I’ve been on the road in my home state of South Carolina for the last two days crisscrossing the state, talking to voters, elected officials, politicos, and reporters. I’ve seen over twenty polls and heard every candidate live.

Many people ask me what I think. At the risk of looking foolish on Sunday morning, here is my unvarnished rambling opinion.

Trump has not had the best week and the indicators are he is sliding back to the field. The question is, how much? Trump had a lot of fur he could shed and still stay plenty warm. SC is a good fit for Trump’s message of stopping the rapid pace of economic and cultural globalism, manifest in issues like trade, immigration and gun control. His dust-up with the Pope is a net neutral to positive for him in South Carolina. I don’t think he breaks 40, and the Trump people are wisely trying to manage expectations. But at this point, a Trump loss would be a monumental upset.

Cruz is steady like a rock in South Carolina. It does not appear that he has done anything to grow his vote this week, but Cruz’s followers are loyal and intense. He has the backing of many of the states genuine evangelicals and much of the tea party factions as well. Cruz will get every vote he polls because he has one of the finest turnout operation in politics.

Rubio is moving up, separating from Bush and Kasich. The question everyone following the race in South Carolina asks is, is it enough to catch Cruz? I don’t know. His campaign is the one that does everything – candidate presentation, ads, events, turnout – very good if not great, a first rate political operation across the board. He’s had a good week of press led by the endorsement of enormously popular SC Governor Nikki Haley and there is a lot of energy at his events.

Jeb Bush’s campaign in South Carolina has the air of a farewell party. I have talked to many former Bush loyalists who worked hard for Bush 41 and 43 who are either uncommitted or are for Rubio or Kasich. They all say roughly the same thing – “it breaks my heart because I love the Bushes, but it just isn’t happening.” It is a great political irony – South Carolina saved two Bushes and springboarded them to the White House, but it might be Jeb Bush’s Waterloo in 2016.

John Kasich is well liked in South Carolina. Kasich intertwines his profound knowledge of policy with a personal touch better than anyone on the campaign trail. His problem is he has not been here in South Carolina, has not invested his time in the state and its too late to catch up. He’ll finish respectably, but there will be no New Hampshire surprise.

Ben Carson is not only as fine a man as you will encounter in American politics, he is as fine a man as you will encounter in any walk of life. I had the privilege today to spend a half hour backstage with Dr. Carson before he addressed a terrific crowd of around 750 or so in my hometown of Florence, SC. I listened, shared, laughed and prayed with him. Ben Carson may not become the president but every American can learn something from his quiet strength, healing and hope for the future.

So, at risk of being foolish:

1. Trump
2. Cruz
3. Rubio
4. Bush
5. Kasich
6. Carson

I think there will be:

5-10 points of separation between 1st & 2nd.
0-5 points of separation between 2nd & 3rd.
10 points or so separation between 3rd & 4th.
4th, 5th & 6th all feel like they will get around 8-12% of the vote, jumbled up, the order could vary. I would not be at all surprised to see Ben Carson finish 4th, for instance.

I also think that I’m smart enough to know that this race is extremely fluid, I think moreso than ever in South Carolina, and anything could happen (how is that for hedging).

Most of all I think people should go vote for the candidate of their choice! It’s the cornerstone of our democracy, the power to choose. If we don’t use it, we might lose it.

For Hillary Clinton, it’s Deja Crazy Vu.

déjà vu |ˌdāZHä ˈvo͞oo|
a feeling of having already experienced the present situation.

As the adroit Ron Fournier points out on Twitter, when it comes to the Clintons it’s always someone else’s fault.

Sometimes, it’s the voters. This time, right on schedule, it’s the consultants.

On the eve of the New Hampshire primary, we’re hearing a Clinton staff shakeup is on the way. Sound familiar? It should.

Clinton’s 2016 campaign is following an eerily similar path to that of her ill-fated 2008 bid for the presidency. Devastating and embarrassing early shortcomings (Iowa in 2008, and polling indicates a 2016 blowout is coming in New Hampshire) followed by internal recriminations.

As Glenn Thrush of Politico has reported, the Clintons are mad as hell and they’re not going to take it any more. Maybe they should adopt Donald Trump’s theme song, because like Twisted Sister they’re telling their staff “if that’s your best your best won’t do” and ordering another purge.

