(Author’s Note: Even though the 2020 presidential campaign began on January 20, 2017, the day President Trump was sworn in, traditionally the campaigns begin after Labor Day. So between now and Election Day, November 3, on this web site, I’ll be writing a series of political columns. The first has to do with the Democratic and Republican conventions.)
Now that the conventions have faded from the scene, from here on in until Election Day it’ll be political hardball and that’s okay with me.
Because as someone whose first PR job was with a political PR agency, where I worked on campaigns ranging from local to presidential ones, I normally tune out what candidates and their surrogates say during convention speeches. That’s because the speeches are similar to the platforms of political parties: The spoken and written words have no reality to what those elected will do.
I tune out the “this is the most important election in our lifetime” declarations. (Seems to me I heard that song before.) And the repetitious speeches about how only Joe Biden or Donald Trump can save America from a fate worse than having to sit through the endless tedious nonsense delivered by TV cable pundits. Or the fake enthusiasm of candidates from both parties who speak on behalf of Biden and Trump, even though they might not agree with them or hate and envy them for achieving the political status that the speakers thought they deserved.
Instead, what I look for during the conventions are major mistakes that might come back and bite the candidates. The recently concluded Democratic and Republican conclaves each suffered major mistakes, in my opinion.
In the order they were held:
Democratic Convention: The convention organizers made a major mistake by not emphasizing in some detail the policy agenda of a Biden administration. During his acceptance speech he spoke about them in broad strokes. People who follow politics probably know what he meant, but not viewers who heard him speak for the first time.
Instead, many speakers emphasized the discrimination against Black people, which has been in the news daily, even though the strong support for Black Lives Matters, that reached new heights after the murder of George Floyd, has now diminished to the levels prior to Floyd’s death. (Because of on-going rioting? Probably.) In addition, a recent CBS/You Gov poll revealed that 44% of registered voters feel that too much attention is being paid to discrimination (ignoring problems of people who are not Black? Probably.) (Note: I am not against protests. I approve of them and believe they serve a useful purpose except when they turn violent, which is probably what the president wants to happen. When the violence and looting begins, I believe protests lose public support, which is what the racist-in-chief president wants, so he can say what the country needs is a “law and order” president.)
What the Democrats have to do in the remaining months before November 3 is explain how their policies will help all Americans, not just people of color, or they will suffer the Hillary Clinton fate, winning the popular vote but losing in the Electoral College. To date, too many “vote Biden” TV commercials feature themes detailing racial injustice that Black Americans face. The commercials speak the truth, but that doesn’t mean that other disadvantaged segments of American society do not also have problems. In order to win an Electoral College majority, equal attention has to be paid to the non-Black sectors of society, which the Trump campaign is targeting.
The highlight of the Democratic Convention for me was their unique tour of the states and other territories, showing people in their local costumes, during the role call vote. And that was the problem with the convention. The highlight should have been Joe Biden’s acceptance speech, but he’s no Barack Obama, or JFK when he has the mike.
The low-point was the lack of condemning protests that turned into riots and looting events, which plays right into Trump’s hands.
Republican Convention: The script of their convention seemed as if it was written by a team of fabulists. Instead of letting “Trump be Trump,” which won him the presidency, he was reinvented as the nicest, most caring individuals to walk the face of the earth, providing the media with numerous ways to set the record straight.
Even more ludicrous were some conventions speakers attempting to convince viewers that the coronavirus was a thing of the past.
The two biggest fibbers were Larry Kudlow, the White House economic advisor, who not only made untrue claims about the economy, but also spoke as if coronavirus was history and Vice President Pence.
During his speech, Kudlow said,” It was awful.” “Health and economic impacts were tragic. Hardship and heartbreak were everywhere. But presidential leadership came swiftly and effectively with an extraordinary rescue for health and safety to successfully fight the Covid,” despite the fact that 1,147 American died the day he spoke.
Pence’s description of the president’s action to combat the coronavirus would come as a surprise to many of the nations Democratic governors along the East Coast, where the virus initially hit the hardest and who were blamed by Trump for not being able to control the virus.
Equaling Kudlow’s and Pence’s virus fabrications were attempts to recast Trump as a pro-immigrant president and a Mr. Nice Guy that people don’t know. (Both spoke as the deaths caused by the coronavirus approached 180,000 Americans, not counting those who died at home.)
In my opinion, it’s too late for the Republicans to change their tactics. The Party of Trump is a synonym for lying and creating racial unrest. Their best hope is to keep on lying, because as Adolph Hitler said in his 1925 book “Mein Kampf,” in which Hitler is credited by some people for coining the phrase the “big lie,” if you tell a lie that is so outlandish and keep repeating it people will believe it. Not that I’m equating Trump with Hitler, but he sure does like dictators.
As a person who has worked on many Broadway shows, prior to joining the corporate PR world, as well as on political campaigns ranging from local to presidential ones at a political PR agency, the highlight of the Republican Convention for me was the expertise in how producers and directors could change fact to fiction as if they were staging a theatrical production. What did you say? They were.
The low point, not unexpected, was how the speakers had no compunction about lying and kowtowing in order to gain favor with the CEO, known as the president. (Reminded me of agency PR life.)
Also, some of the GOP speakers must believe that if they scream their speeches it will convince people that they must be telling the truth. (Graduates of the Rep. Jim Jordan School of Speaking?)
