Sunday, December 2, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Getting Our Attention

With so many presumably credible, but no frontrunning, candidates
for president in 2020, the Democratic Party has a lot of sorting out to
do in the next 18 months as it prepares to challenge and attempt to
defeat a sitting president. It can be done, and was done as recently as
1980 and 1992 --- when Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, and George H.W.
Bush, a Republican, learned that incumbency does not automatically
bring re-election.  

Presidential elections and their nominating environments have
changed significantly in recent decades, but one basic factor has not
altered in that time --- the critical need for non-incumbent presidential
aspirants to draw attention to themselves. This attention-getting takes
many forms, old and new, and almost always involves the media.

Perhaps the origin of this goes back to the Republican nomination
campaign in 1860 when the least likely candidate among a dozen in the
field gave a provocative speech at a New York City auditorium after
inviting reporters from every major eastern city in the north (who he
knew would record it in shorthand --- a skill every reporter had to have
in that era before recording devices). He also knew those reporters
would then transmit his speech via telegraph, and that it would appear
in print the next day all over the North. He not only guessed correctly,
but the reaction to his speech thus circulated was a sensation, and he
went literally overnight from being the least likely nominee to being
the frontrunner.

His name? Abraham Lincoln.

There are many other examples. In 1896, William Jennings Bryan
won the Democratic presidential nomination with his famous ”Cross
of Gold” speech while William McKinley won the Republican
nomination by speaking from his porch to crowds who came to his
home in Ohio. Calvin Coolidge stood down a public strike when he
was governor of Massachusetts, and its news eventually made him
president. By 1928, Herbert Hoover’s management of the Great Flood
of 1927  made him the nominee to succeed Coolidge. Wendell Willkie,
then a virtual political unknown, stampeded the 1940 GOP convention.
Harry Truman’s leadership of a wartime U.S. senate committee lead
to his being chosen President Roosevelt’s vice president in 1944. On
FDR’s death a few months later, Truman was president. Richard
Nixon led an anti-communist investigative committee in the senate in
the 1950’s, leading to his being chosen vice president by President
Eisenhower. Barack Obama made a notable keynote speech to a
Democratic convention, and became a media favorite. And then, of
course, there was Donald Trump.....

Using the new technology of the telegraph, Lincoln had catapulted
himself into public attention. Today, there are cable television, talk
radio and social media using the internet. When there are large
numbers of candidates, one or two usually emerge --- and most of
the time the few successful presidential nominees find a special
issue or an innovative way to get the vital public attention they need
to win.

The Democratic nominee in 2020 will be the one who most effectively
does this. Watch the twenty-plus liberal party aspirants as they make
their moves in the next several months.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Caselman. All rights reserved.

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