Arthur Solomon, Public Relations Consultant
My first job in public relations was with a political PR firm, where I worked on local, state and national campaigns, including presidential ones.
A congressman once told me, “If you ever decide to run for office your messages should always appeal to all people.” That’s good advice. Unfortunately many of the Democratic candidates seeking the presidential nomination do the opposite, as last night’s (Sept. 12) debate confirmed. “Segmented politics,” with messages that emphasize the plights of people of color and illegal immigrants, and largely ignore the troubles of other Americans were again a major focus of the made for TV show.
Instead of banding together with a cohesive message about how best to defeat President Trump, the Democratic candidates again formed a circular firing squad. They attacked each others plans, and it seemed as if some of the candidates’ main message was, “I’m the least racist person up here.”
In this debate it was Julian Castro who led the attack against front-runner Joe Biden, when he accused Biden of forgetting what he said two minutes earlier. Also attacking Biden, but in a much more gentlemanly manner, without the vitriolic verbage of Castro, was Sen. Sanders. Sens. Harris and Booker, who had attacked Biden previously, refrained from assaulting Biden, maybe because they saw their previous assaults on the former veep didn’t help their polling numbers.
In order to defeat the president, Democrats have to stop criticizing each other and stick to attacking Trump for his policies. The “my way or no way” Democrats have to remember that to many Americans race and ethnicity are not the most important issues. They are worried about making ends meets, being able to pay for college, family security, increasing healthcare costs, gun violence and sexual preferences.
Candidates should remember that the “Me Too” movement, other sexually-oriented rights and the plight of people illegally crossing our Southern border are not the most important issues for most Americans, even though to listen to the pundits on cable TV a visitor from another planet would think they are. Most of all
Democratic candidates should remember that the only way that change will occur is to defeat Trump, not beat up each other.
Recent presidential elections show that the policies of Democratic presidential candidates often are disconnected from Americans who do not live along the ocean coasts. And political polling shows that most Americans find fault with Trump. But Trump has a potent weapon: Republican strategists are better than those of Democratic candidates.
The GOP strategists zero in on a few targets, like lower taxes and appointing federal judges to their liking, and stick to those goals election after election, unlike those of the Democrats that are all over the universe and can change positions according to minority pressure groups wants and what cable news reports. Importantly, unlike supporters of the Democratic primary losers, Republicans rally around their standard bearer. That’s why even though Al Gore and Hillary Clinton won the popular votes, they lost in the Electoral College in past elections.
Listening to the views expressed on Fox News Channel and MSNBC mirrors the talking points of Democratic and Republican political strategists. Fox mainly emphasizes two topics: Making Trump look good and vilifying everything Democratic. To listen to MSNBC, a newcomer from Mars would think that the most important problems in the
That’s why I think that emphasizing the problems of a few segments of our populations, and ignoring the difficulties of most Americans, is a road map that leads to a Trump re-election, unless the eventual Democratic candidate takes a different route. (Of course, following the advice of financial advisors, I’m willing to spread my bankroll around and hedge my bet by placing a few dinaros on a Democratic win. But before I do so they have to come up with a ticket that appeals to all segments of our population, not easy considering the racially-oriented pronouncements of many still seeking a place on the ticket.)
Recent presidential election history shows that the Democrats are most successful when they appeal to independents, centrists and left of center moderate voters. So far most of the candidates’ messages seem to be directed to the far left fringe segment, many of whom would rather see a Trump reelection than a victory by a candidate that they don’t support.
Today, Democrats not only can’t agree on which issues to emphasize, but on the best strategy to run against Trump. Even if all the Democratic presidential candidates suddenly stop attacking each other and agree on a single candidate, the task of defeating Trump will still be difficult because of Democratic infighting.
Already a Sanders supporter said on television that if the senator doesn’t get the nomination his supporters will stay home on Election Day, as many probably did 2016. And an African-American spokesperson said they must be represented on the presidential ticket in order to get out their votes, meaning that if it’s an all white ticket many will not vote again, mirroring what happened in 2016. Bullying statements like those turn off many voters and bolster the chances of another Trump victory. (These statements prove what has been said of the Democratic Party for decades: It’s composed of various special interest groups that only care about their particular concerns and not what’s good for all Americans.)
An under reported problem that Democrats must solve if they hope to defeat Trump is that many African-Americans haven’t come to the voting booth since President Obama left the White House. In 2016, in states with large black populations, the less than expected black vote gave the states and presidency to Trump. The same scenario was repeated in Tuesday’s close
Also, in what might be a turnoff to middle of the road Democrats – the so-called Reagan Democrats – many of the candidates for president are campaigning as if the Democratic platform should consist of Emma Lazarus’ famous poem on the base of the Statue of Liberty. That’s a path to
During my aforementioned political public relations days, the owner of the firm gave me a sticker to place on my desk when he hired me. It said, “The object is to win, not get headlines.”
