Hindsight note to failed presidential campaign strategists: If
you didn’t prepare your pre-Iowa/New Hampshire strategy
with your candidate primarily employing the media as the
overture to your campaign, you didn’t have a chance.
There are three stages of a presidential election. The first has
an indefinite beginning date. It ends in the December prior
to the election year about a month before the Iowa caucus.
The second stage is the caucus/primary season itself. It goes
from January to June, The third stage is the general election. It
goes from the party nominating conventions until election day
in November. While there are many factors is the last two
stages, the major factor is the voters themselves. The first stage,
however, almost ignores the voters. It is managed, displayed,
defined, analyzed and concluded by the media.
If anyone doubts this assertion, I simply point out the clear and
inescapable fact of the first stage of the 2016 cycle just concluded.
Regardless of their experience, resumes, executive abilities or
native intelligence, the most successful figures in both parties
were those who spoke and acted well in and through the media.
Without question, the most successful figure of stage one in 2016
was Donald Trump. Without question, he was the candidate who
most effectively used the media. On the Democratic side, only
Bernie Sanders showed media acuity. He is not leading in the polls,
but he continues to survive heading into stage two against the
most overwhelming Democratic frontrunner in memory. Hillary
Clinton is that frontrunner, and if she had even a modicum of
media skills, she would be the only Democratic candidate left in
the race. In fact, the Clinton campaign has compulsively tried to
hide their candidate from full media view.
On the Republican side, the only candidates left who have a serious
chance to win, other than Mr. Trump, are candidates with
demonstrated media skills, including Chris Christie, Marco Rubio,
and Ted Cruz. Jeb Bush is technically still in the race because of his
name recognition, campaign cash and organizational resources. If
he could have matched his media skills with these resources, he
would be the frontrunner today, Donald Trump notwithstanding.
Two other Republicans, Carly Fiorina and John Kasich, are also
still viable (but barely); yet only Mrs. Fiorina has demonstrated
good media skills in stage one.
Fortunately for the republic, the media plays only a subordinate
role in stages two and three. For this reason, Mr. Bush does still have
a chance to win, however unlikely. For this reason, Mr. Trump is
already fading from his “media lead” of the past several months.
National polls still have him in front, but state polls already have him
behind or narrowly leading. Mr. Cruz is not only media savvy, he is
very smart. But his appeal, by his own design, has been to only one
segment of his party’s voter base. This makes his quest much more
problematic than it would have been if he had directed his skills to a
broader GOP base.
This leaves Mr. Christie and Mr. Rubio. Each are excellent debaters,
speakers and campaigners. Mr. Christie is perhaps more
experienced, but Mr. Rubio is more glamorous and younger. They
have survived stage one, although neither is a clear frontrunner.
In New Hampshire, Mr. Christie has demonstrated that where he
campaigns in person he does very, very well. Mr. Rubio currently
appears ahead of Mr. Christie in most credible polls, but stage two
is only beginning.
Stage three is too far away to discuss thoughtfully, but we can
discuss stage two as hand-to-hand combat begins in Iowa and New
Hampshire. Mr. Trump, even though he is much less prepared
for the competition in stage two, will not disappear. He has skills and
resources yet to play. I have suggested previously that no presumptive
nominee will likely appear until after Super Tuesday, perhaps not
until May or June. Mrs. Fiorina and Mr. Kasich might surprise in
stage two, but if not, either could reappear as a vice presidential
nominee. Mr. Bush could have an unlikely surprise political epiphany
in stage two. Nothing is decided.
What is decided, however, is perhaps advice to those men and
women now (or later) contemplating a future presidential run.
To wit, don’t consider the race for the nation’s highest office unless
you are prepared to employ, exploit and, yes, outwit the media
institutions which essentially manage and control stage one of an
American presidential campaign. The media, as I have pointed out
is far from dominant in stages two and three, but a candidate must
run the media gauntlet with some success in stage one to get to these
quarterfinals and semifinals and to election day itself.
Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.