|#PR: The “Brave New World” of American Presidential Politics
By: Gerard E. Mayers
“The Donald” continues to dominate the Republican side of the electoral cycle towards the presidential election come this November, and this despite all the controversy and recent attacks on him by his fellow Republican candidates, the party regulars, the media, and even the two Democratic candidates on the other side. On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders continues (as this is written) to generate enthusiasm despite losses in that party's primaries and caucuses to Hillary Clinton.
Why is this? I decided to try to look at this election year from the angle of PR and, with the help of a friend – whom I respect highly (he is a published Civil War author, as am I) – who posted some thoughts last week on Facebook after the Republican caucus in Nevada. I will post some of his comments and then give a PR look at what he said. (Note: Italics are mine.)
My friend devoted several paragraphs on what the current administration and the media have done with respects to unifying or not unifying the country. He also mentioned the current culture of demonization of anyone and anything you do not agree with. Mr Obama certainly has had his share of bad PR since winning the White House in 2008. It has not seemed to stop him or his administration from doing or attempting to do what they want. And as for Congress? Despite Republicans wining majorities in both houses in recent elections, they seem impotent to effect any real change either.
An applicable question for all of us in PR would be: How do the actions of highly public personas influence others? What does the process, or perceived process, of “demonizing” those you do not agree with say about you? We go to reputational intelligence and other aspects of our craft here. We go to keeping our fingers on the pulse of the needs of our stakeholders and clients and market share.
My friend devoted a few paragraphs to the current situation in both political parties: “Trump has the lowest favorables but wins in virtually every category, no matter what is the most important to those voters. ...[the political] pendulum has been swung so far and so hard in the other direction that the right and moderates want the biggest and toughest person to grab it and swing it back. And the turnout of first-time Republican voters is huge, just like it was for Obama in 2008. Democratic turnout is down. Like Trump, Hillary's favorables are in the toilet but she's getting support. … The Republican establishment doesn't yet understand or appreciate the anger that's out there. The party, just like the Democrats, don't understand that there's a party and then there's people.... I fully predict that Trump will get the Republican nomination. I predict that Hillary will get the Democratic nomination,.... The Republican establishment doesn't yet understand their voters and they can't control them. Both conventions should be something to see.”
The PR people in both political parties and those in the news media must be going crazy trying to figure out how to deal with the changed landscape. Are there PR opportunities here or not? How do we flacks deal with changed situations when previously successful models get tossed out the window? Is this election year a good time for businesses to try to launch new products? A colleague of mine posted recently that it might not be. And my Facebook friend noted that “if you thought things couldn't get much more stranger or interesting than 2008, then you are likely surprised.”
My fellow Civil War author went on to pretty accurately sum up the current political cycle with these words:
“How this comes out is anyone's guess. Forget the polls because they're never right. All they do is give talking heads lots to talk about and fill air time. But everything we see has been directly created and has now burst forth. [T]he majority of Americans, in my opinion, don't like the pendulum swinging hard in one direction or the other - but when the boat starts tipping they will find the biggest weight they can to shake it back, whether that weight is personally palatable or not. Many feel that the boat has been tipping over more than it ever has in its 240 year history, and they're throwing the big weight to the high side, all else be damned. No talk yet of whether that weight might sink the ship, because those thoughts aren't even on the radar. ... the anger is so deep and distasteful that that pendulum isn't getting a gentle push, it's getting a huge shove - a huuuuge shove - and the biggest toughest one has been elected to do so. Call them the silent (until now) majority. Call them what you want. They're angry. They've had enough. Perhaps they're not homophobic, perhaps they're not xenophobic, perhaps they're not Islamophobic. They've just had enough.”
What does this say to us flacks who deal with crisis communications? Have you ever felt you are just pounding your heads against a brick wall? What about those who are thought leaders? My friend noted that the pundits and talking heads and the analysts are going nuts trying to figure out why Trump on the Republican side and Sanders on the Democratic side are achieving momentum and that they may be the least qualified to understand or cope with the new reality. If you are an influencer and a thought leader, how do you make sure you accurately reflect, and influence, the current climate in your chosen sectors?
I realize I have asked a lot of questions here for which I, personally, do not have any answers. But let's get the discussion going in hopes we can learn some lessons from this brave new world of American presidential election politics and draw some conclusions that will help us in our own craft.
Gerard E. "Gerry" Mayers writes about PR and other relevant topics for PR professionals. A former PR manager for Sensor Products, Inc. (currently based in Madison, NJ), he lives in Milford, NJ.
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