by Reed Galen
Monday, March 2nd, 2015
Days Until Iowa Caucus: 336
Officially Declared Candidates: 0
Quote by a Smart Person: “People who enjoy meetings should not be in charge of anything.” – Thomas Sowell
Welcome to the American Singularity.
Why the Singularity?
· The presidential nominating process is one in which everything, large and small, is sucked into its gravitational maw, allowing nothing to escape its grasp as events pass through the campaign cycle’s event horizon.
· There is no more singular political experience on the planet than electing the President of the United States.
· The United States is still the most free, most prosperous and brightest beacon of hope to billions around the world.
Every action and reaction feeds into this black hole of press coverage, donor reactions, voter sentiment and activist opinions. Nothing goes unnoticed and nothing is forgotten. Legions of reporters, bloggers, opposition researchers, trackers, social media monitoring services, vacuum up every last syllable.
Every week we’ll take a look at the campaign as it unfolds, and how events reflect the campaigns, the issues of the day and the country at large. Have a tip, piece of advice or something to add? Email me – email@example.com
This Week: Spring Training
Four of the greatest words in the English language are “Pitchers and Catchers Report” – referring to the early arrival of the baseball battery to spring training to prepare for the upcoming Major League Baseball season. Rightly seen as the most valuable duo in baseball, the pitching staff needs extra time to work out their arms, get their rhythms down and (re) familiarize themselves with their catchers, who serve as the field generals for teams while in the defensive half of innings.
Shortly thereafter the rest of the team arrives to practice playing together, understanding their strengths and weaknesses, trying out new plans and players and working out the bugs before Opening Day.
The putative candidates for President of the United States are going through a similar process, although likely not as well organized or thought out as your average ball club. Before a candidate can or should make “The Announcement” formally injecting themselves into the nominating contest, they need to learn their own personal strengths and weaknesses and those of their campaign teams. The candidates who fare best typically take stock of their shortcomings and take concrete steps to either mitigate those deficiencies or improve in those areas in which they’re weak.
Campaign leadership, too, should take inventory. As few senior political operatives enjoy any actual management experience larger than their own iPhone, admitting there are topics in which they’re not experts, can be difficult if not impossible. Those campaigns that plan out their operational processes, everything from how to cut a check to how to deal with HR issues (likely to occur in a billion-dollar endeavor), will have a leg up on the opposition. While Campaign A put their processes in place early, Campaign B is an organizational mess and can’t figure out why their AMEX was declined at the West Des Moines Marriott.
Now is the time to work out the kinks in a campaign’s operations. Just since the beginning of the year, small issues, which will ultimately have no bearing on the outcome of the Primary or General Elections, have received inordinate attention from the media, the chattering class and the other campaigns and provided a window into how nascent campaigns handle stress.
Campaigns in Spring Training mode are incomplete – their rosters are not finalized, they often fly by the seat of their pants, and many decisions are hyper-tactical responses to outside events. We’ve already seen a few of these:
Only in California can you find a bunch of folks who scream “It’s Science!” when talking about climate change, but scream “Individual Liberty!” when it comes to vaccinating their kids. A measles outbreak that started in sunny Downtown Disneyland soon spread its tendrils to the Republican presidential field. Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ), on a not-foreign-policy-related trip to London, was the first to step in it; apparently trying to mollify small government conservatives, and instead came off as pandering. Though his office tried to quickly walk back the comments, the response was a head scratcher. (Note: Christie was standing outside a vaccine factory when asked the question.)
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) quickly followed suit by inferring that multiple, simultaneous vaccines can cause ‘profound mental disorders’, and got angry with the media for twisting his words (more about that shortly.) As Paul has a strong libertarian streak running through him, his opposition to government-mandated vaccinations makes a lot of sense (see my piece on vaccinations here). But the science he mentioned and his subsequent thin skin on the air (regarding another topic altogether) taught his opponents, both Republican and Democrat, a lot more about him than just his stance protecting kids from measles.
