Unconventional Wisdom after Cleveland

Sherry Bebitch Jeffe & Doug Jeffe
Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, Professor of the Practice of Public Policy Communication, Sol Price School of Public Policy, University of Southern California, and Doug Jeffe, Communications and Public Affairs Strategist

*   While the Republicans have been doing their best to paint the darkest possible picture of Hillary Clinton, the back-to-back party conventions give the Democrats an edge, as they can have the last word—if anybody is still listening. Counterpunching can be an extremely effective political tactic.

*   The red-meat prosecutors Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie lit up the hall with their denunciation of Hillary Clinton; but how will their tough rhetoric play with those who aren’t already Hillary haters? Or has the Trump campaign purposely adopted the Bush 2004 strategy of revving up the party’s conservative base to bump up GOP turn-out; that year 11 states placed anti-same-sex marriage on their ballots and 9 of them went for Bush—including Ohio (Of course, the demographic make-up of the electorate has changed significantly since 2004.)

*   For all the talk of Benghazi and those e-mails, the Trump campaign hasn’t paid much attention to those high paid Wall Street speeches, on which Hillary Clinton may be most vulnerable to attack. Their impact, as examples of a real economic disconnect, could resonate more directly with the broader electorate. Using valuable time and resources to re-litigate Bill Clinton’s sex life won’t move many uncommitted voters either.

* The media spent days hyperventilating over Malania Trump’s Speechgate episode, but this is strictly inside baseball (and inside-media baseball, at that). Nonetheless, the kerfuffle underscored the meme that the Trump campaign is not ready for primetime. However, Malania’s heartfelt delivery probably still left a good impression among real people, while the wonks talked—and talked– about the episode as if it matters. There is way too much time to fill on cable news.

* The GOP convention underscores the Clinton advantage in the surrogate wars (e.g., President Obama, Vice President Biden, Michele Obama, Senator Elizabeth Warren)—assuming being touted by the political establishment is helpful this year. Trump does have a four to one lead in the number of children he can have speak for him (and they are effective).

* Senate icon Bob Dole’s willingness to attend the Republican convention and voice support for Donald Trump may be motivated, at least partially, by Dole’s lingering distaste for the Clintons. Remember, he was trounced by President Bill Clinton in 1996. On the natural, Trump is not Senator Dole’s kind of “old-school” politician.

*   Conservative columnist Ann Coulter warned the state’s GOP delegation that the rest of the country could become just like California if Donald Trump isn’t elected. Maybe she means high job growth, budget surpluses and nice weather.

* Newt Gingrich, of all people, played the statesman in his follow-up to the Ted Cruz speech, when he interpreted voting “your conscience” as an endorsement of Donald Trump. Cruz is not the only former Presidential rival who signed the pledge to support the Republican nominee, but is not endorsing  Trump. The difference is that Jeb Bush and John Kasich didn’t show up at the convention to give a self-indulgent speech. Speaking of seething self-indulgence, Ted Cruz has set a high mark bar for Bernie Sanders to clear.

* Trump’s choice of Indiana Governor Mike Pence as his running mate seems to satisfy the Republican regulars. His speech hit all the right GOP marks; however, it’s tough seeing him bringing along many undecided voters. But this election is all about Donald Trump. Period. Ironically, given Governor Pence’s tenuous poll numbers in Indiana, putting him on the GOP Presidential ticket could put the Hoosier state in play, both nationally and in statewide races, in a big Clinton victory roll. After all, President Obama carried Indiana in 2008.

* The Donald Trump GOP Convention has legitimized the bleeding of our country’s “reality TV” culture into our political arena. In the end, the Presidential election may be decided on which candidate voters think they can stand to have around in their living room—and on their Twitter feed–for the next four years.

*For Trump, and for the GOP, the 2016 Republican Convention ended a little less shambolic than it began. At least TV’s talking heads are no longer chewing the scenery over Speechgate and Ted Cruz. And Trump managed to send the GOP base out buzzing—maybe to man the GOTV brigades? But he didn’t begin to build a winning coalition much beyond that.

* Like Veep nominee Pence and Trump’s introductory video, Ivanka Trump was able to coherently hammer home a basic—and powerful—campaign theme: Change (read: Donald and “Law and Order”) versus Status quo (read: Hillary and “corruption.”). Meanwhile, The Donald painted a fearsome picture of the way things are—and of Clinton’s role in the horrors facing Americans. In Trump’s view, it ain’t “morning in America;” and it’s all Hillary Clinton’s fault. However, he never got around to letting his audience in on how exactly—or whether–that “change-y thing” works. But policy specifics are not driving this Presidential race.

* Trump’s message? “Trust me; don’t trust her.” And voters’ perceptions of “trustworthiness” are helping to drive this Presidential race.

*As Donald Trump’s GOP decamps from Cleveland, the bottom line question that American voters are being asked is: “Would you buy a used country from this man?”

* And if, perchance, the campaign doesn’t work out for Trump, there’s an opening at the top of FOX News.

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