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“The Sunday Political Brunch” -- January 8, 2017

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(Charleston, West Virginia) – I have mentioned from time to time on my website that I am not a member of any political party. Over the years – for personal, practical, and professional reasons – I have registered as an independent, non-partisan, or declined-to-state, depending on the options offered in the six states in which I have been registered to vote. With that independent streak in mind, let me offer some non-partisan advice to people who may find themselves in the party out of power: “It’s not the end of the world!”. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“The Ebb and Flow” -- In 2008, when Barack Obama won the White House and Democrats held control of the House and Senate, there was the usual pundit question: “Is this the death of the Republican Party?” But the GOP took control of the House in 2010, and the Senate in 2014, and the “end” never came. After years of Democratic control, Ronald Reagan won the White House in a 1980 landslide, swept control of the Senate for the GOP, and - with conservative Democrats and Republicans - held a “philosophical majority” in the House. Just know that the pendulum swings both ways.

“From the Ground Up” – One of the most critical lessons I teach my students is that “Political movements are built from the ground up, not from the top down.” Swings in the national influence of both parties have often been launched years earlier with wins at city council, county commission, and state legislature levels. For example, President Obama never would have been the first African-America president had others from his demographic base not first won a significant number of seats in city halls, state houses, and then in the halls of Congress.

“Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is” – With the above two premises in mind, some of my advice to people in the party out of power is this: Put your name on the ballot! Talk is cheap. You can find people complaining in bar rooms, at the workplace water cooler, and now on social media when their side loses an election. If you don’t like the political tide, then put your name on a ballot and run for office. Whining accomplishes nothing; but action can!

“Door-to-Door” – Two of the most politically savvy women I have ever known – one a progressive liberal, and the other an evangelical conservative – always impressed me with their political passion because they embraced door-to-door campaigning. They knew from the outset that they would face some hostility and rejection, but they believed in their causes so they went door-knocking anyway, handing out political leaflets and information because they were committed to their beliefs. As we’ve seen many times in elections, the “ground game” is critical to winning. Get out there and walk precincts for your side – even in the face of opposition.

“Become Media Savvy” – Build media relationships. Don’t view the media as the hostile enemy or as unapproachable. Reach out, and you may be pleasantly surprised. Here’s a case in point. In 2010, I was assigned to live coverage of the "State of the City Address" by then Providence, Rhode Island, Mayor David Cicilline (a Democrat now in Congress). After the speech, a man came up to me, handed me a press release and asked, “Would you be interested in the opposing point of view?” He was Dave Talan, Chairman of the Providence Republican Party. About ten minutes later, he was ‘live’ on our station, expressing his party’s views. It was the first of many interviews I had with him over a six-year span.

“Embrace Rejection” – I was doing my frequent “man-on-the-street” interviews the other day; and after a woman turned down my offer to share her opinion, she said, “You must face a lot of rejection!” My response was, “Yes, it’s kind of like dating in high school; you ask often, but get lots of 'No thanks'!” It’s a standard line I use, and it always gets a laugh. I’ve seen good retail politicians respond to rejection by politely saying, “Well you may disagree with some of my positions, but I’d be honored to have your vote on election day.” It can be persuasive.

“Talk to People; Listen to People” – If you take my challenge above and decide to run for office, here is one of my most crucial pieces of advice: “Shut up and listen!” Don’t give endless speeches but,instead, seek the opinions of your constituents and solicit their advice. In many ways, the 2016 campaign was a rejection of politics as usual and a thumbs-down to the status quo. Republicans embraced a rebel Donald Trump over the establishment’s Jeb Bush; many Democrats rejected the establishment’s Hillary Clinton in favor of rebel Bernie Sanders. The lesson – listen to the public’s moods and concerns.

“Paradigms Change; Parties Change” – In 1960, Democrat John Kennedy won on promises of cutting taxes, smaller government, and having a stronger national defense. In 1980, Republican Ronald Reagan won by promising tax cuts, smaller government, and having a stronger national defense. Now how can two parties have two similar results, in two different elections? Well, times change, parties evolve, and public moods shift. As I said above, listen to people and be tuned in to what the public wants and needs.

“Be the Loyal Opposition” – As mentioned, politics is a business of ebb and flow. One decade your party is in; and another you’re on the outs. The minority party always claims it has little clout, but it does. Practice being the “loyal opposition” by actively advocating for alternative programs, budgets, policies, and candidates. You have to create a well-publicized agenda that says, “Look, here’s another way!” People - like choices and priorities - change. For example, student loan programs were immensely popular when first offered years ago, but now - with exploding student debt - people are rethinking the whole policy. Why do you think “free tuition” pledges – whether plausible or not – caught such popular fire this election year?