It was obvious to people who paid attention to the speeches that the Trump plan is to convince voters that the coronavirus is under control and peaceful protests have been replaced by riots and looting, thus a tough law and order administration is necessary.
The biggest disappoint for Trump had to be that his act is considered stale. Nielson reported that the president’s acceptance speech was watched by a lesser audience than Biden’s, and that it was 26% smaller then his 2016 address. The stats showed that television viewers of Trump’s speech was 3.2% lower than Biden’s, with 23.8 millions viewers tuned to Trump, compared to the 24.6 million people who watched Biden. (Of course, the go-to response by Trump when he doesn’t like news like this is to say, “That’s fake news. Our polling shows us way ahead of Biden.”)
Some Major Differences
A major difference between the two conventions was their approach to the biggest threat to America in more than 100 years – the deadly coronavirus. Democratic speakers spoke about finding solutions to the cornavirus and listening to the medical scientists. Some Republican speakers spoke as if the president’s Covid-19 miracle had occurred and it was a thing of the past, even though the number of people who died from the virus increased during their show.
But, perhaps, the most important take-a-way from both conventions occurred on the final night of the GOP convention, when Trump made his acceptance speech. His long lecture fell flat. After hearing the same words for almost four years, people are used to his bluster and repetitious attacks. It was like watching a TV re-run of a series that is no longer relevant. At least the Democratic convention had some updates – a new face, Vice President choice Kamala Harris, and a number of prominent GOPers who spoke on behalf of electing Joe Biden.
Also, the Democratic standard bearers seemed to have learned a lesson from the 2016 campaign, during which they let Trump lie his way to election instead of immediately hitting back. (Remember, “When they go low, we go high?”)
Hours prior to Trump’s acceptance speech, both Biden and Harris delivered addresses attacking Trump’s claim that the Democrats were soft on crime, knowing that it would be a major part of his lecture, which it was, guaranteeing that both parties will come out fighting from now until November 3 (and, probably after).And before Trump took the stage, Democratic adds attacking the president were televised.
What the above means to me is that the Democratic strategists and Biden and Harris have agreed to take a much more aggressive approach to campaigning than did Clinton.
Bottom Line Thoughts
Trump’s biggest hurdle to re-election is to convince people that the coronavirus is under control; that a Biden Administration will be soft on criminal activities; his policies have helped all Americans and that his detractors are part of the deep state.
Like the Democratic convention, the Republican one was short on specifics plans if Trump is re-elected. Their theme was Law and Order and that a Biden administration will encourage more unlawful protests.
Biden has a more difficult hurdle to the presidency, because the solution is beyond his control. It is to convince protesters to remain peaceful and not resort to rioting and looting. As of this writing his campaign has not been able to do so. Saying the great majority of protesters are peaceful is not enough. (Right wing Fox News, left wing MSNBC and middle-of-the road CNN all consistently talk about and/or televised the riots, and as the old adage goes, “A picture is worth more than a 1000 words,” or maybe 10,000 words, according to research.) In my opinion, the riots and lootings overshadow all other initiatives that Biden has proposed. Only Trump’s mishandling of the coronavirus situation keeps the Biden campaign alive. In addition, the Biden campaign is damaged by some Democrats who continually excuse lawlessness at protests demonstrations by calling them “mostly peaceful” protests,” or find fault with occasional gatherings of people for not complying with coronavirus social distancing rules, but excuse protesters who never follow them. Example: New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio singling out Orthodox Jews for flouting social distancing rules at a funeral, but not criticizing Black Lives Matters demonstrators who always disregard social distancing rules, or condemning protests that turned violent.
Unlike previous conventions, where policies like strengthening Social Security, expanding healthcare and protecting workers’ labor rights were featured, the 2020 Democratic Convention will be remembered as the one in which the various fractured elements of the party put aside their differences for one purpose – to defeat Donald Trump.
Law and order campaigns by presidential candidates have a long history of success, prior to Trump’s 2016 campaign, during which he claimed rapists and criminals would enter America if Hillary Clinton was elected. In 1968, Richard Nixon’s campaign pledged to bring law and order to the cities. And in 1988, George H.W. Bush’s successful presidential campaign emphasized racially charged crime.
Both conventions had speakers who either circumvented the truth, told half-truths, made misleading statements and made outright lies. But the biggest lie of all was trying to convince Americans that the coronavirus is under control and, as Larry Kudlow implied, it is over.
Calling both the Democratic and Republican conclaves TV infomercials, instead of conventions, might be more accurate.
Most Important Final Thoughts
It’s obvious that Trump’s playbook, as evidenced by speeches during the Republican Convention and since, is to try and limit coronavirus news, divide the nation and create a climate of fear and lawlessness if Biden is elected, (though it is Trump’s rhetoric that promotes violence, in my opinion).
The on-going civil unrest has the potential to deliver enough independent and conservative Democratic votes to Trump to assure his reelection, and there is little that the Biden campaign can do to stop the riots and looting. (If that occurs, it will have the affect of the protesters cutting off their noses to spite their faces, or vice versa.)
About the Author: Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles in some of the most significant national and international sports and non-sports programs. He also traveled internationally as a media adviser to high-ranking government officials. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations publications, consults on public relations projects and is on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He can be reached at arthursolomon4pr (at) juno.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.