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“The Sunday Political Brunch” -- October 23, 2016


(Charleston, West Virginia) – The debates are over, and now it is time to vote. The candidates served up a lot to chew on in their final encounters, so let’s “brunch” on that this week.

“WikiLeaks” – I thought this was Donald Trump’s best debate – though it was not without its problems. More about that in a moment. Trump’s best moment was when he confronted Hillary Clinton about one of her speeches that was produced in an email hack by WikiLeaks. It was a speech to Brazilian bankers in which she advocated for “open borders” in the U.S. While Clinton maintained she was talking about energy policy, Trump argued she was talking about immigration policy. It was one of his hardest hits of the night.

“Late in the Game” – Trump could use more “moments” like the ones provided by WikiLeaks. The problem is that time, momentum, and format are not on his side. The election is November 8, but early voting is already underway in many states. If more incriminating emails come out from WikiLeaks on - say November 1, all the people who early voted can’t go back and change their ballots. It’s also hard to change minds in the eleventh hour, and the number of undecided voters is dwindling.

“Combative Versus Mean” – One of Donald Trump’s best qualities is his combativeness – unless it goes too far. Look, he got to this point in the race because he is spontaneous, unscripted, and blunt. There really is no filter. Renowned pollster Frank Luntz has done focus groups throughout the campaign where debate viewers control a dial in which they can react positively or negatively to a candidate’s remarks. Trump always scores well when he is feisty and combative, but his ratings turn negative when he starts name calling, such as when he said Hillary Clinton was a “liar,” or “such a nasty woman.” When he crosses the line, many voters go thumbs down. Suddenly, his biggest asset – his candor – becomes a liability.

“Al Smith Dinner” – My same critique might be said for his remarks at the quadrennial Al Smith Dinner the night following the debate. Some of his jokes about Hillary Clinton were hysterical; and, in turn, some of her barbs aimed at him were quite funny. But when he crossed the line into personal attacks during what is supposed to be a bipartisan and satirical event, he crossed the line. The fallout is that the mean clips dominate the news coverage, and all the funny stuff gets forgotten. There’s an old saying: “Quit while you’re ahead,” and Trump should have abided by it. He would have won the night in the candidates' last joint appearance. Likability is a great last-minute impression to leave on wavering or undecided voters.

“The Clinton Strategy” – I thought the strongest moment in the debate for Clinton was when she criticized Trump for his behavior towards women. Instead of mentioning women who have made allegations of sexual impropriety about Trump (which could have brought a backlash on Clinton), she chose to talk about the female reporter who wrote the article. “He attacked the woman reporter writing the story, called her disgusting as he has called a number of women during this campaign. Donald thinks belittling women makes him bigger,” Clinton said. By attacking Trump in this way, Clinton hit hard on an issue that has hurt Trump, without allowing him to return fire by talking about Bill Clinton’s treatment of women and about Hillary’s protection of her husband.

“Early Voting” – I offer the above advice because this campaign will leave a lot of “lessons learned” for future candidates. There is the old bromide, “You only have one chance to make a first impression.” The other end of that should be, “You only have one chance to make a final impression before people vote.” I say this because Election Day may be November 8, but a lot of people can now vote early. For example, following the final debate and the Al Smith Dinner, early voting was already underway in 24 states. This week, 13 more states will join that list. If everyone had to wait until Election Day, some of the negative images have a chance to fade. But if they can vote the morning after the final debate, last impressions can be powerful.

“The Handshake” – I used to coach a lot of youth sports, and the one thing we stressed to the kids was sportsmanship – win, lose, or draw. The captains would shake hands at the start of the game, and the players and coaches from each side would shake hands after the game. It was a great life lesson about competition and camaraderie. I think the candidates should shake hands before and after the debate. They look petty and small when they don’t.

“Respect for the Process” – Speaking of sportsmanship, Trump’s refusal to commit to accepting the results of the election seemed odd. “I will look at it at the time,” Trump said. That led to speculation he might not concede the election should he lose. Now it’s one thing to hold off on a concession if the race is close (as it was in 2000), or if there is evidence of significant voter fraud. But election concessions are a time-honored tradition in American politics. I thought in 1992 President George H.W. Bush gave one of the classiest concessions. It’s especially tough when you’re the incumbent President and you lose. Still, you congratulate your opponent and pledge cooperation and healing to the nation. It’s not only polite; it’s patriotic.

Have you early voted? If so, why, and in which state? Just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

© 2016 Mark Curtis Media, LLC

Photo courtesy: cbsnews.com

“The Sunday Political Brunch” -- October 16, 2016


(Charleston, West Virginia) – The third and final Presidential debate is Wednesday night, October 19. Republican nominee Donald Trump is clearly in trouble, but politics has often been called "the art of the possible.” With that in mind, this is my third and - thankfully - my last column about what each candidate should use for a debate strategy. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“Give Us Your Plan” – Donald Trump’s best and last shot involves laying out the specifics of his agenda. He must - in very pointed fashion - say, “This is my jobs plan!”; “This is my defeat-ISIS plan!”; “This is my immigration plan!”; and, “This is my education plan.” Voters need to hear his vision – and to hear it in a specific agenda. This is his last chance to say, “This is who I am and why you should vote for me.”

