By Randy Evans –
With both the Republican National Convention and the Democratic National Convention getting off to rocky starts, the campaigns are beginning to implement their strategies for the fall election. Rarely in the history of presidential politics have the campaign strategies been so different with so much riding on the outcome.
Neither political party expected to get where it is in the way it got here. Democrats expected a relatively short primary with the early coronation of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee. No one expected Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders to stand strong until the last primaries. Republicans expected a spirited contest among a whole host of political wannabes, but no one seriously thought Donald Trump would win the nomination.
The result of the nomination processes for both parties was a predictable nominee with a long record (Clinton) and an unpredictable nominee with no consistent record (Trump). Besides scaring political insiders to death, it makes development of a general election strategy for candidates up and down the ticket quite difficult.
Clinton’s strategy appears to center on a theme of reliability and stability based on a proven track record of service. The problem is so few Americans believe the country is headed in the right direction and most feel less secure now than before President Barack Obama took office in 2009. Indeed, every poll signals the overwhelming majority of Americans believe the United States is on the wrong path.
Trump’s strategy appears to center on a theme of change based on how bad things have become. From terrorist attacks to a lumbering economy unable to gain strength, Trump insists he can make America great again. Unfortunately, while correctly diagnosing voter sentiment of frustration and fear, so far he has not been very reassuring to the average voter.
Meanwhile, the parties themselves are moving toward a realignment reminiscent of the 1964 campaign with the parties switching places on core issues. For years, Republicans have been the free trade party. Yet, in this election, Clinton has touted free trade deals which Trump has disparaged. The same has been true for many other issues from the invasion of Iraq to Planned Parenthood.
Further complicating the morass, Trump has made no secret that he believes that Washington, D.C., is broken and needs to be fixed. But, it is Republicans that control both houses of Congress.
On the other hand, Clinton insists America is still great and things are going well enough to continue the status quo. But, of course, the status quo includes a Republican-controlled Congress.
Basically, the election has become a topsy-turvy affair even before weaving in issues like Benghazi, the private email server, and the Never Trump movement. Candidly, the parties, as reflections of a set of shared values defining all candidates in the party, have largely fallen into disarray. Meanwhile, the general election approaches. While the parties seem in disarray, the presidential campaigns are starting to signal how they expect to win. Democrats clearly plan to cobble together enough individual demographic groups using micro targeting to win the White House. Micro targeting with single-issue voters worked well enough for President George Bush to win in 2004 and for President Obama to win in 2008 and 2012. The key is to find the one issue for each demographic group that trumps (no pun intended) every other issue for the group.
For example, for most in the LGBT community, same sex marriage in 2012 was more important than any other issue including the economy or national security. As a result, no matter how much they agreed with Gov. Mitt Romney on the economy, terrorism, or any other issue, they disagreed on the issue that mattered most to them. And so, the group voted for President Obama.
Although the Republican National Committee has the same data at its disposal, Trump has so far taken a very different approach. Instead, he has designed a campaign based on broad appeals without regard to any one demographic group.
For Trump followers, messages like building a wall, making America safe again, protecting the Second Amendment, putting people back to work, etc., do not target any one demographic group. If a voter owns a gun and wants to keep the gun, her or his race, gender, ethnicity, religion, or orientation do not matter.
And so, these two very different styles for the fall campaign begin to emerge. In college football, it would be like a meeting of a pure passing team against a pure running team. Trump has and likely will continue to throw the ball down the field. Secretary Clinton will likely continue to pound the ball up the middle, avoiding mistakes and moving the ball on the ground down the field.
The exciting part is that no one has any idea how this election will turn out. So far, nothing has gone as expected and there will undoubtedly be many more surprises to come. The presidential debates alone should make for some amazing entertainment. And that is before the final push when the campaigns and candidates pull out all the stops.
This really could be the year of a historical electoral transformation.