In 2008, Clinton sacked her campaign manager and shook up the staff after losing in Iowa to a skilled novice and an experienced maggot. Here we are again, eight years later – almost to the day – and it’s second verse, same as the first: an underperforming campaign that doesn’t connect with voters embarrassed by an outsider they “didn’t see coming.”

2008: Angry candidate blames staff. 2016: Rinse, repeat.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. Clinton played it smart this time. She hired those wily Obama veterans who beat her in 2008 to run this race. Genius! She would have a bionic campaign, rebuilt… better, stronger, faster.

Not so much. It might be a bionic campaign, but it’s the same candidate. And that’s the rub with voters.

There are many parallels between the brands with which I work and the politicians with which I used to work. One of the biggest is that a great product solves a lot of problems, but a bad one brings problems to the surface with a vengeance.

Barack Obama was a great candidate. He made everything from organizing to digital to fundraising to messaging easier. But when you go to market with a product the market doesn’t like, it’s hard. You can have expensive ads, the best space on the shelf, great technology… and still fail.

Hillary Clinton was likable enough. But to paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen, she’s no Barack Obama.

Clinton’s people couldn’t sell her then. Obama’s people can’t sell her now. No one is warming up in the bullpen – Joe Biden has left to find a cure for Cancer, an easier job than selling candidate Clinton to voters – and the Democratic party is staring down the reality of watching a second Clinton campaign crumble, this time humiliated by a 74 year old self-declared Socialist from Vermont.

We opened with a definition and we close with a quote:

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. – Albert Einstein.

Those crazy Clintons. Here they go again.

“America.” It’s the best political ad of the cycle, and it’s not even close.

Political advertising is often referred to as a “dark art”, some kind of nefarious voodoo performed by hacks who live under the stairs and come out every two years to scare us in our living rooms.  And many of those ads fairly perpetuate that impression.

Like any other profession there are those who slog away churning out pablum. Then, there are people who are skilled craftsmen and women. Democratic ad maker Julian Mulvey has given us all a lesson in what great political advertising looks like.  I was able to get a few brief comments from Mulvey (he’s quite busy…) and, together with my own thoughts, here is why the film is so special.

It captures the essence of the candidate. So many political ads invest themselves in trying to persuade us which issues are important, or what to think about another candidate or party. Instead, the best ads answer the question we really want to know.  What is this person about?

Magnificently, without a single work of dialogue, this reveals the essence of Bernie Sanders and the thing that makes him different from everyone else in the field – Passion. Whether you agree with Sanders’ policy positions or not, no one believes he’s not passionate about his views. That’s the spirit of this entire piece of communication – if you passionately believe in the promise of America this is your campaign, come on board.

Misdirection. Typically, in the last two weeks of a race, we wince when we turn on the TV, awash in thirty second nastygrams. Instead, this is a positive ad “right at the moment when candidates typically go negative” Mulvey says. One YouTube commenter even wrote “wait, aren’t you supposed to be attacking somebody?”

Things you don’t expect are more interesting and engaging than the same old same old. This is a refreshing, encouraging and uplifting ad that will stand out from a sea of screens cloaked in dark tones, ominous voices and red underlining of tough words.

 Less is more. I once had a professor who demanded our class write a difficult exam answer on one blue book sheet of paper.  It was great training for being a communications professional. In a cluttered and distracted world, “fewer” is simpler, stronger and clearer. You have to be understood to be truly heard. You don’t need one more word to get your point across. You need a better word or, sometimes, no words at all.

Masterful pacing. Mulvey said one of his objectives was to create “infectious enthusiasm.” He nailed it, as you can feel the excitement build through the spot. The film and music all work together to connect powerful crescendos. If you are a Sanders supporter, you are ready to go knock on doors in zero degree Iowa weather from now until caucus night. That’s a win.

Emotion beats reason. So many political spots work overtime trying to make an argument. Here, there is no argument to process, no intellectual gymnastics to perform. You simply need to sit back and experience the moment. You want to watch this ad over and over again not to comprehend the case it makes, but so you can smile just one more time.

The power of music.  The music track can often be the single most important choice in an ad.  It’s sets the mood and tone of the entire conversation.  Here, a familiar song known by many is the most powerful part of the ad. Why is this important?

