A Debate Primer For Your Sanity

I sat down this weekend with the intention of writing about tonight’s debate and what to expect.  But let’s be honest, its simple.  Trump will say whatever comes to his mind, whether right, wrong, fictitious, or absurd and Clinton will be hamstrung to defend herself. Democracy!

Instead I bring you this preview to what will inevitably increase attendance at AA meetings across the country next week.

Early prediction (based on CNN advertising):

  • Trump and Hillary will each arrive in sequined robes. Trump will decline to weigh in and instead declare that “My weight is phenomenal, truly tremendous.”  Gary Johnson will then rush the stage and bite off part of Clinton’s ear.

How Clinton will win: 

  • She must do the oral equivalent of walking across a Vaseline soaked tightrope, in a hurricane, while wearing ice skates, and after taking 10 shots of Trump Vodka.

How Trump will win:

  • He must not vomit, defecate, or die on stage.

What Clinton will wear:

  • Black suit.  Red power tie.  Flag Pin.  Frank Underwood’s cuff-links.

On fact checking:

  • CNN will fact check, but will then allow Ana Navarro and Corey Lewandowski to debate each “fact.”
  • Fox’s fact checking will be done by Rudy Giuliani.
  • MSNBC will stop fact checking after their team resigns due to exhaustion 10 seconds into Trump’s opening statement.

Drink whenever Clinton says: 

  • “We are stronger together.”

Drink whenever Trump says:

  • “I’ll hire the best people to look into that.”

Finish your drink if: 

  • Someone in the audience shouts “RIP HARAMBE!” during a pause in the action.

You know what, just start drinking now.

If you’re seeking accurate information:

  • Skip this debate and wait for the SNL version next weekend.

How we’ll be saved:

  • CNN’s countdown clock will freeze at 0:00:03 and no activity shall ever commence until its CNN countdown clock has hit 0:00:00.

Late prediction:

  • The Commission on Presidential Debates will have a person whose sole job is to cover Lester Holt’s mouth when Trump declares that “Hillary Clinton not only founded ISIL, but she actually piloted all four planes on 9/11.”

 

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“Hillary Clinton, meet Don Draper.”

This election has been the darkest in my lifetime. Gone are candidates of hope and from Hope. Gone too are the traditional norms of campaigns. The Republican candidate has bought less air time than companies who sell catheters and the Democratic candidate seems fixated on running a traditional campaign come hell or high water.

The most effective ad of this cycle was the Hillary Clinton ad titled “Role Models” which featured many of Trump’s vociferous soundbites paired with images of impressionable doe-eyed elementary schoolers seemingly watching in paralyzed awe.  The ad was brilliant in its ability to elicit emotion from the viewer, and without stating the obvious put in context what it would be like if Oval Office addresses basically turn into an oral YouTube comment section.

In addition, in this hyper-saturated political climate, ads also serve as a discussion topic for the morning-afternoon-evening-night shows.  An ad may only be played durng commercials in Ohio, but CNN will replay it countless times in order to ask their army of commentators to err, comment.

With that in mind, there are three ads Clinton needs to run to change the game, and namely the conversation.  First, she needs to take a fun, light, and unique approach.  This election has become overly serious and the mere mention of “Clinton” or “Trump” is enough to make most people wish they had taken a Dramamine. Second, she needs another hit like “Role Models” to contextualize Trump’s unfitness. And third, she needs a raw emotional appeal to the Rust Belt.

  • “Everywhere”

The spot opens with the required “I approve this message” bit so that the end effect isn’t ruined. As the federally mandated portion fades out, the opening notes of Johnny Cash’s version of  “I’ve been everywhere man” begin. dum dum dum DUM dum DUM.  

As the lyrics start, quick (¾ second) images of regular plain Jane Hillary Clinton smiling with folks of every color in the rainbow at county fairs, malls, fields, rallies, and little league games all across the country flash on the screen to the beat.  The images would appear match the cities being named, if only to bait the Washington Post into assigning a reporter to fact-check each image.

The ad finishes with a 3 second shot of her lone campaign bus driving on a two lane road through corn fields with “Strong Together” branded across the screen.

This ad is effective because even back when Choice Hotels ran an ad with this song, I would always turn my head when it came on in almost a Pavlovian response to the infectious guitar.  Once eyes are on the screen, viewers will be barraged with a fun and lively Hillary, in contrast to the dark and ominous Donald we have come to know.

  • “Legacy”

This ad features short clips of presidents from FDR through Obama during impactful speeches they made. The run of show would open with FDR and continue chronologically:

    1. FDR: “This day, will live in infamy”
    2. Kennedy in Berlin: “Ich bin ein Berliner”
    3. LBJ’s “We Shall Overcome” speech
    4. Reagan: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall”
    5. Clinton speech to families of the Oklahoma City bombing victims
    6. Bush after 9/11: “I can hear you, the rest of the world hears you, and soon, the people that knocked down these towers will hear from all of us.”
    7. Obama at the memorial service for the Charleston shooting victims: “As a nation, out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace upon us, for he has allowed us to see where we’ve been blind.”
    8. Donald Trump: “blood coming of her ears, blood coming out her whatever.”
      1. Screen cuts to snow, rewinds, shows last second of Obama then…
    9. Hillary Clinton finishing her remarks at the DNC

This ad is effective because the first 7 clips illustrate the immense power of the presidential bully pulpit.  They remind people that their choice as president is not only a choice on policy but a choice for the face of the nation.  American presidents have enormous consequence on the world and they often do so through addressing the nation in times of crisis or doubt.

