I was having dinner with a friend the other evening, a
friend who happens to be a solid liberal Democrat who
is thoughtful and experienced in politics. He began
complaining about Hillary Clinton, whom I am sure he
will vote for in November. His complaint was not about
her policies, but about the way she talks in public. She
becomes unpleasant and not credible when she tries to be
"oratorical," he said in so many words. “She should just
speak like the person she really is,” he said exactly.
I have had similar conversations with Republican friends
in recent months as they complained about the mannerisms
of conservative candidates they otherwise liked, but whom
they felt were speaking in an exaggerated or inauthentic way.
I’ve thought about this before, in years past when I covered
mostly Minnesota politics and dealt with the successful
and colorful political personalities of Republican Senator
Rudy Boschwitz, Democratic Senator Paul Wellstone, and
Independent Governor Jesse Ventura. None of them fit the
stereotype of the usual Gopher State politician, nor did any
of them hold political views that were necessarily shared by
most Minnesotans. But each of them was generally perceived
as being who they really were and advocating what they truly
believed. It is true that Mr. Wellstone later defeated Mr.
Boschwitz, but only under extraordinary circumstances in
which one was seen temporarily as being more authentic than
the other. They each were unusual personalities who broke the
political rules at a time when the Minnesota voting public was
tired or frustrated with politics as usual.
There can be a lot of smoke and mirrors in political speaking.
The complaint about Mrs. Clinton is not that she does not
hold serious views, but that she does not communicate her
views effectively. The same could be said about many (but not
all) of the Republican presidential candidates who lost in 2016.
It cannot be fairly said that this was a problem for Donald Trump.
Unlike his opponents, he spoke directly and successfully to his
party’s voters. Many criticize him for being crude, politically
incorrect or ill-informed, but the bottom line is that he persuaded
more grass roots Republicans to vote for him than for any of his
A lot of establishment conservatives, none of whom supported Mr.
Trump, now want him to sound more “presidential,” more
dignified --- in effect, more establishment. But Mr. Trump did not
turn politics upside down in 2016 by being conventional, so why
will he do so now?
I did not see the Trump upset coming; he was far from being one
of my favorite candidates in 2016. I find some of what he says
either factually wrong or inappropriate. But so far, many voters do
not agree with me. They seem to like the persona he presents, a
persona, I might add, that is consistent with his entire adult life.
Donald Trump is not suddenly putting on new airs.
We seem to be in a political moment when the best asset in political
communication is to try to be who you are, and not as someone you
think you should be.
My Democratic and Republican friends who sense this, too, are not
being disloyal. They will still likely vote for their party’s nominee,
But they also share the widespread distaste for political huffery and
This is just another sign of what a rare and complicated political
year this is.
Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.