Many people today are disillusioned and angry.  They learned from their parents, grandparents, teachers and leaders what America is supposed to be. They still believe in that America, and they want to make it work.  They may be frustrated by the failure of political leadership but they are not going to quit on America. They’re still “looking” for the America they idealize, the one to which we all aspire.  The ad acknowledges that yearning and rather than lecture us about it or tell us what that version of America ought to look like, it simply it holds up a mirror to it and reflects its radiant beauty.  As Mulvey told me, “it lets the viewer write the script, right from their own life story.” Brilliant.

Production value matters.  How many times has a powerful concept or a great idea been killed by a low rent production budget. So many people in media have been trained to worship at the altar of reach, frequency and the almighty gross rating point. But watching tripe ten times instead of eight isn’t going to change anyone’s mind or make them feel anything different.  You can put a sorry product on every computer or TV screen in America and it will still be sorry.

Great communication is about the power of the expression, the beauty of the idea – not how many times you can bludgeon someone over the head with it. Invest in the idea. Buy the famous song rights. Steal some money from the media budget and have the courage to create something powerful, inspirational and moving. If you are talking about the search for the American ideal, then have the courage to capture it in its perfect glory, with beautiful films like this that showcase the depth and breath of the subject and the passion with which people believe in it.

So hats off from this Republican to Mulvey and the Sanders’ campaign for a great ad. Will it work?  We’ll see. The Clinton machine continues to trudge along like a snowplow, and it may push Sanders to the side. But with work like this in the field, Sanders will continue to have a chance to pull the biggest upset since… well, since the last time the Clinton snowplow ended up in an Iowa ditch.


Obama’s Legacy

In what was one of the most political “non-political” speeches ever given, last night President Obama attempted to define his legacy.

barack-obama-state-of-the-union-joe-bidenAs usual, he chose to define himself more by what he is not than by defining what he is. He remains a political spectre in many ways. He is not Clinton. He is not Bush. He is not “the Republican Party”. He is not Romney. And now, last night, he is not Trump.

The problem with his strategy is he is exiting the office as not much of a president in the eyes of millions of Americans. Whatever he actually is, voters have had enough of it.

Obama leaves behind a broken and desperate country, once mesmerized by his promises of hope and change but today victimized by his failure and indifference. And his failure drives the presidential politics we are struggling to explain today.

His goals were to unify the country and transform our politics. But today, America remains more deeply divided than ever and largely untransformed economically and compromised internationally.

debt-clockObama’s job approval rating on the economy is underwater. Obama has added over $8 trillion to our national debt, possibly doubling it by the time he leaves office. Wage growth is flat and five million jobs are unfilled. Health care costs continue to rise and as payers and providers race to merge with each other in an effort to manage these costs, the end result could be fewer choices for consumers. American businesses are forced to flee the unrelenting beast known as the US tax code in order to remain competitive in the global marketplace. Americans are frustrated and scared by these changes, and the president has done little to nothing to address these fears, especially with the white, working class voters that are hurt by them most.

ISIS killingObama said he would “lead from behind” and improve America’s standing in world. He cites foreign opinion polls to support his contention it’s working but Americans think his foreign policy stinks, disapproving 57% to 37%. Americans are growing progressively uneasy as Putin proactively wages a new Cold War to preserve and expand Russia’s client states, Iran and Saudi Arabia ease dangerously close to a proxy war, North Korea expands its atomic testing and, of highest concern to most voters, ISIS reaches silently into our streets with the poison gas of lethal hate, murdering innocent victims not just in the Middle East but on the streets of Paris and California.

Pessimistic on the economy.  Scared on security.  And scared people get angry and defensive.

Our politics are stuck like Flick’s tongue to the school flagpole. Democrats defend Obama. Republicans loathe him. No one listens to anyone but shouts at everyone and generally, all stay surly. One of the most shocking stats: America’s mood on race now stands at a 20 year low, positive views on race relations plummeting 43% since Obama’s election. This is a stunning collapse under our first African-American president, an extraordinary tearing asunder of the conscience of our country on the watch of a man once perceived to have such great gifts to heal.

People have given up. Seven of 10 Americans believe the country is off on the wrong track. 73% of voters think the next president should take a different approach from Obama. Which explains, in part, the current state of the race for President.