What are your alternative ideas? Just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

© 2017 Mark Curtis Media, LLC

Photo courtesy: cbsnews.com

“The Sunday Political Brunch” -- January 1, 2017

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(Charleston, West Virginia) – Happy New Year! As of today, I begin my fortieth year in mass media, much of that time spent covering politics at the local, state, and national levels. The year 2016 was like no other. One of the main reasons it was so fascinating is because so many people in the mass media business got it all wrong. Why did that happen? Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“Bush League” – One of the first clues that this was going to be an “outside-of-the-box” year politically was what happened to former Governor Jeb Bush (R-FL). He was the legacy candidate with name recognition, a solid resume, the most money, and the biggest organization. And there was the potential of a “Bush v. Clinton” rematch to atone for 1992. This race had it all. Yet, after South Carolina (only the third primary or caucus in the country), Bush was done. But the press missed the big story here and in the Clinton campaign, too) This wasn’t just a rejection of Jeb Bush; it was a repudiation of legacy and insider politics - a repudiation the likes of which we’ve never before seen in the United States.

“Trump ‘Trumps’ Publicity”—For all of its flailing at Donald Trump, the media was more like a high-wind, fanning the flames of a forest fire! Remember, even before the primaries began, Trump was getting a grossly disproportionate share of the publicity. There were 17 Republican candidates, but he was siphoning all the oxygen out of the room. This trend started from the day he announced, and continued through the debates and primaries and even through the general election. In many ways, the mass media was Trump's enabler, and he was more than happy to give them material. It turns out that was gold.

“Just Win, Baby!” – When coaches would ask the late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis for advice, he would simply say, “Just win, baby!” That seems simplistic, but there is an old saying that winning is the best deodorant. Despite whatever flaws one might have, continuous winning gives a sense or momentum and inevitability. Trump was a strong second in Iowa; he won New Hampshire; and, then he won South Carolina. He then took eight of the next twelve contests, through Super Tuesday. And regardless of whatever he said - however provocative and outrageous - he kept winning. Trends matter; and - by and large, the media missed it. Many reporters and analysts I know firmly believed Trump would eventually trip and fall. (I thought the release of the “Access Hollywood” tapes in October would be that moment, but I was wrong, too.)

“Record Debate Audiences; Record Turnouts” -- Another trend that should have received more coverage early on was crowd size. Trump was attracting huge crowds, including 40,000 people in Mobile, Alabama. Democratic upstart Bernie Sanders was also attracting huge crowds of 30,000 in Wisconsin and Oregon. Hillary Clinton’s crowds were far smaller, and considerably less passionate. I noticed this very same phenomenon in 2008, when she ran against Barack Obama: Her crowds were starkly smaller and less excited. I wasn’t the only one in the press pool who noticed this; yet it got scant coverage. But all through the 2016 primary season, there were two crucial phenomena at work: record debate viewership and ratings; and record turnout in almost every state primary or caucus. Trump was attracting millions who were disengaged from the political process. These were clues that Trump could really win; yet few saw it coming.

“The Bernie Factor” -- I have long mentioned what I deem the similarities in the appeal of Trump, and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT). While they are bookends of the political spectrum, they represented a lot of the same rebel, outsider, speak-from-the heart appeal. They worked without scripts or the safety net of a teleprompter. People in both parties (and many independents) found it engaging and refreshing. A lot of people - including friends in the national media - thought I was nuts when I kept calling Trump and Sanders “two sides of the same coin.” Sanders nearly beat Clinton for the Democratic nomination; and if many national pundits had agreed with me, they would have seen the possible Trump path to the White House. Back in February, 2016, I kept saying in interviews, “Trump could win this whole thing,” but a lot of people I told did not take me seriously.

“The ‘Trump Titanic’” – Trump can be his own worst enemy. Often what he says or tweets generates negative headlines. First, it was the wall on the Mexican border; then it was the total ban on Muslim entry into the U.S.; and, then it was his on-air spat with Megyn Kelly about Rosie O’Donnell, in the first Fox News debate. Every time these controversies happened, the prediction was that Trump would plummet in the polls and he would implode. But seemingly he defied gravity, and his poll numbers often increased. He was the Titanic that kept hitting the iceberg, yet never sank!

“My Analysis” – When I talk about the lessons the news media needs to learn from this election, I certainly include myself. As you may recall, I predicted Hillary Clinton would win the Electoral College, 272 to 266 over Donald Trump (a one-state margin). I correctly picked 47 of 51 states and the District of Columbia. I was only wrong about Nevada, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin (the last three of which decided the race for Trump). As a native of Wisconsin - and someone who still has a lot of family and friends there - I should have been more accurately in tune with the public mood. As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, a lot of media mistakes are due to not listening to “people on the ground” about what matters most in their lives.

Where do you think the press went off the rails? Just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

© 2016, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: shybox.com

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