Thursday, July 9, 2015

by Reed Galen

Days Until Iowa Caucuses: 215

Quote by A Smart Person: “A sign of celebrity is that his name is often more worth more than his services.” Daniel J. Boorstin

Thought of the Week: Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore got the mirror he looks in every morning from a fun house. Only reasonable explanation for his impending presidential bid.

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 – reed@jedburghs.com

Week 16: Donald Trump’s Asymmetric Presidential Campaign

The Republican political establishment is gnashing its teeth trying to figure out what to do about the entrance of Donald Trump into the GOP primary race. His frequent, inflammatory statements having consultants, columnists and candidates reaching for the Alka-Seltzer as they try and decode his motives and next moves. Stop trying. Much like Sarah Palin before him, there is a very good chance that The Donald doesn’t know what he’s going to do more than 15 minutes before he does it. Trying to project the actions of a person so disposed to moving on instinct alone is nearly impossible. His presence now, even more than during his initial launch last month is already having a marked affect on the field.

Donald J. Trump. Courtesy NY Daily News

Donald J. Trump. Courtesy NY Daily News

Politics – Guerilla Warfare Style

Despite what most of you see on House of Cards or Scandal, there is honor among thieves when it comes to politicians and their campaigns. Badly held secrets inside the Beltway or the Statehouse may or may not surface: even John Edwards’ poorly veiled bad behavior held until after Election Day 2004. And with the advent of fully operational and external opposition research operations and Super PACs, candidates have outsourced most of their dirty work.

American militia attack British forces during the American Revolution. Courtesy Tumblr

American militia attack British forces during the American Revolution. Courtesy Tumblr

But Trump doesn’t operate that way. Like British Red Coats exasperated by American rebels shooting at them from the trees, Trump doesn't play by the established rules of political warfare. When feels a certain way about an opponent, he comes right out and says it – in public and in front of the media. He’s become the uber-troll of the Republican field. He’ll walk up, punch you in the nose and grin as you stand there trying to calculate all the different ways hitting back could harm you. In the meantime, Trump has worked his way down the line, ready to sucker punch the next target.

A Retweet (since deleted) by Donald Trump hitting Jeb Bush's immigration position. Courtesy The Internet

A Retweet (since deleted) by Donald Trump hitting Jeb Bush's immigration position. Courtesy The Internet

It’s not to say that candidates aren’t willing to go after one another personally and directly, but in the presidential field, it typically comes much later in the cycle when there are only two or three people left in contention. Trump, as he does with much of what he touches, has turned the stodgy rules of politics back on its professionals – laughing while they sputter incoherently.

To Engage, or Not to Engage, THAT is the Question

So how does one deal with Trump? The press will always ask you about what he said. And as we've seen with candidates such as Rick Perry and Jeb Bush, you can try and hit back – but as he doesn’t play by the traditional rules, he’ll just come up with something more vitriolic or flat-out crazy. He is unencumbered by concerns the press corps may call him on his fiction. For many of the very talented rapid responders spread among the Republican field, Trump should be a target-rich environment. He’s broken about every rule we think of when it comes to traditional politicians and he gets away with it. Despite what he says about the millions he's giving up to run for president, when he’s done with this, he’s still Donald Trump – he knows that. When your campaign is over, you go back to the Capitol, hope for a radio show or a regular column in your hometown newspaper.

Carly Fiorina via National Review story by @Alexis_Levinson

Carly Fiorina via National Review story by @Alexis_Levinson

Those candidates who will be the focus of his fire, Jeb Bush, Rick Perry, et al, need to come up with their standard response: “Donald has his opinions and he’s not afraid to share them. I’m less concerned with what he says about me, and more concerned about what the American people need. Donald will do what Donald does, and as far as that is concerned, ask him about it.”

You’re Famous, Baby

In 2006, I was deputy campaign manager for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s reelection campaign for governor of California. In addition to a no-name opponent and a roaring economy, we had possibly the most recognizable name and face on the planet. Despite his decades of movies, interesting public statements and one particularly bad description of a Latina state legislator eight weeks before Election Day, Arnold won by 16 points in the bluest of states in the bluest of years.

Why? Raising $85 million certainly helped. But more than that, his ubiquitous name ID and image as a super hero allowed him to operate outside the bounds of normal political behavior. Things that would sink other candidates were written off as “Arnold being Arnold.”

Scene from Howard Stern's Private Parts - "If they hate him, why do they listen?" - "Most common answer, they want to see what he'll say next." Courtesy Rysher Entertainment/Paramount

Trump has much of the same built-in Teflon. He’s been in the public eye for so long that most of what any oppo researcher would dig up has already been aired, often years before.  In addition, unlike many of the other GOP candidates, even those within the top tier, name ID is a huge issue for them. It’s hard to convince a voter you’re right for them if they can’t pick you out of a line up. Trump has real, measurable benefit from being a name and face every voter knows. The press will continue to show up whenever he steps before a microphone because they can’t wait to see what he does next. It’s too good a show to pass up. And make no mistake Trump is the ultimate showman.

The Process is the Process

What Donald Trump brings back into startling relief is that Presidential campaigns have their own gravity. Indeed, the name of this column is the American Singularity because every outside occurrence gets sucked in. The best case-in-point is Trump’s statements about Mexicans crossing the border – specifically that there are rapists and murderers among them. The enormous outcry that followed brought near-universal condemnation from both sides of the aisle and cost Trump some money (probably couch change to him.) But then a tragic and senseless event occurred that to many who agree with Trump’s sentiment on immigration, proved his point.

A man who’d been deported five times and returned to San Francisco (by his own admission) because of its Sanctuary City status, shoots and kills a young woman strolling along the SF waterfront with her father. Regardless of the man’s motives, to those who see illegal immigration as the issue on which they will choose a candidate in the primary, Trump looks prescient, honest and willing to say the things the other contenders will not.

Donald Trump Statement on San Francisco shooting. Courtesy NBC News

Donald Trump Statement on San Francisco shooting. Courtesy NBC News

Earlier this year, when the Republican National Committee laid out its plan to host about 10 debates, they didn’t reckon on two things: 1) There would be 16 candidates, many of them qualified and 2) Donald Trump when jump into the race and move up quickly enough in public surveys to likely secure a place on the stage next month in Cleveland. Because the process wills out. We can try and put rules and structure around how the campaign will play out – but like nature – the American Singularity will find a way around your rules. It is an entity with inertia all its own.

Survey Results

First, I want to say thank you to all of you who participated in the first AS survey of the 2016 cycle. To see the results, please click here for a page dedicated to them. Nearly 250 of you shared your opinions on who is likely to win the early states, the White House and what issues are most pressing. A few of you commented that I didn’t ask who you wanted to win – that was by design. As individuals who spend a great deal of time around politics or paying close attention to it, I wanted your thoughts on who are the likely winners – that is a different question altogether, I admit,

Interesting Thoughts from Y’all

Among the open-ended responses, three things rose to the top. First, how impressed so many people are by Carly Fiorina’s early performance. Second, how badly Hillary Clinton continues to campaign despite dominance among the Democratic field and last but certainly not least, The Donald’s entrance. He’s with us until he gets bored or voters throw him out – which ever comes first.