, the blame game…you know what the people of this country are waiting for? They want a leader who’s going to unify.”


Responding to an attack from Mitt Romney during last night’s debate about accepting an ambassadorship to China from President Obama, he sharply said:

“I was criticized last night by Gov. Romney for putting my country first…he criticized me while he was out raising money.”


I wouldn’t be surprised if Mr. Huntsman picks up a few votes between now and Tuesday as a result of his strong performance. But if this ends up as his last debate of this election cycle, he should be proud of his final performance. 


NEWT GINGRICH (2nd Place, Grade: B)

The “old” Newt was back for most of this morning: quick-witted, quick to castigate the media, and quick to scold his opponents.

After Mitt Romney tried to make a virtue out of leaving his post as Massachusetts Governor after one term to pursue private sector work, Speaker Gingrich offered a terrific retort: “Can we drop the pious baloney?”

He would have ranked higher, but came across as vindictive toward the end of the debate, when he sarcastically told Mitt Romney that “hoped’ the video his PAC was about to release about Mitt Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital was accurate.

The clip that will be played repeatedly over the next 48 hours is the one in which he turned to Mitt Romney and said:

“Governor, I wish you would calmly and directly state it is your former staffer running the PAC, it is your millionaire friends giving to the PAC, and you know some of the ads are untrue. Just say that.”


I doubt that clip will yield him many new votes in New Hampshire; he may be playing for South Carolina at this point.

MITT ROMNEY (3rd Place, Grade: C+)

Good politicians frame information in a way that makes them look good. That’s no surprise.

But there are times that goes too far, and Gov. Romney appeared more disingenuous and slick today than sincere. His answer about why he decided not to run for Massachusetts governor for a second term, for example, was nonsense. He didn’t run again because he decided to run for the presidency – not, as he claimed, to return to the private sector.

Mr. Romney would likely benefit from being more candid on occasion instead of trying to spin everything in his favor – if he wins the nomination, his failure to do so will wear poorly over time. 

A good example of his disingenuousness was this: He claimed he hadn’t seen the ads running against Newt Gingrich, and then proceeded to name five of the things the ads claimed. Why try to have it both ways? If he’s not careful, he’s going to trip many Americans’ “bullshit” detectors.

So why am I rating him in third place? Because despite everything above, he still performed well enough to leave the state of the race mostly unchanged.

RICK SANTORUM (4th Place, tied, Grade: C)

When he started surging in the polls, Sen. Santorum left behind the grimace that accompanied him through most of the campaign and started actually looking charismatic and likeable. But he brought the old Santorum back this weekend, and came across more as a strident critic than an inspirational leader. 

His strategy was clear today – to try to siphon off votes from Ron Paul in an attempt to secure a second place finish. On Paul, he said:

“He’s never really passed anything of any importance…he has no track record of being able to work together. He’s been out there on the margins.”


His performance wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t noteworthy enough to help him continue his surge.

RICK PERRY (4th Place, tied, Grade: C)

Gov. Perry had a more even performance this morning than he has in past debates – had he brought this version of himself from the beginning, he might not be languishing in single digits.

Still, Perry’s biggest applause line came when he remembered which three federal agencies he would cut (he famously blanked on them at a previous debate). It’s never a good sign when both the audience and fellow candidates applaud his failure to forget. All in all, a non-factor.


RON PAUL (6th Place, Grade: C-)

I’ve worked with a few libertarian clients through the years, and they almost always forget one critical thing: When they’re asked what should happen to poor people who need public support, they go on rants about libertarian principles and the role of government instead of simply agreeing with the questioner.

Here’s what I mean: I don’t believe Ron Paul wants poor people to have no heating during the winter. But he, unlike many other Americans, wants the support to come from private charities, religious organizations and neighbors rather than government.

So when he was asked whether he would continue a program that subsidized energy for low-income people, he didn’t need to give an abstract answer about supply and demand. He should have started by aligning his message to where most people are, saying, “I want to live in a country where no one freezes in winter. The question is how we make sure that happens.” Instead, his “no” answer made him look uncaring.

