Today's dollop of wisdom: Why Clinton Has So Much Trouble Closing The Deal.
One of the things I have learned from various formal media training over the years is something called the "circle of trust." We all have a close circle of people we trust more than anyone else (spouse, children, parents, childhood friend, whoever). We have a somewhat larger circle of people we trust geneally, but less than that. This continues t expand out in concentric circles until we reach whatever your average level of "trust" is.
[Yes, I know
the word "trust" is highly variable, that people have different circles depnding on what specific circumstances, etc. etc. PLEASE stay focused and don't over disect the construct. I'm going somewhere with this.)
If someone is a regular lsitener/viewer of a talk show, the host is somewhere in that circle of trust. Maybe not the inner circle, but it means they generally consider this person a reliable person for news and information. [Again, please don't tell me you personally never trust anybody in the media. Still setting up here. But I'm just about there.] The critical lesson is never directly attack the host
. Why? Because the listeners include the host in their circle of trust. When you attack the host, you make yourself less trustworthy. To be effective, you need to respond in a way -- paricularly if the host starts out on the attack against you -- that lets you into the circle of trust while still making your points.
I assure you, this is very, very, hard. Please do not ask me in the comments how you do this. I'll just say there is a reason that good media training is important.
Which brings me to this snippet from last night's Democratic Primary debate. Unfortunately, the clip does not include the question that preceded the clip.
Now lets all start with the fact that debates are tricky things. After all, you are trying to sell not merely undecideds to vote for you. You are making sure you (a) keep your supporters, and (b) peel away as many supporters as you can of your opponent. This last is particularly hard, because -- as with the aforementioned talk show host -- your opponent's supporters already trust the opponent more than they trust you.
Going into the NH debate, Sanders enjoys a substantial lead over Clinton. That means the majority of voters in the room likely have Bernie in their circle of trust rather than Hillary.But enough are open-minded about the question they can potentially be shifted. Now watch the clip below and note where the boo-ing starts.
Clinton starts out of the gate really strong on this. The boos start with the accusation that Sanders and his campaaign are deliberately engagged in an "artful smear." Sanders then picks up the cue t talk about the influence of money and politics. This, of course gets rousing applause. Sanders never directs a word against Clinton. But because Clinton has set this up as oppositional, Sanders now looks like the champion of campaign finance reform (and, by implication, Clinton is not). Clinton does come back somewhat stronger on the second time. But here again, she directly attacks Sanders for his vote in 2000 for a bill which also contributed to deregulation of derivatives. Sanders again does not attack Clinton. Instead, he focuses on another talking point, how much he resisted repealing Glass-Stegal.
Clinton's message undoubted resonated extremely well with her existing supporters. Existing supporters agree with everything she's saying and will no doubt be delighted that she "called Bernie out" on his "artful smear." They will also attribute any criticism of Clinton'sdelivery here to inherent sexism and the idea that men can be angry and strong and women can't.
Except it's not about strength and passion. It's about how to get inside the circle of trust of those listening to you. This delivery did a great job reenforcing the circle of trust for her existing supporters. But I doubt it did anything for the "leans Bernie but still gettable" crowd, which is the one she *must* capture to win (or come close) in NH.
Mind you, Clinton benefitted from exactly this phenomena in 2008. Obama was leading in the polls before the debate. Clinton handled a question about her "likeability" as compared to Obama perfectly (making a joke of it and saying about Obama "he's very likable". Obama responded with the now infamous "your likeable enough Hillary," which was widely considered condescending and demeaning. (Clip here
.) Clinton responded in a way whcih did not directly challenge Obama and put his supporters on the defensive, but she managed to suggest by her manner (without stating explicitly) that "likeability" is a rather shallow and silly criteria. Obama was perceived as putting Hillary down, thus gaining the ire of Hillary supporters and those leaning Hillary but gettable.
What's unfortunate is that Hillary actually had all the information in there for a perfect answer, but she undermined herself by making it a charcter attack on Bernie.How Do I Think Clinton Should Have Delivered This?
Clinton had it right when she was talking about a ridiculous standard that "anyone who ever took a campaign contribution or a speaking fee from Wall St has to be bought. She should have started with agreement with Sanders, trumpetng her hard work on campaign finance reform with McCain Finegold and noting that Citizens United
wa an attack on her. She could have made her point about billionaires attacking her and said "Clearly all the Billionaires people say own me because of these campaign contributions and speakers fees don't agree with you. They don't own me, they hate me!" (Bonus points for "and i welcme their hatred") She could then follow up with more about an "impossible standard that no one can measure up to. "Even you, Bernie Sanders, couldn't live up this ridiculous standard f purity. We all know how hard you worked to stop repeal of Glass-Stegal. But in the end you had to vote for a bill in 2000 to deregulate the very derivitives that contributed to the financial collapse, because you had to trade away some things to get other things that were worth supporting. But by your own standard, that kind of "pragmatism" makes you a fellow sellout like me. If even Bernie Sanders can't pass the Sanders standard for Wall St purity, than that can't be the right standard! We need to bring together all Democrats and even Republicans who feel the same way to get real campaign finance reform! Stop stting the standard so high that even you can't pass it."
That can be strong, and passionate. It gets in the circle of trust by agreeing with the goals of the Sanders supporters. The attack is not on Sanders personally, but on a "ridiculous standard" that actually would make Sanders also look like a sellout (again, avoiding a personal accusation of hypocricy, but rasing doubt among the gettable that maybe they are being too harsh on Clinton).
Again, this wouldn't matter to the solid Bernie supporters, who would bristle at the idea that they are proposing an "impossible standard." [So please, Sanders supporters, don't fill up my comment section with how substantively wrong my proposed Clinton attack was. This is about plating, not tast or originality with the star ingredient.] But the solid Bernie supporters ae not your target. They are inherently ungettable. Your target are the undecideds and the leans-Sanders voters.
To conclude, do not mistake direct insult for "strength" or "aggression." Don't talk to the ungettable opponents. Remember that there are ways to be strong and aggressive (needed leader qualities) while still being inspirational and undermining your opponent. Remember that yur target audience is the undecided and gettable supporters of your opponent. Show fire to keep your own supporters charged up and demonstrate you're nobody's punching bag. But don't use strong accusatory mode unless you have to.