In Iowa and New Hampshire, the two states where the most campaigning has been done, I give you the respective leaders for their parties’ nominations:

Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 1.15.50 PMbernie

Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

Think about that. This is what two terms of Barack Obama has wrought. In Iowa and New Hampshire, two Purple states, swing states that decide presidential elections, the Democrats want a declared Socialist and the Republicans want an angry Populist.

Obama’s legacy could actually be a Sanders vs. Trump general election. Yes, I realize that there are miles to go in this race, and yes I have the humility to realize I might have a better chance of winning the Powerball than to explain right now who will win this race. But to be here, in this place, three weeks out from the night of the Iowa Caucuses, is truly extraordinary.

Democrats are ready to trudge through the snow and cold to declare that a grumpy Socialist should be president. And Republicans are willing to raise their hand in a room full of their neighbors and say “I’m for Donald Trump”, an angry populist.

Desperation from Democrats. Indignation from Republicans. That’s the Obama legacy. That’s why, in the form of Trump and Sanders, millions of Americans in both parties seem to be telling him to get the hell off their lawn.

PS:  I explored some of this on CNN yesterday with Kate Bolduan, John Berman and Donna Brazile.  The conversation on this point starts about :30 in.

*Polls cited include the most recent NYT/WSJ and the CBS/NYT.

Three States or Four Screens? Welcome to the New Presidential Primary.

Carly in IAOnce upon a time, running for president was arguably confined to a Three State exercise. You gathered endorsements, knocked on doors, stood on flatbeds and made speeches in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Not anymore.

Today running for president requires a Four Screen Strategy. TV, Desktop, Tablet and Mobile.

The endorsement of a local figure is less powerful than that of a popular blogger who might live thousands of miles away. Candidates knock on many more email inboxes than doors for a fraction of the cost.

And voters don’t have to brave the cold or the rain to see a full-length speech from a political candidate. We can watch live on CNN, Fox News Channel or MSNBC from the warm cocoons of our living rooms. Missed the moment? No worries. you are a YouTube click away from all the speeches you want, such as this glorious rant from Donald Trump last night.

Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 1.15.50 PMThe speech was made in Fort Dodge, Iowa, but it could have been made in Fort Worth, Texas or Fort Deposit, Alabama and had the same impact in our Three States. Thanks to our Four Screens, the latest Trump De Force will reverberate far beyond 1500 Iowa eyewitnesses. Voters in New Hampshire, South Carolina and other early primary states awoke this morning to Facebook pages, Twitter feeds and Email Inboxes with All Caps messages from friends and influencers across the country. “OMG you have to watch,” “LOL at Trump” and “Trump WTF” was splashed across our screens with links to video of the speech and stories, tweets and commentary framing it.

A recent Pew Research study confirms the Four Screen phenomenon. Attending campaign events, once a staple of American politics, is becoming less relevant. Voters were more than twice as likely to report they followed a candidate on social media than to say they’d attended a campaign event – young voters five times more likely.

Voters also report declines in campaign contacts from printed mail, home visits, prerecorded and live calls, with an increase in only one area – E-Mail. And while slightly fewer voters reported seeing a TV ad, the TV Screen is still king, far outpacing other forms of direct contact in reaching voters.

More and more voters are following candidates on social media for more than interesting and relevant content. Voters increasingly say “it helps me find out about political news before other people do.” This means voters aren’t just following the campaigns and forming an opinion. They are becoming “micro opinion leaders,” socializing shareable content such as videos, polls, stories, lists and analysis from sites like Politico, RealClearPolitics and Independent Journal Review so they can advocate and influence the views and votes of others.

This is why smart campaigns are investing time and dollars in creating their own shareable digital content and mastering the technology necessary deliver it to Four Screen primary voters. As Nicholas Carr noted in a recent Politico Magazine story:

Ted Cruz live-streams his appearances on Periscope. Marco Rubio broadcasts “Snapchat Stories” at stops along the trail. Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush spar over student debt on Twitter. Rand Paul and Lindsey Graham produce goofy YouTube videos. Even grumpy old Bernie Sanders has attracted nearly two million likers on Facebook, leading the New York Times to dub him “a king of social media.”