Dr. Paul has a lot of support in New Hampshire. I’m guessing he’ll score double digits on Tuesday, but this debate, filled with abstractions and hectoring lectures, likely did little to expand his base.

COMMENTS? Do you agree or disagree with my analysis? Please leave your opinion in the comment section below, but remember the blog’s comment policy – no ad hominem attacks or pejorative name-calling will be posted.

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Scorecard: January 7, 2012 Republican Debate

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on January 7, 2012 – 11:47 pm

New Hampshire voters go to the polls on Tuesday to cast their votes for Republican nominee.

The race in New Hampshire appears to be settled – hometown favorite Mitt Romney is way ahead in almost every poll. So the question coming into tonight’s debate was this: Could anybody else position themselves to become Mr. Romney’s main competition moving forward?

Here are tonight’s grades  in order of best to worst:


MITT ROMNEY (1st Place, Grade: A)

The status quo helps only one candidate in this race: Mitt Romney. And since nothing happened to threaten the status quo, Gov. Romney stands alone in the top tier tonight.

Mr. Romney has clearly pivoted to becoming a general election candidate, brushing his fellow competitors aside with the kind of ease Mike Tyson once used to dispatch Michael Spinks. He competently deflected questions about whether he was responsible for downsizing thousands of employees as part of Bain Capital, leaving his glass jaw completely intact.

Mr. Romney bumbled an answer regarding the rights of states to ban contraception. Although that error will likely get some ink in tomorrow’s papers, it’s not a major gaffe that does anything to challenge Mr. Romney’s dominance in the race.


RICK SANTORUM (2nd Place, Grade: B)

This race has three candidates vying to become the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney: Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Perry. Of the three, Santorum had the best night.

He focused on the middle class, aligning his message with their struggles. Of course, he would disagree with my analysis – he pointed out that there is no such thing as a middle “class” in America, just middle-income people. It’s a curious distinction that may lead to more than a few unfavorable opponent ads.

Mr. Santorum displayed his mastery of state privacy laws when asked about the contraceptive case Romney fumbled. He also got off a good line when Ron Paul’s microphone started feeding back the very moment he began attacking Santorum (“They caught you not telling the truth, Ron.”).

Still, Sen. Santorum continues to look too defensive when attacked. If he’s going to become a credible alternative to Mitt Romney, he needs to focus on appearing more presidential and less peevish. One way to do that is to stop getting so excited when defending his record – when he does, his voice rises and his pace quickens. He could appear more in control if he did the opposite – slowed down and spoke in a stronger and more controlled – but not louder – voice.

NEWT GINGRICH (3rd Place, Grade: C+)

Talk about anticlimactic.

After his fourth place finish in Iowa on Tuesday night, Speaker Gingrich pledged to attack Mr. Romney’s record. Before the debate, his spokesman, R.C. Hammond, said: “It’s fight night. We’re excited.”

If this was a fight, it was more the kind that ends up with the two combatants dating. One of the most important jobs for debate nights happens before the debate, when the candidates attempt to manage expectations. On that count, Mr. Gingrich vastly oversold and under-delivered.  It’s almost as if he decided to hold his fire in the hopes that he can score a cabinet position in a Romney administration.

Mr. Gingrich would have ranked lower, but for a few good attack lines. He pretended to defend President Obama by saying, “I’m sure in his desperate efforts to create a radical, European socialist model [he] is sincere.” And values voters will appreciate, “There’s a lot more anti-Christian bigotry today than there is concern of the other side, and none of it gets covered by the news media.”

All in all, a muted performance and blown opportunity.


JON HUNTSMAN (4th Place, Grade: C)

Jon Huntsman will be remembered for only one moment in this debate: The one when he suddenly decided to attack Mitt Romney – in Mandarin.

That’s right, in what must be a first in presidential elections, Mr. Huntsman used the Chinese dialect to attack Mr. Romney’s lack of understanding of China.

Beyond that, Gov. Huntsman speaks too elliptically, making his points in tentative and diplomatic language missing any fine edge. In his attempt to sound like the “reasonable” guy, he instead comes across as soporific – and a bit weird (see speaking in Mandarin tonight, earlier Kurt Cobain joke).

