Monday, April 20, 2015

Political Brands 2016: Hillary Clinton

Maybe it's because I can't do much about it or perhaps America's death spiral into hopeless mediocrity is so damn entertaining, but I love watching presidential politics. I love the pointless arguing. The ridiculous posturing. But most of all, I love the way the American public will buy just about anything the media feeds it. As the Nazis used to say, "Tell a lie often enough and pretty soon people believe it."

If you're a reader of this blog, you may recall my analyses of Political Brands for the last few elections. Bear in mind, I have no skin in this game. While I personally am somewhat centrist with a conservative twist, I'm by no means a dyed in the wool Republican. I tend to vote the issue and have never voted the straight party line. I'm just a brand strategist, and to that end, I humbly submit my critiques of each candidate's strategic errors, blunders and comedies.

This time out, I'd like to call your attention to Hillary Rodham Clinton, the first major contender out of the gate, aptly referred to as The Great Democrat Hope. Many liberals and Democrats see Mrs. Clinton as a national shoo-in, convinced that the Republican party is all but dead, having been decimated by its Congressional intractability and its Tea Party faction.

I submit to you that Mrs. Clinton is going to need much more than that in order to become President of the United States. And the reason is simple: At this writing, there are all kinds of reasons why people may want to vote against Republicans, but there are almost no reasons why they'd want to vote for Mrs. Clinton. In fact, there's a certifiable mountain of doubts facing Mrs. Clinton's campaign, which at this point seems daunting, if not downright unsurmountable. If you doubt that, I've prepared a list of reasons for you to consider:

1. There's a distinct possibility that many voters will see Hillary as Obama's third term in the same way voters saw McCain as Bush's third term in 2008 -- and vote against her.
2. She might be great in person. But Nixon was incredibly warm and charming in person, too.
3. She's old news. Speaking from my own corner, she has no brand strategy. There's no reason to vote for her; lots of reasons to vote against her.
4. She's sexist -- and bear with me here -- because she's campaigning on a "Wouldn't you like to see a female president" platform. A genuine feminist wouldn't make gender an issue, because gender shouldn't be an issue.
5. She's got the e-mail thing.
6. She's got the Benghazi thing.
7. She's got the Rose Law firm thing.
8. She's got the Vince Foster thing.
9. She's got the failed national health care thing (1992).
10. She's hampered by Bill Clinton: One on hand, he's popular. On the other, she can't be seen in his shadow.
11. Nobody can name any of her accomplishments. Everyone can name at least three of her failures.
12. In the coming months, questions of Clinton finances will begin to pummel the candidate as inquiries dig up exactly how much Mrs. Clinton is worth -- and how she managed to accrue that wealth.
13. If you haven't read The Invisible Political Issue of 2016, I suggest you add it to your list, because the issue has nothing to do with Mrs. Clinton herself, but it has everything to do with the people she expects to vote for her.

If the above isn't enough, there's one more aspect to Mrs. Clinton's candidacy that nobody seems to care about: a Black Swan event. A wise man once warned never to put all one's eggs in one basket, yet this seems to be exactly what Democrats are doing. By placing all their money on a Clinton candidacy, the Democrats run the risk of their opponents saving up some really powerful scandal(s) to be dropped three weeks before the convention or the general election, irreparably damaging Mrs. Clinton's chances of getting either the nomination or the election. That kind of bomb would leave the Democrats scrambling for a candidate with the clock running out.

Think it can't happen? Try Googling "McGovern Eagleton" and see for yourself how a candidate that had been backed "one thousand percent" on a Friday found himself on the national trash heap by the next Monday morning -- literally.

Sure, the media will feed you all kinds of images and soundbytes. You'll see Hillary laughing and Bill waving and Chelsea cuddling her little baby, too. But that won't change the reality that exists in voters' minds. Recall that Mrs. Clinton had the Democrats' nod in early 2008, as well, but never made it to the finish line.

And that was when her logo that wasn't a disaster.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

The Invisible Political Issue of 2016

If you read this blog, you know that every few years, I like to place bets not only on who is running for President of the United States, but why they're going to win or lose. This year is no different. The names might change, but the dynamics will pretty much remain the same.

But before we get into the personalities, it's worth taking some time to understand the structure of the game.

In every national election, there may be a few major, well-publicized political issues (gay marriage, immigration, climate change, the national economy, jobs, etc.) but there is always at least one invisible issue that never really gets discussed in the media. In 2008, for example, while everyone argued the standard topics in debates, the invisible issue of 2008 was far more powerful but never articulated:

America was fed up with Bush and Cheney and just about anyone who was white, male and older than their first cell phone. This is why the Democrats produced two of the most non-Bush characters they could find: Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. This is also why John McCain was never really in contention: America viewed him as Bush's third term (Sarah Palin was simply the final nail in the coffin). In 2008, the invisible issue that nobody ever articulated was Anyone But Bush.

That was then. This is now. The same invisible issue theory applies, only this time out, it's not personal. It's philosophical. No matter how you may feel about them, the Obama policy of politically correct inclusiveness, while perhaps noble in spirit, is the main issue which will influence how Americans vote.

Hear me out. It's not what you think.

It's not that Americans are against issues like gay marriage, immigration or multi-racial representation -- nobody had a problem electing a black president twice. By the same token, Americans have not only tolerated illegal immigration, they've come to rely on it. And when the military openly accepted gays in service, there wasn't much protest. Most people accepted it as the natural conclusion to what Harry Truman started when he desegregated the armed forces in the early 1950s.

The real issue bothering Americans is that they see themselves constantly and consistently being imposed upon to accept others' beliefs and practices rather than expecting those with foreign beliefs and practices to conform to our own. They don't oppose those beliefs and practices, they just expect those with foreign beliefs and practices to be less resolute and more willing to adapt them as part of their embrace of America. Case in point would be muslim women refusing to remove their veils on state identification cards requiring facial photos. Or filing suit because one can't wear religious gear while on the job. It's not that Americans object to yarmulkes or burqas; it's more that most Americans can recall an ancestor who had to adapt his own language, customs and practices so that they fit squarely into America's traditional philosophy of acceptance.

Many Americans now feel like a welcoming host whose house guests have overstayed their welcome. Laws, codes, lawsuits and the media skew viewers' perceptions by featuring "those who are different" acting selfishly, as if entitled to impose their foreign beliefs on good-hearted, hard working citizens. Regardless of how true that may or may not be, it's reinforced every day on talk radio and every night on the national news -- and Americans are tired of it. They're angry. They feel that while they're accommodating everyone else, nobody is accommodating them.

Don't let this confuse you into thinking voters want an old, white man back in the White House (although I can easily see someone dumbing it down to that level). Americans are plenty sick of the 535 members of Congress, the majority of whom fit that description. But until and unless a candidate can and does articulate this issue, the American electorate is going to make two huge mistakes:

1. Conservatives are going to present someone who looks like their values as someone who shares those values. This means conservatives will come out swinging their bibles and ranting against anyone whose philosophies and values can be framed as "non-American." They'll misread the Constitution and leverage Americans' frustrations in an effort to avoid the real issue.

2. Liberals are going to make the same mistake on the other side: They'll bring out someone to attack the Conservatives as racist and depend on shallow knee-jerk reactions in order to scare the population into thinking that Adolf Hitler is is about to invade their neighborhoods.

The candidate who can clearly articulate the real invisible issue is the one most likely to take the prize. That means it has to be someone who knows how to convey the American balance of freedom against the perception of non-traditional/foreigners' entitlements. That's not an easy trick. Then again, nobody's ever really tried it.

It's so much easier to incite fear than it is to build trust.