The job of the modern campaign is not only to deliver message to audience. It is to empower the audience to become an army of evangelists for your candidate, equipping them with the sharpest implements of modern day digital and social advocacy to help them shape and win the online conversation.

We still count votes in those three states, and their scoreboards have power to change momentum and drive the broader race. But the campaigns with the most powerful Four Screen Strategies are the ones lighting those scoreboards up with votes.

P.S. – As a Friday bonus, here is a really great cover of Ramblin’ Man by the Miller Brothers.  Thanks to Larry Williams at TigerIllustrated.com for sharing it this morning.

Playoff time for the GOP

12-16-13-college-football-playoff-mgn-generic-logojpg-0c4e76778efa50ccFall brings several rites of passage.  The coloring of leaves, the cheering of Football crowds and the choosing of voters.

Last week, the College Football Playoff Committee released their first poll ranking the teams (Hello, Clemson!). The poll tells us it is getting late in the season and it’s time to decide who the best teams are so they can square off and we can crown a champion.

Tonight, the race for the GOP nomination entered that same season. Candidates are separating themselves from the pack, and voters are choosing sides. And the race is about to get closer than everyone thinks.

Republicanlogo.svgThe big winner tonight was the Republican Party. A focused policy debate allowed the group to demonstrate intellectual and ideological depth, passionately but politely highlighting differences where they occurred. Fox Business News did a good job.

The winner on points was Marco Rubio. He didn’t crush the field like he did in some other forums, but he maintained his momentum and sustained a growing narrative in the party that he is the strongest potential nominee Republicans can offer.

Rubio did a great job sharing his powerful generational narrative, his unique perspective and his strength on foreign policy. I believe we will continue to see more endorsements and financial support moving his way in the days and weeks ahead.

But Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina and Rand Paul all had moments on immigration, foreign policy and fiscal discipline, respectively. They strengthened themselves and have room to grow, the question is if they have campaigns that can capitalize on it.

Also, the real Jeb Bush showed up tonight, the one that acts like he wants to be president. He wasn’t perfect, but there was more passion and strong policy chops on display. Now we learn if this is a flickering ray of hope, or the beginning of a true rebound that could reframe his candidacy.

John Kasich is a smart man and a great governor, but his awkwardness as a political candidate was on full display tonight. Kasich was cringeworthy at times. What should have been a good night for him was more of a train wreck.

Fox Debate StageWe always suspected that an in-depth policy debate could swallow up Trump and Carson, and we lost them in the belly of that whale. They are not shallow people but candidates with deep policy depth like Rubio, Bush, Cruz, Fiorina and Paul were better suited to shine in this format.

Carson did help himself by soundly and sharply defending his integrity. His innate advantages of strength and humility still came through. He will remain the best liked candidate in either party, but tonight showed why some people question whether those qualities alone are enough to make him President.

Trend lines today in polling point to Trump and Carson beginning to come back to the field, and Rubio – and possibly others – further growing their vote. We could soon see four or five candidates bunched tightly together with around 15-20% of the vote each. Just like the College Football season, voters are ready to get serious about picking a candidate. The real race is just getting started.

Marko Ramius Rubio

The_Hunt_for_Red_October_movie_posterThe 1990 military thriller The Hunt for Red October was a terrific movie adapted from a great novel by the late Tom Clancy.  The penultimate scene occurs when the captain of a Russian attack submarine, Viktor Tupelov, becomes frustrated after his adversary Marko Ramius, a defecting Russian commander played by Sean Connery, brilliantly outmaneuvers Tupelov’s torpedo attack. As his crew protests in doubt, Tupelov throws caution to the sea, removes the safety features from his second torpedo and fires it at Ramius and the Red October.

Inevitably, Ramius and Red October are able to evade torpedo impact and, as the weapon slices free into open water, it acquires a new target – the submarine of Tupelov, the man who fired it. As it becomes evident the torpedo will miss Ramius and destroy Tupelov’s boat, his second in command angrily shouts, “You arrogant ass, you’ve killed us!”

Last night, Marco Rubio became Marko Rubio Ramius, the political equivalent of the brilliant fictional naval tactician.  By dodging the torpedo fired by Jeb Bush and redirecting it to slam into Bush’s hull, he may have sunk the Bush campaign.