It’s too bad. Mr. Huntsman has the qualities that could have allowed him to position himself as the other “adult” in the room, alongside Mitt Romney, but he was never able to effectively deploy them.

Mr. Huntsman has one last shot – tomorrow morning’s debate. I suspect it won’t matter, and that his candidacy will end before he ever makes it to South Carolina.

RON PAUL (5th Place, Grade: C-)

Rep. Paul spent most of his evening going after Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, a clear strategic choice to try to knock them both out and become Mr. Romney’s sole competitor.

I’ve never seen Ron Paul more angered, to the point of trembling, when he discussed “chicken hawks,” or legislators who send kids off to war but who didn’t serve when called. Mr. Paul had a shocking moment when he said of Newt Gingrich:

“I think people who don’t serve when they could…and they get deferments…they have not right to send our kids off to war…I’m trying to stop the wars, but at least I went when they called me up.”


Unfortunately for Dr. Paul, Americans have not elected an “angry” candidate since the beginning of the 24/7 media age. His flash of anger will likely be greeted with enthusiasm by his considerable base of supporters, but it’s hard to see how it helps him expand his base before Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary.

Dr. Paul is better when he’s in the role of a passionate ideologue with a cause. But he’s a lousy attack dog, appearing as unlikeable, cranky, and yes – even mean – as Bob Dole was back in 1996.

RICK PERRY (6th Place, Grade: D)

Remember last week when Gov. Perry said he was going back to Texas to re-assess his candidacy? He should have stayed home. It’s not that he had a bad night tonight. It’s that he was thoroughly irrelevant.

Well, almost irrelevant. He did have one memorable moment, when he said America should send troops back into Iraq. That’ll make a few headlines, but not ones that will help him break out of single digits. 

COMMENTS: Do you agree or disagree with my analysis? Please leave your opinion in the comment section below, but remember the blog’s comment policy – no ad hominem attacks or pejorative name-calling will be posted.

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The Iowa Caucus Speeches: The Winners And Losers

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on January 4, 2012 – 1:10 am

As of this writing, at 1:10 a.m., just 18 votes separate Sen. Rick Santorum and Gov. Mitt Romney with 99 percent of precincts reporting. It’s been quite a night.

Although we don’t know the final verdict yet, all six candidates have given their speeches.

Here are my reviews of the candidates’ speeches, what they mean, and what’s next for the candidates:

Rick Santorum hugs his wife after Iowa caucus night

RICK SANTORUM (1st or 2nd Place):  Sen. Santorum gave a terrific (if long) speech that came across as sincere, humble, and grateful. The sour persona that undermined his performances during the debates was largely gone, replaced with a fierce determination and the words “game on.” He appeared less strident and more human than he has in other appearances.

Mr. Santorum did a nice job of laying out a competing vision with the President’s, using his grandfather’s story as an effective speechmaking device. He also, curiously, ran away from the reflexive Republican mantra of “cut taxes,” saying that tax cuts should be a part of the solution, not the sole solution. His focus on the working class was an astute attempt to reach moderates in New Hampshire, which votes next Tuesday.

In short, he gave the best speech of the night.

MITT ROMNEY (1st or 2nd Place): Gov. Romney appeared completely nonplussed by his neck and neck finish with Rick Santorum. In fact, both he and his wife praised Mr. Santorum’s impressive finish. He looked looser than he has in recent months, as two of his toughest competitors – Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich – were likely vanquished tonight.

Mr. Romney came across tonight as confident that he’s going to be the nominee. And he did look presidential, having an American flag framed behind him that made his speech look like a State of the Union address. But his stump speech seemed a little canned, and he risks looking more slick than sincere.

RON PAUL (3rd Place): Rep. Paul finished in third place tonight. Although he enthusiastically pledged to plow ahead with his campaign, he curiously didn’t say much about winning the election, focusing instead on the growth of his movement. His speech appeared to make clear that his campaign is more about disseminating his message than electoral success, and he clearly reveled in the appreciation of his young supporters.