“Attack! Attack! Attack!” – Hillary Clinton’s strategy needs to be a blitzkrieg attacking Trump's highly-tinged comments about women and their allegations of sexual impropriety involving Trump. I know. This sounds completely counter-intuitive given her husband’s similar pattern of behavior. But let’s face it. The “Access Hollywood” tapes gave her the spike in the polls this week. Plus, Trump has hurt himself on the counterattacks. It’s weird, but her response needs to be that “Hillary Clinton is running for President this year - not Bill Clinton.” Strange, but it’s a defense!

“Counterattack” – Trump needs to apologize for the “Access Hollywood” tapes and to say, “Look, that was 11 years ago. I’ve apologized; I’ve learned; and this campaign has changed me and my view of America.” When Clinton attacks him for his remarks, he needs to say, “Look, I was wrong. My behavior was out of line. But how is dwelling on this going to re-employ one displaced coal miner in West Virginia?” Oddly, he needs to make the very same argument that President Clinton made during the 1998 impeachment – that there are far more troublesome issues of concern to the American people. Yes, he needs to steal Bill Clinton’s playbook; and I say that as a political strategy – not in any way as a defense for their boorish behavior.

“Not the Counterattack” – Something that fell flat in the second debate was Trump’s accusation that Hillary Clinton was complicit in her husband’s behavior - that she attacked his accusers and demonized the women involved. This strategy is a mistake, because during the impeachment proceedings, the majority of people – rightly or wrongly – viewed Hillary Clinton as a victim of her husband’s indiscretions. She was a sympathetic figure – as any cheated-on spouse would be. Attacking Hillary for her husband’s behavior is not going to win Trump many votes among the dwindling undecideds at the 11th hour.

“The Three-Point Plan” – When I teach public speaking, I preach something known as “The Rule of Threes.” Basically, the rule states that when you give a speech, you are lucky if people remember three things about it. That’s why we always suggest starting with a joke, because it’s a memorable moment. Ronald Reagan was the master of this in politics. In 1980 he promised three things: 1) rebuild the national defense; 2) cut taxes; and, 3) shrink the size of government. Critics called it simplistic; defenders said it was a memorable mantra, and they were right, as Reagan won in a landslide. Wednesday night, Trump needs to give voters three simple policy reasons to vote for him.

“Sell Your Resume” – The Clinton campaign keeps preaching the line that she is the most experienced candidate ever to run for President. I think I’ve shown in previous columns that that is simply not empirically correct. Other nominees, such as James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, and George H.W. Bush, had equally or far more impressive resumes. Nonetheless, Clinton has thirty-plus years in politics, so she needs to underscore it! Experience is a huge selling point in any job interview.

“The Math Problem” – The Trump slide has been starkest in the “Battleground States," which - up until a week ago – showed a very close contest nationwide. Trump was slightly or moderately ahead in Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Colorado, and Nevada. Those states account for 77 Electoral College votes. When you combine them with states that are already safe for Trump, he had 275 Electoral College votes, five more than he needed to win the White House. Today, he is behind in all five of the swing states that will decide this election. He must win in all five, or it’s over. Right now it’s not trending his way, so Wednesday’s debate is crucial.

“Being Presidential” – As I always say, being “Presidential” has no precise definition. But people know it, when they see it. Hillary Clinton – who is widely unpopular – showed it in the first two debates with the odd argument, “You may not like me, but I’m qualified for this job!” Trump has to show that, too. He needs the statesman-like appearancethat he exhibited on his trip to Mexico. That’s why he needs to take the high road on the sex-scandal stuff. It sounds weird, but his best defense is the Bill Clinton defense. Odd!

“The Fallout” – Trump needs to be unselfish and to think about collateral damage. Control of the U.S. Senate hangs in the balance. Democrats need a net gain of four seats, which would be a 50-50 tie; and Vice President Tim Kaine – as Senate President – would tip control to the Democrats. Right now, Democrats look to pick up Senate seats in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana. Republicans may pick up a seat in Nevada. The two seats “on the bubble” are in New Hampshire and North Carolina. If Hillary Clinton wins those two states, her coattails could lead to Democratic control of the U.S. Senate. Remember that only the Senate votes on Supreme Court nominees and foreign treaties. This is a big deal!

What would you do in the third debate if you were Trump or Clinton? Just click the comment button at www.MarkCurisMedia.com.

© 2016, Mark Curtis Media, LLC

Photo courtesy: cbsnews.com

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