Posted by Tommy Runfola | July 19, 2016
This week the Republicans meet in Cleveland to make it official that Donald J. Trump and Indiana Governor Mike Pence will be the nominees of the Republican Party for the highest offices in the land, the Presidency and Vice-Presidency of the U.S.
The Democrats will meet in Philadelphia in a couple of weeks and go through the same process to nominate Hillary Rodham Clinton and a yet unknown running mate to become the first female President in U.S. history.
This race will feature the two most controversial candidates ever to vie for the office of President. They both carry baggage that would have eliminated them from the running from the get-go even 25 years ago. They have both had to overcome serious image problems and position themselves to win.
So what does it take to get to where they have both gotten? In an era of television do they have to have the good looks of a John F. Kennedy or a Bill Clinton? Do they have to have the statesmanship of a Ronald Reagan? Do they have to have the experience of a George H.W. Bush, or the pedigree of George W. Bush? Do they have to have the silver tongue of a Barack Obama or the compassion of a Jimmy Carter? Just what is the winning persona that is needed? How must they portray themselves to win: Strong, tough, compassionate, understanding, knowledgeable, experienced? Just what are the American people looking for in their chief executive? Is gender going to be an issue? Is business success outside of government what people want to see? Will the people choose a Washington insider with decades of experience in government who can work within the system, or will they go for an outsider who will defy and change the business as usual agenda of the Washington establishment?
These are among the many questions that the marketers of the presidency must answer, and there are many more: What are young people thinking – will they go for the free college education that Hillary offers? What are older people thinking – will either candidate be able to save Social Security? What about defense against those sworn to destroy us, which candidate can best deal with the nation’s serious threats? How about the economy, does The Donald have the inside track on turning that around from his years of business successes? On foreign affairs, does Hillary have the upper hand with her years of experience as Secretary of State? How about immigration, the environment, jobs, the Supreme Court, the First and Second Amendment, gay rights, abortion, women’s rights, minority issues, how do each stack up on those issues?
Have Trump’s outrageous comments hurt him? Has Hillary’s lack of charisma and legal problems created a hill too steep to climb? I would like to take a moment and just address a few issues and what the candidates have done to position themselves for victory.
1. It is a known tenet of marketing that you have to go deep into the psyche of your customer (in this case the American public) to bring home the sale. And, yes, Mr. and Mrs. Voter, you are a customer, and these two irascible candidates are trying to sell you something. They are trying to sell you a vision for the Future of America, and they couldn’t be at more at odds of how they see that future.
2. They each know that a good marketer must firmly be for something and clearly against something. A candidate who wants to be all things to all people will quickly find himself or herself standing for nothing. That is not the case with these two. They are both astute and they know that America is polarized and divided. They have drawn clear battle lines; they have overcome many obstacles; they have done their homework. State by state they know to whom they must appeal. They each know the states that they will likely win and lose, and which ones will be the battleground states that will tip the election.
3. Trump had to come into a political quagmire where he was not only the underdog outsider, but he was an inexperienced politician up against some of the most articulate, knowledgeable, charismatic and qualified people in the Republican Party, all of whom were financed by traditional sources while Trump financed his own candidacy. Jeb Bush, for example, had not only the Bush moniker, but he had a $100 million war chest to finance his campaign from influential Republican donors. And yet Trump came out a winner, even with his never-ceasing volatile and outrageous speech. Not only that, Trump spoke off the cuff and off message repeatedly, unlike his polished opponents. Was he really that dumb, or was he dumb like a fox?
Here’s what Trump’s non-conventional outsider political style got for him: Constant media attention that he got for free – about $2 billion worth of free TV and media time – that other candidates had to pay for dearly. The voters, in fact, in Republican primaries repeatedly endorsed his candidacy by their votes, proving that his bold speech represented what they were thinking but no candidate would dare say. That rhetoric worked him through 17 other candidates to come out on top. Sounds like a pretty smart strategy to me, actually.
4. How about Hillary. Hillary realized that she has a likeability and scandal-ridden reputation to overcome, an unconventional marriage to explain, and yet many die-hard supporters who will go the distance with her. She has vowed to take up where Obama left off on healthcare, government spending, entitlements, the environment, and is willing to go after the 1% and make them give more than the 99% to whom she would redistribute their wealth. She has fashioned herself as an advocate for women, the poor and minorities, overcome legal issues and scandal that would have sunk the Titanic, and has proven, at least among Democrats, that the Clinton name is still golden – no matter what the issues are in her marriage to the Golden Boy. Hillary is smart and savvy and knows how to play the political game better than most.
These candidates are neck and neck at this point – there are people who will vote for Trump because of his business success and his vow to shake up Washington, and there are voters who will vote for Hillary because of her gender and her loyalty to the ideals of the new Democratic Party. Trump has toned down his rhetoric; Hillary has spent hours in front of a camera with an acting coach improving her likeability factor. The marketers of the candidates are going down the line and deciding what constituency wants to hear what, and what each candidate should push hard for and push hard against; what tactics will work with each constituency; what role social media and television will play; what weight will be given to race, gender and social class of the electorate.
How about the issues? Well, they play a part, but they will not be the determining factor. Sound bites win elections! Marketers know victory lies in who drills the deepest into the wants, needs and desires of individuals, and issues are secondary when it comes to pulling the lever in the voting booth. At the end of the day, this election is as much about the marketing of the candidate as it is about the candidate. As an old sportscaster was fond of saying, this contest is going to be a good, old fashioned barn burner! I can’t wait to see who wins.