In debates, the most memorable moments often come as a result of the counterpunch, when an opponent’s or moderator’s words are turned against them. Lloyd Bentsen’s “You’re no Jack Kennedy” line and Ronald Reagan’s “I won’t exploit… my opponent’s youth and inexperience” come to mind.

But even those moments don’t quite reflect the unmitigated disaster that befell Jeb Bush, because they did not represent the collapse of an entire campaign strategy.

At this stage of a campaign, politics is a zero sum game. To grow your market share, you don’t create new buyers, you have to take market share (votes) from other candidates. Bush, lagging in “market share”, was faced with a choice. Take votes from the outsiders, Trump and Carson, or attempt to consolidate votes from those that might be seen as insiders.

Bush chose the latter strategy, and Rubio’s voting record in the Senate was his chosen tactical path. But as another character in The Hunt for Red October climactically said, “the hard part about playing chicken is knowing when to flinch.”

Watch as Rubio coolly stares Bush down, knowing he is about to blow his political boat out of the water:

Last night Jeb Bush lost an incredibly high stakes game of political chicken. The result of that loss is not just a bad debate moment. Today, his campaign’s strategy for growth lies in pieces on the ocean floor next to the scrap metal of Captain Tupelov’s boat, and it is difficult to see Bush’s way back to the surface.


The CNBC Debate – the Winners the Loser and the Snoozer

In a challenging, sometimes contemptuous format, the best debaters rose to the top.

The biggest blows in debates come in the form of counterpunches. Marco Rubio delivered a perfectly timed and executed shot to Jeb Bush. Rubio was splendid and strong all night.

Conservatives and Republican “regulars” are looking to find a candidate to unite behind and play David to the seeming Goliath of Trump and Carson and their populist passion. They may have found their candidate in Rubio. I believe that professional observers and talking heads, present company included, will pronounce Rubio the knockout winner.

But at the grassroots level, I believe we are going to learn in a day or two that Ted Cruz had a very big night. Cruz connected on issues, but his knockout blow was the crowning shot at the CNBC moderators and the “mainstream media”, the preferred foil of frustrated GOP voters everywhere. Cruz showed his debate skills and had a “stand up to the media” moment of strength similar to that which Newt Gingrich had and rode to victory in the South Carolina debate and primary four years ago.

Christie had a great moment on fantasy football. Carly Fiorina was strong if not spectacular. But like prior moments, either has yet to convert good debates to growth of vote.

Oddly, I thought Trump and Carson felt very much like frontrunners. They were themselves but took very few risks, didn’t inject themselves unnecessarily into conversations. They felt like leaders playing it safe, not the alpha dog or thoughtful conscience of the party personas that they have ridden to the top.

Jeb Bush was difficult to watch tonight. His attack on Rubio felt like the scripted product of a consultant – inauthentic, political and beneath him. His post debate interview with Dana Bash on CNN was conducted not in the crowded energy filled spin room, but alone in a hall outside it. Watching Bush, his face washed out in the searing light of the camera, hearing him say “I got fantasy football” and shrug… I felt a sense of loneliness, exposure and emptiness that sums up the present attributes of his candidacy.

One big winner tonight was the Republican party. The past week brought discussion about division in the party, but nothing unites Republicans like the threat of the mainstream media – otherwise known as “the Democrats Super-PAC.” The candidates were on offense tonight, complimentary of each other more than critical, and united in ways we have not seen in prior debates.

Opinions may differ on who won the debate, but it is clear who lost it. The format was bad and the moderation was combative and, at times, surly. Moderating a debate is like umpiring a baseball game. You should never think the game is really all about you. It is always about the players. The players toleration of their hosts churlishness and sneering made them all winners tonight.

Why Trump Might Win.

The new Politico Caucus survey of insiders from Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina is in.  The “politicos” on the ground in those states all agree.  Donald Trump has a real and significant chance to become the Republican nominee.

I participated in that survey, and I put his chance at 30%. When I share this view with establishment Republicans and some DC insiders, the expressions range from anger to disbelief to a kind but piteous look that suggests that perhaps the men in the white coats should come and take me away to a safe and comfortable place where I would be at no risk of causing harm to society or to my person.

