The Campaign Coach Debate Review – 9.26.16
Tonight’s debate was the first round of a prize fight featuring two candidates who are not only very different from a politically point of view, but who brought very different styles to the debate. For 2017 local candidates watching the debate, there was plenty to take from the candidates’ approach, demeanor and delivery.
From the get-go, Donald Trump went right into his top talking points, using his opening comments on economic development to make his points about China and Mexico’s impact on the U.S. economy, and then carrying those topics for the first fifteen minutes. A few times, he made disjointed segues to introduce a topic that wasn’t on the table, such as turning job creation into comments about ISIS early in the debate. There’s a risk in how he handled it, because have differing views of topic changing, but regardless of how you feel about what Trump is saying, he has been masterful at steering the media so far in the campaign… Paying attention to how he steers the conversation to his topics isn’t a bad idea.
Consequently, Clinton was more scripted, and was adept at pulling the segues back to her talking points (with some sarcastic responses mixed in, of course), even when Trump’s comments became more intense. She did a good job of not getting flustered, in a tense conversation where most of us wouldn’t have exhibited the same level of patience, and actually by staying the course kept Trump very much on the defensive in the mid-to-latter part of the debate. There’s a definitive value to maintaining control of the portion of the conversation that you can actually control.
Clearly, both candidates came in with a prescribed style that each was generally able to hold throughout the 90 minutes. Trump’s intent was to bring lots of emotion and fire, and Clinton’s was to stay on script with a slow, steady hand. Both went on the attack early and often, and each strategy made good sense relative to what has been happening outside the walls of Hofstra University in the weeks leading up to the debate.
Interestingly, the choice was also made by each side on focus – who each would address. Clinton almost exclusively addressed the crowd, even when she was talking “to” Trump, who she interestingly referred to as “Donald” throughout the debate, directly. Trump, when answering debate questions, addressed the moderator, Lester Holt. But when he was speaking to Clinton, he looked directly at her. Two different styles – Clinton presumably speaking to the people with the persona of the traditional president, with Trump presenting himself as a fighter, railing directly on “politicians” (represented by Clinton) throughout the conversation as the alternative to the Washington political elite. How do you need to present yourself to people in your community? You should know this before speaking to them.
Going into your campaign, while it has gotten him to where we are today, it’s important to understand that Trump’s style doesn’t work for everyone, and it doesn’t work everywhere. That kind of frustrated fire has to match a frustrated and fired-up community for it to be effective.
Also, we’re not a fan of the phrase that Clinton said a number of times throughout the debate, “Trumped Up, Trickle Down.” While fans of Clinton likely feel as though she got in a good burn with that one, in an environment of constant polling, the last thing you want to be saying is your opponent’s name with the word “up” after it.
Takeaways for local candidates:
(1) While you may not have the chance to stand face-to-face with your opponent in a moderated session, your campaign is essentially one long debate. The conversation you and your opponent will have for six months with each other and people in your community is very similar to the 90-minute version.
(2) Control the conversation in the way that’s best for your personality, and that matches the current conversation in your community.
(3) Get your talking points to the forefront of the conversation and keep them there.
(4) Determine how you’re going to present yourself to you community. Are you a wise leader or a fighter in the trenches? Once in office, will you be a partisan flag-bearer, or will you strategically cross the aisle to get things done? Are you going to win by shaking hands and kissing babies, or getting those hands dirty in the political mud? All of these have a presentation that goes with them, and how you present yourself doesn’t require a nationally-televised debate to be recognized.
(5) Even though Clinton chose throughout the program to call Trump by his first name, we recommend “Mr. Jones” or “Mrs. Smith” in instances where you’re addressing your opponent. What might be interpreted as disrespect (which we’re assuming was Clinton’s point – addressing Trump as though he was not presidential… Though she did also mention Presidents Bush and Obama without title) can come across as arrogance. While you may not actually be involved in a debate, it is likely that you’ll be in the same room with your opponent at some point during your campaign, say, at community forums or council meetings, and the situation may arise.
(6) Be careful of catch-phrases that don’t further your message. This is the second time in a few months that Clinton’s catch-phrase paired Trump’s name with a positive word – the previous one was “Love Trumps Hate.” Don’t add to your opponent’s positive name recognition in an effort to be cute.
(7) Finally… Life’s not fair. Neither are debates, and neither are campaigns. Just like a debate can have one candidate getting tougher questions than the other, in your campaign sometimes your opponent can get more press, endorsements that make no sense, and lawn signs on your street in front of homes of people who you play ladder golf with at your block parties. Control what you can control, and be prepared to roll with the punches in both a proactive and responsive way.
– The Campaign Coach