Since his Facebook post late last year announcing his intention to explore exploring a run for president, Jeb Bush has been anointed as the establishment candidate who can raise a boatload of cash. Both are true. But even a candidate with a presidential pedigree like Jeb still has to deal with the hiccups of a new effort. Unlike many others, Bush will have whatever talent he wants, and money to spend getting things right.
In an effort to preempt the galaxy of opposition researchers digging into his time in office, Bush decided to release thousands of emails he’d sent and received when being the ‘eGovernor’ was a pretty new thing (circa 2002). However, Team Bush failed to redact the personally identifiable information (PII) from the messages. While it was ultimately up to the state of Florida to release the information under their sunshine laws, Bush’s team should have had a team of lawyers going through everything with a black Sharpie. At the very least, one hopes someone would has gone through the cache to predict potential attacks.
Next, the Right to Rise PAC, where Jeb’s political operation is housed until they can build a new home for the campaign in sunny Miami, touted the addition of their new Chief Technology Officer, Ethan Czahor (maybe make the eGovernor the iPresident?) Unfortunately, no one had vetted Mr. Czahor’s online persona, and journalists and opposition research trolls quickly found a Twitter feed filled with ugly and misogynistic posts.
Team Bush asked him to delete the tweets, but didn’t part ways with their new tech guy. That is until more online trouble popped up the next day, pointing to Czahor’s time in college when he posted things about African-Americans and Martin Luther King, Jr. that were insensitive, to say the least, and without question monumentally stupid. And just like that…poof…he was gone. And that’s how quickly you can join and get fired from a presidential campaign – 48 hours.
The more concerning issue for Jeb, though, is why no one was being thoroughly checked out before receiving a set of keys to a political Ferrari. (Note: I hear they’re now vetting every new hire). I remember in early 2007 telling kids on the nascent John McCain campaign that I didn’t know what MySpace was, but they should be sure to remove any embarrassing information from their accounts as a precaution.
Fundamentals. Calling for fly balls, covering first base on grounders, this is where any presidential effort, be it Jeb Bush’s or Ben Carson’s needs to get this stuff right early, and always.
What happens when America’s Mayor, Rudy Giuliani shows up to your event uninvited and unannounced? He makes all sorts of news that you don’t want. To briefly recap, Rudy doesn’t believe President Obama loves America. He left Governor Scott Walker (R-WI) sitting there in uncomfortable silence as Giuliani reopened a giant can of worms for all Republicans with the inference that Obama is somehow illegitimate. Rudy doubled and tripled down on his beliefs about the president. Ironically enough even staunch conservatives rallied to Rudy’s cause after the Main Stream Media (MSM) came after him.
Walker tried to talk his way out of it, badly. He doesn’t know if Obama loves America, but Scott Walker does! But it was Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) that had the perfect answer:
Rubio showed that simple answers, well delivered can defuse even a rabid press corps. Rudy’s comments aren’t Rubio’s problem; they aren’t even Walker’s problem. Rudy said what he said, and he can own it. The bigger mistake here is hedging on whether or not Barack Obama loves his country. Whether you believe he does or not is immaterial and exactly the kind of spider web from which the media, opponents and Democrats love to watch a candidate try and get unstuck.
The Gotcha Question and Liberal Media:
Since the Rudy flap, the “Gotcha question” thread has run through a bunch of political reporting – starting with Walker himself getting after the media for their superficiality, Jack Shafer explaining the history of Gotchas and long-time journalist Ron Fournier defending the practice.
To that end, liberal media bias exists. It is real. Check out RNC communications guru Sean Spicer’s razor-sharp memo on the subject. Now get over it. You’re better off hoping the sun rises in the west than the heads of the major broadcast networks, MSNBC, the New York Times or the Washington Post will always write their stories straight down the middle. Republicans own Congress. We’ve won the White House many times – in spite of the liberal media. Voters generally separate what they need to know from the bullshit – and have less faith in the media than ever. Faced with a Gotcha questions, take a deep breath and think about your answer.