I bet a lot of democrats who had the guts to say, early in 2008, “you know Obama just might win” got that same look too. That’s because it is increasingly obvious that Obama and Trump have something in common.  On the road to the White House, both looked up one day and found that they were not just running campaigns, they were leading causes.

Make no mistake, Trump is running a campaign and it is a strong one, better in many ways than the more traditional campaigns of his opponents.  Trump has built a sizeable and deep campaign infrastructure in the early primary states. These organizations are led not by cranky volunteer types who just stick up yard signs and stir the pot, but seasoned political veterans (such as Ed McMullen and Jim Merrill in South Carolina) who know how to win elections.

All of the elements of a great campaign are present.  Trump has a brand.  He has iconography in the form of the ubiquitous red hat.  A Reaganesque slogan in “Make America Great Again.” A battle cry in a song, “We’re Not Gonna Take it Anymore.”  And, if he elects to reach under the mattress at Trump Tower, he has more than enough resources to keep the music playing as long as it takes.  I can explain Trump’s campaign in 15 seconds. I’m not sure I can explain any of the others in 15 minutes.

It is working because Trump has a base.  Secular, more moderate, working class voters who believe they are being left behind by the globalization of both our economy and our culture. These people form the basis of the cause.

Sure, they’ve been around ever since economic globalization has been an issue. They were Reagan Democrats, or Perot voters, or Pat Buchanan supporters.  But changes in our economy and culture have been occurring at a lightning pace these last four years, and these voters fear that America is in danger of irreversibly becoming not only something they do not recognize, but a place in which they no longer belong.

These folks are not hard to find. During the week, they work shifts on the factory floor to support their families. They cheer their kids on Friday night at the High School football game.  On Saturday they line Main street for the Veteran’s Day parade or attend local festivals and events. On Sunday morning they may be in church, but you might just as easily find them up in a tree stand, down in a duck blind or out in a bass boat.  So when Trump comes to South Carolina and mentions trade, immigration, support for our vets, gun rights and Clemson football, people shouldn’t be stunned when an auditorium of thousands of people roar with approval.

Not long ago, these people were celebrated as the backbone of America. But today, they get the impression they are a malignant tumor that a wealthy, educated class of new American elites would excise and discard. They are not just disrespected, but in some circles mocked, “flyover” people whose values and way of life are not only irrelevant, but distasteful.

The irony that a chauffeur driven New York billionaire has given voice to their concerns is not lost.  But Trump has spoken of their concerns with more clarity and strength than any voice they’ve heard echo their thoughts since Reagan.

In politics, causes beat campaigns.  Causes prompt sold out venues, more volunteers than you can assign tasks, and political outcomes that defy traditional measurement and conventional wisdom.

Trump, perhaps unwittingly, finds himself the leader of that cause.  If he can stay in front of the pack, and grow his vote, that cause may carry him to a heretofore unthinkable victory.

Why Good Men Pause

Trib MastHeadIf I may, I’d like to use this space today to point you to a great blog post by a terrific reporter, Salena Zito of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.  Zito does an exceptional job of looking beyond surface politics, into the hearts and minds of both the American people and those who seek to govern them.

In her blog post (that you should readWhy Good Men Pause, she hits on an issue that is a core concern I hear many people express about our democracy today.

Why would anyone want to serve in office any more?

Joe the BidenShe raises the question in a unique and timely way by observing the hesitancy of two good people – Paul Ryan and Joe Biden – to seek arguably the two most powerful offices in our country.  They pause for different family related reasons, but also because neither likely wants to drag their family through the haunted house that our electoral process has become. Especially not at a such a formative, or sensitive time for their families.

paul-ryanI believe her thoughts, and those I shared in her blog, are noteworthy as we all look at our government and ask ourselves what the heck is wrong and how we can fix it.

Some say it is the system, Maybe it is. But the system is no better than the people who choose to participate in it. And if the best people we have to offer want no part of it, it is even harder to understand from where the courage is going to come to fix it.

We say we get the government we deserve. That’s true, but that is the symptom not the cause.

We get the people we deserve too. That’s where it all begins. And we won’t get better government until more good people are willing to serve in it.

So read Joe Biden and Paul Ryan:  Why Good Men Pause.  Have a great weekend, and Go Paladins and Go Tigers!