The final clips featuring Trump after President Obama’s remarks in Charleston contrasts a president who bears the responsibility of healing and empathy so personally with someone who shoots verbal bullets from the hip and cares not who he offends.

  • “Hands”

Two workers nearing retirement age, dressed blue jeans and a tucked in shirt, with just enough belly to make you picture them sitting on a porch swing, address the camera through a black and white lens. In between full body shots of them talking, the ad focuses on their hands, calloused and worn, evidence of a lifetime of work.  They explain how contracts for buildings were their lifeblood, how it paid for their kid’s college tuition and for the roof above their head.  Then they raise the point that businessmen like Trump who voided contracts or failed to pay brought businesses like theirs to ruin.

The ad ends with a closeup shot of the man’s hands in his lap going from clasped to open as one does in defeat as his voice can be heard saying “When you trust someone and they stiff you, as the little guy, what can you do?”

Each of these ads are effective in a different way.  The first as a lighthearted interruption, a song that everyone recognizes will certainly make heads turn as it begins. The second would be widely played on CNN and spark conversations about how Trump is viewed as a symbol of America. And finally, the third will remind voters of the little people Trump has made pavement out of on his march to celebrity.

Ads don’t win elections, but they have the power to change conversations and drive narratives.  The infamous “Windsurfing” ad against John Kerry in 2004 devastatingly cemented him as a flip-flopper and made him a target of mockery.

After an especially bad week, where Clinton is on the defense for her own errors and those out of her control, a well crafted, clever advertising campaign could shift the conversation back to where she wants it.

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Why Mitch McConnell wants to remain boring.

Twenty-one days. That is all that remains in the Senate’s legislative year before the apocalypse election on November 8.  Twenty-one days to solve a whole host of issues from fighting Zika to funding the government.  So what can you expect to happen?  Basically nothing, and here is why.

As Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell is stuck between two not-so-equal and opposite forces.  On one hand, his Senate majority is dangling from an increasingly frayed rope and on the other hand, the hard right is becoming increasingly frustrated at the lack of conservative victories he has secured. 

Government funding runs out on September 30.  One way or another McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan will hammer out some sort of funding measure, whether it is a Continuing Resolution (CR) or an omnibus package because there is no way in hell they will let a shutdown happen.  The Republicans know that when the dust settled following a shutdown, they would find Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton measuring the drapes for their new offices.

With that in mind, McConnell has three options remaining, none of which make everyone happy, and only one of which keeps his hopes alive of remaining Majority Leader.

The Senate has only passed two of the twelve appropriations bills, so in order to fund the government through fiscal year 2017, McConnell and Ryan would have a quickly package up an omnibus and moved it through Congress in roughly three weeks.  During that process, both parties would offer a host of messaging amendments and McConnell is too smart to force any of his vulnerable members to go on record voting to kill puppies or deport cancer patients. 

In addition, with Senators Portman, Johnson, Ayotte, McCain, Toomey, and Kirk all in fights for their lives, McConnell doesn’t want them in DC for even a second longer than they have to be.  All politics is local, and Capitol Hill ain’t local to anywhere. Any time they spend on the Senate floor is time that they could be shaking hands, kissing babies, and take hay rides at the county fair

The second option would be to pass a CR through the fall and into next Congress, most likely ending in March.  Federal agencies loathe this option as it would force them to operate on a partial year budget with no reasonable expectation of their future funding levels.  Sadly, their practical concerns matter not.  Hard right Republicans favor this option for two reasons.

1) With wishful thinking, they envision holding onto the Senate and thus being able to sabotage President Clinton’s first few months in office with a bruising budget battle that would distract from her “First 100 Days” agenda. 

2) Conservative organizations like the Heritage Foundation believe that lame duck votes tend to yield liberal results. They understand that without accountability to the party machinery, moderate Republicans and those who are retiring are less likely to fight for anti-abortion language in a Zika funding bill.  

While that option is ideal for the conservation wing of the spectrum, Obama has said it is a non-starter and he would veto it.  As I mentioned earlier, Republican’s can’t risk a shutdown and won’t dare ask Obama to play one more hand before he cashes in.

What this leaves us with is the boring inevitability of a two month CR probably passed on September 29th with the promise of an omnibus funding package on the horizon for early December.

Despite all the hooting and hollering McConnell did about how he’d govern differently as Majority Leader and how he’d get the appropriations process back on track, it looks like this fall will be business as usual.  Expect McConnell to begin consideration of a CR through early December within the next week and for all the drama to be left to CNN.

 

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Photo Credit: (TOM WILLIAMS VIA GETTY IMAGES)