Those things accepted; it is important to build relationships with the reporters who cover the campaigns.
You can be friendly without being friends. Giving them something to write every couple of days will help release the pressure valve that may prevent a beat reporter (who must also Tweet, Instagram and post extra copy), spending their sixth straight week in Iowa, from chasing down a problematic process story in the Ottumwa field office. Finding fault lines and conflict points is what generates news.
Harping about liberal reporters may fire up the base successfully, as it did for Newt Gingrich – in one state, but it doesn’t make a winning campaign. Want to get back at them? Produce as much of your own, quality content as you can, and push it far and wide. They are myriad ways voters get their information – the press doesn’t have the market cornered anymore.
But, as Yahoo!’s Jon Ward pointed out during this week’s CPAC confab just outside Washington, hard questions don’t just come from lefty reporters. Conservative hosts and commentators have plenty to ask of candidates as well – and in many cases, they feel more strongly about positions than other media.
Rudy Part Deux: What Really Matters in Campaigns:
Rudy’s dust-up has lasted a couple of weeks. Days sucked up, gone to the history books, and few if any positive messages received attention. That is the bigger issue, as the New York Times’ Frank Bruni points out – there are more important things to talk about. While Barack Obama will be too inviting a target for some Republicans and conservatives to leave alone, focusing on him too much will ultimately do little for a campaign.
Candidates need to be out there discussing why their vision is the right one for the next chapter in America’s history. What story will their leadership weave into the tapestry that is the United States? Bashing Barack Obama is easy, but it’s cotton candy – it tastes good but too much of it gives you a stomachache. If Republicans make 2016 a referendum about Obama’s eight years in office, it doesn’t really matter who we nominate next year. We will be running against the wrong person, at the wrong time.
A positive message that inspires voters and draws appropriate distinctions with your opponent is essential. Whomever the Democratic nominee, there will be some policies, programs and actions of Obama’s for which they will have to answer. But ultimately those precious swing voters in targeted states will decide on whether you, as a candidate have made the case for why you should lead a country still unsure of its footing – with a growing economy but no one doing better and a world as dangerous as its been in a decade. Who are you to run the place?
“It’s not a lot of fun”:
During a recent appearance, Rand Paul was asked whether or not he is running for president. After answering “Maybe,” to laughs in the crowd, he went through a litany of things that need occur before making a decision. And he concluded, “Because it’s not really a lot of fun.”
Marathon. Gauntlet. Meat grinder. Choose your scary metaphor. Running for leader of the free world is the most trying political effort in the world. That being said, going into it with Paul’s resignation (or perturbation?) will make it that much more difficult. Just like people who suffer from anxiety, being relentlessly annoyed or worried about things that haven’t yet happened, can exhaust a candidate with stress and tension about every small thing on a campaign – every bad thing a blogger or reporter or activist says about them. Americans want happy warriors. If not happy, then at least fired up to fight and make things right.
Getting Ready for Opening Day:
The outline above is not meant to disparage any candidate or campaign, but to highlight just how difficult even the early stages of running for president can be. Most candidates will wait until April or May to declare their official intention to run; in the process, hopefully working out whatever internal issues and external pressures from which they may suffer. The presidential nominating contest, just like the major league baseball is made up of dozens of small contests and challenges – all before one voter actually casts a ballot or goes to their local church to caucus. Day by day, though, how each campaign presents itself and handles the inevitable crises that they will face, will help largely determine who has the staying power to even reach February 1st, 2016.
Singularity: noun – a point at which a function takes an infinite value, especially in space-time when matter is infinitely dense, as at the center of a black hole.
Strategist: noun – a person skilled in planning action or policy, especially in war or politics. (Big Picture)
Tactician: noun – someone who is good at making plans to achieve particular goals. (Day-to-Day)
Author’s Note: This series is not in any way related to Harold Hyman’s American Singularity – The 1787 Northwest Ordinance, 1862 Homestead and Morrill Acts and the 1944 GI Bill.