Pre, during and post debate comments by some of the Democratic presidential wannabees, led by Sen. Cory Booker, in my opinion, seemingly think whomever gets the most headlines will be the nominee. Candidates should remember that “any publicity is good publicity” was never a truism. Perhaps if Booker and the other candidates would focus on criticizing the policies of Trump, instead of trying to get cable TV time, their standings in the polls would be higher.
It’s been years since the Democrats emphasized policies that appeal to all Americans. It’s as if the policies of FDR, Harry Truman, and LBJ are outdated, but many of the same problems remain, (including the health care issue, which Democrats successfully campaigned on last year and resulted in their taking control of the House). In addition, some Democratic candidates are attacking today’s most popular Democrat – President Obama. It’s tough enough to defeat an incumbent president. But the Democrats, by emphasizing “segmented politics” and practicing parricide are making it much more difficult.
If I was advising a candidate, I would suggest they change tactics and start campaigning on issues that still affect all Americans today. There’s still plenty of time to emphasize the need to address the problems of the many, while not ignoring the needs of people of color and the illegal immigrants’ problem, and discard “segmented politics.” Doing that, I believe, would put a candidate on the right path to the White House and derail Trump’s re-election. But after listening to the Democratic candidates during the debates, and on cable TV programs, if I were a betting person, I’d put down more dollars on Trump, because presently some Democratic candidates seem to be campaigning for the 2024 nomination instead of aiming for a 2020 presidential victory. (Of course, wagering on outcomes, whether it be in politics, sports or stocks is for chumps. Like me. Hopefully not like you.)
Regarding the made for television debates: What the candidates say today has no relevance to how they will campaign if they get the nomination. So maybe the eventual presidential candidate will campaign on a more inclusive platform. That’s important to remember. History bears that out.
Also important to remember is what the TV pundits say before and after the debates, and until the next debate in October means nothing in the long run. Remember 2016 when Hillary Clinton was declared the winner throughout the campaign with the pundits almost daily predicting by how big an electoral margin she will have. Remember “wave election” predictions. It was only after the election of President Trump that the TV pundits started to criticize
This year the TV pundits universally criticized Biden for running a “quiet” campaign, saying it will be detrimental to him. Thus far, Biden is doing just fine in the polling. That might change as the field of Democratic candidates narrows. And if it does, it will be because of his past and present policy positions, not because months ago he didn’t take the advice of the TV pundits. But be assured, they’ll say, “We told you so.” They always do. Like the self-anointed PR crises pundits in our business, they never admit they were wrong: In their eyes, they’re always correct, even when they aren’t. (Thus far, the biggest hurdle facing Biden is his too often misstatements, his searching for words and rambling responses to questions, which have raised questions about his memory. Because of Biden’s slip-ups more attention than ever has to be given to his running mate if he wins the nomination. Trump’s mental state is also a concern, although perhaps it is his thin skin that makes him seem at times unhinged. Or as a showman, possibly he’s just acting; but not to be discounted is that he can’t remember his lines.)
But my main problem with what is ludicrously labeled as debates are the questions asked by the TV performers. Instead of acting as umpires and call balls and strikes fairly, the questions resemble a pitcher’s curve ball and are too often meant to divide the candidates, ignoring that they probably agree on 99 percent of the issues and that over the years their positions might have changed, as if that’s a crime.
In my opinion, asking a candidate about a controversial, complicated topic like health care and not permitting a detailed answer because of time restraints is a disservice to the candidates and voters. (I guess, technically, calling the sound bite length discussions a debate is correct but as Biden has said, the format doesn’t provide enough time for a candidate to fully express a viewpoint. To which I agree.)
If the present polling holds up, Americans will have to decide whether to support a serial liar who has antagonized allies and admires totalitarian leaders, or an individual who at times confuses or deliberately reconfigures facts.(Biden, however, doesn’t try to glorify himself, unlike the egotistic, self promoting, president with his delusions of grandeur mentality.)
Regardless of the new national pollings after the debates, people should not take them too seriously. What really matters are the local polling in various states, which result in a candidate gaining the electoral votes. (Gore and
In my opinion the TV debates should be viewed as political entertainment programs. Because in reality that’s what they are. Having to answer questions about policy in a 30 second to one minute format isn’t really a debate. It’s a reality TV joke.
About the Author: Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles in some of the most significant national and international sports and non-sports programs. He also traveled internationally as a media adviser to high-ranking government officials. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations publications, consults on public relations projects and is on the
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