If there was an off-note to his speech, it belonged to his son, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). The younger Paul, standing behind his father during the speech, appeared downright glum. He seemed to know that even though his father wasn’t saying it, their best chance to win the nomination disappeared tonight.

Newt Gingrich couldn't hide his anger after the Iowa caucus

NEWT GINGRICH (4th Place): Just five weeks ago, Speaker Gingrich said, “I’m going to be the nominee…the odds are very high I’m going to be the nominee.” He looked like he was having a blast back then. Not anymore.

If there’s one word to describe how Speaker Gingrich came across tonight, it’s this: pissed.  He  emanated anger, directed at Mitt Romney, for the negative ads run against his campaign. He went so far as to suggest that the negative ads against him were not worthy of the sacrifices of American men and women in combat. He then proceeded to unequivocally slam Mitt Romney’s leadership as the governor of Massachusetts. 

Americans do not elect angry candidates. Just ask Pat Buchanan or Howard Dean. If Gingrich can’t get a grip on his temper and radiate some optimism again, he’s going to implode before he ever makes it to South Carolina.

RICK PERRY (5th Place): Rick Perry cried when reading a note that called him a “great man.” No wonder. Three minutes later, he said he was going back to Texas to reassess his campaign (code for “I’m dropping out.”)

I’ve never seen a candidate give his pre-dropping out speech by struggling to read a handwritten note out loud. He stumbled over the words like a barely literate man who had to focus intently on the phonetics (I’m guessing the letter had sloppy handwriting, but Gov. Perry can’t afford reinforcing the narrative of his “limited” intellect). It served as a perfect closing metaphor for his inept campaign.

MICHELE BACHMANN (6th Place): Rep. Bachmann read a prepared statement, barely making eye contact with the crowd and sans the spirit she radiated in her earlier speeches. She claimed she was going to stay in the race, but she looked completely deflated – not surprising, considering her rejection came from her native Iowa. Her defeated tone sounded valedictory, not like a candidate who intends to move forward. 

Her opening line, “We’ll have a party afterwards, so stick around,” bordered on painful: I’ve made Shiva calls that were likely more fun. 

Jon Huntsman (7th Place): Gov. Huntsman did not compete in Iowa and received less than one percent of the vote.

Note: The order above indicates where each candidate finished in the Iowa caucus, not my rankings of their performance.

UPDATE: January 4, 2012, 2:36 a.m.: Iowa’s Republican State Chairman just made it official: It’s Romney over Santorum by eight votes. Eight. What a night. I’m going to sleep. Thanks for reading.

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My Political Punditry In 2011: How Did I Do?

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on December 21, 2011 – 6:12 am

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I engage in a fair bit of political punditry.

There’s nothing even remotely unique about being a pundit – but there is something unique about a pundit who actually grades himself on his successes and failures.

Since I regularly grade public figures and try to hold others accountable, I felt it was only fair to turn the pen on myself and see how I did. So I spent an evening going through all of the political posts I wrote during 2011.

On the whole, I got it right more than I got it wrong. But it was far from a perfect year, and this article will summarize my hits and misses.

RIGHT: Mitt Romney’s Mandate (March 8, 2011): Back in March, I wrote that Mitt Romney should disown his Massachusetts health care plan instead of continuing to defend it. Gov. Romney has continued to defend his plan – and, like when Hillary Clinton continued to defend the Iraq war in 2007, his party’s base has not forgiven his apostasy. Although he might end up getting the nomination, he’s lucky – had Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, John Thune, Mitch Daniels, or Haley Barbour gotten in the race, he might have been in real trouble.

WRONG: Chris Christie’s Storm (January 3, 2011): As a major snow storm blanketed his state, paralyzing roadways and knocking out electrical lines, I wrote that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie would pay a political price for vacationing in Disney World instead of staying home. His approval ratings actually went up. Didn’t see that one coming.

RIGHT: Rick Perry’s Gaffes (June 29, 2011): Well before the infamous debate gaffes that likely doomed his campaign, I accurately predicted that Rick Perry would get into trouble with words. I wrote, “Perry is not a particularly strong extemporaneous speaker…he could be prone to some major gaffes that take his campaign far off message.”

RIGHT: Donald Trump Takes The Lead (April 18, 2011): When circus sideshow Donald Trump was polling as the top choice in the Republican field, I reminded readers that his “first-place showing at this point means little” and compared him to Howard Dean, Ross Perot, and Pat Buchanan – all of whom once briefly flirted with the lead.

I have to admit I missed the Ron Paul surge. Many readers didn't make the same mistake.

WRONG: Ron Paul’s Support (September 7, 2011): Throughout the campaign, I’ve consistently missed the mark on the breadth of Rep. Ron Paul’s support. In fairness, he had a similarly enthusiastic base in 2008 that yielded him few delegates. But this year seems different, and he’s a legitimate threat to finish near the top in Iowa next month.

RIGHT: Anthony Weiner’s Crisis Response (June 1, 2011): In the earliest hours of the Anthony Weiner scandal, long before we knew the lurid details, I wrote: “Mr. Weiner has been married for less than a year…I can’t help but thinking that his decisions are being influenced, at least in part, by those concerns.”

WRONG: Tim Pawlenty’s Mild Debate Response (June 13, 2011): I praised GOP presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty for refusing to go after Mitt Romney on “Obamneycare.” Turns out most pundits cited that moment as the reason he had to drop out of the race. As Rick Perry might say, “Oops.”

RIGHT: Herman Cain’s Bubble Will Burst (October 18, 2011): When Herman Cain was leading the polls (and before his alleged sexual misconduct came to light), I wrote: “Based on his performance thus far, it’s hard to see how he uses his recent momentum to win the White House.” In hindsight, that one seems rather obvious.

Newt Gingrich represents both my greatest failure and success as a pundit this year. Photo: Gage Skidmore

MY BIGGEST MISTAKE: Newt Gingrich’s Campaign Suicide (May 31, 2011): After Speaker Gingrich blasted fellow Republican Paul Ryan’s “right-wing social engineering” during the first week of his campaign in May, I wrote that “Gingrich is still in the race. But my odds of winning the Republican nomination are probably better.” I should have known better than to declare a campaign over, and hope to avoid repeating that mistake in the future. My biggest mistake of the year.

MY BIGGEST SUCCESS: Newt Gingrich’s Impending Surge (September 12, 2011): When Newt Gingrich was polling just five percent in mid-September, I wrote: “If Mr. Perry falters, someone else is likely to emerge to threaten Mr. Romney for the nomination – and if Mr. Gingrich continues to perform this well, he could emerge as that person.” My biggest success of the year.

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Scorecard: December 15, 2011 Republican Debate

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on December 15, 2011 – 11:42 pm

Just two months ago, a Newt Gingrich comeback seemed as unlikely as a comeback for other 1990s superstars, such as Color Me Badd, flannel shirts, and that Susan Powter “Stop The Insanity!” lady.

But in tonight’s debate, the former House Speaker entered as the clear favorite in national polling. Did anything happen tonight to threaten his lead?

Here are tonight’s grades, in order of best to worst:


MITT ROMNEY (1st Place, Grade: A-)

Mitt Romney was on his game tonight.

His game plan was clear: He’d be the rational, level-headed one, serving as a nice contrast with Newt Gingrich, who Romney’s campaign accuses of being “zany” and irresponsible. He succeeded.

Gov. Romney  focused his attacks on President Obama – not his opponents – which is good, since he looks unappealing and peevish when he attacks on the debate stage. He looked less defensive in his responses to Chris Wallace’s tough questions than Gingrich did when facing similar aggressive questioning.

Mr. Romney had a terrific line regarding the downed drone in Iran. Reacting to President Obama requesting that Iran return the drone, Gov. Romney caustically said that the President’s response amounting to having a foreign policy of “pretty please?”

Iowa is very much up in the air, but Mr. Romney did a lot to help his chances tonight.

RICK SANTORUM (2nd Place, tied, Grade: B+)

Sen. Santorum had a good night, successfully conveying a single message: Been there, done that.

By using that response, Mr. Santorum successfully whacked all of his opponents. He was able to use that refrain to whack those competitors who have changed their positions over time, and to whack those who he accused of not being sufficiently conservative.

If any of the candidates in the bottom tier move up over the next three weeks, I’m guessing it’ll be Santorum.

RON PAUL (2nd Place, tied, Grade: B+)

Rep. Paul also had a good night tonight. He was more animated than he has been in past debates, even displaying a little humor over his favorite Supreme Court justice (“All of them are good and all of them are bad,” he said.) He made Rep. Bachman look like a naif after a particularly heated exchange over Iran, angrily wagging his pen as he pressed his case.

It’s easy to see why so many Americans have been attracted to his campaign; no candidate on either side of the aisle has been as ideologically consistent.

Still, it’s important to point out that Americans always elect the more optimistic candidate (they’ve done so since the beginning of the 24/7 media age in 1980), and Dr. Paul conveys little optimism. He’d do himself a favor by wrapping his principled arguments in a “can do” spirit that offers fewer strident lectures along the way.


MICHELE BACHMANN (4th Place, Grade: C+)

Rep. Bachmann launched a successful attack against Speaker Gingrich on Freddie Mac tonight, but was less successful when going after Ron Paul on Iraq. The bigger problem for her is that she did nothing to change the dynamic of her campaign. After tonight, it’s tough to see how she finishes in the top three in Iowa, which would effectively end her campaign.

NEWT GINGRICH (5th Place, Grade: C)

Speaker Gingrich had a lousy first half tonight, which may hurt his already slipping poll numbers in Iowa.

When his opponents predictably attacked him, he looked defensive and his face tightened. Given that he knew the attacks were coming, I was surprised he didn’t have a witty rejoinder at the ready – where was the debate wit that launched him into the top tier in the first place?

He used the language of denial – a political “no-no” – by saying, “I have never once changed my positions due to any type of payment.” Count on that sound bite being played repeatedly on tomorrow’s cable news programs. He also allowed himself to be thrust into the role of being a defender of big government. Plus, did we really need a history lesson dating back to 1802?

Mr. Gingrich had his moments, such as when he said, “I get accused of using language that’s too strong, so I’ve been up here editing. I don’t want to be accused of being ‘zany.’” That ‘zany’ line was a sly allusion to an ad being run against him by the Romney campaign.


RICK PERRY (6th Place, Grade: C-)

Listening to Rick Perry speak is kind of like looking at a randomly assorted collection of refrigerator word magnets. His awkward cadence, bordering on manic at times, is like a high-wire act – you know he could slip at any moment (and he often does).

His attempt to relate himself to NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, a darling of conservatives, was a good idea on paper. But in real-life, it’s a talking point that has a high degree of difficulty, and Gov. Perry looked foolish trying to pull it off.

It wasn’t all bad for Perry. His pitch for a “part-time Congress” is the most likely idea to stick since “9-9-9,” and he delivered a strong answer on immigration. All in all, though, not enough to significantly alter his electoral odds. 

JON HUNTSMAN (7th Place, Grade: D+)

We learned something new in this debate: Jon Huntsman’s favorite curse word is “screwed.”

He used the word no fewer than three times: “We are getting screwed as Americans;” “President Obama “screwed up” the economy;” and our “visa system is so screwed up in this nation.” 

For good measure, he threw in a rhetorical question that asked “how stupid are we,” referenced Donald Trump, and alluded to George Kennan, the barely remembered diplomat best remembered as the “father of containment.”

Gov. Huntsman is screwed. His effort to use stronger language that will resonate deeply with the American people isn’t natural for him, making him look desperate. And what was with him looking at his notes as he was speaking throughout the debate? If you can’t deliver an answer without a crutch at this point, you’re, well, screwed.

COMMENTS? Do you agree or disagree with my analysis? Please leave your opinion in the comment section below, but remember the blog’s comment policy – no ad hominem attacks or pejorative name-calling will be posted.

Did you miss the 10 worst media disasters of 2011? Click here to catch up!

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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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