It is time, once and for all, for Democrats to burn the Kerry playbook. For those who have done their best to forget, here are some of its key features. It is the same playbook used to guide one losing Democratic campaign after another for decades:
1. Be nice. Be positive. It's okay to take an occasional swipe, but don't remind the public regularly why they should be concerned about keeping the incumbent or his party in the White House no matter how incompetent, deceitful, or criminal their actions (e.g., don't talk about Abu Ghraib because the other side might accuse you of "nor supporting our troops").
2. If you get attacked, don't attack back. If you absolutely have to respond, start with a weak rejoinder, preferably one without any hint of masculinity, like "If that were the case, I would find it very disappointing." Show as little emotion as you can when responding to attacks. Never express outrage at attacks on your character or patriotism or strike back at your opponent for making them or colluding with those who do.
3. Assume people know who your candidate is because you do and they've heard about him for months. Wait until the convention to start defining your candidate in richer detail, after he's already been branded by the other side and it's difficult to change people's minds. Don't inoculate in advance against the ideas you know will appear in early August attack books that are likely to morph into television ads around the time of the Democratic Convention or in October, particularly if their content is predictable and potentially toxic.
4. If there are elements of your candidate's life story that worry you, don't talk about them. Cross your fingers and close your eyes really tight, and hope Karl Rove won't notice them.
5. If the other side starts to define your candidate in ways that might be damaging, hold your fire, and if you have to say anything, start with, "the American people are smarter than that." If you have to take corrective measures, do so only after your polling data have shown definitively that the damage has been done.
6. If the other side predictably defines you as elite (as they have done against every Democrat for 40 years), don't respond, especially if your opponent is from a much more privileged background than you are. Find a way to mention any elite universities you've attended or slip them into images in your biographical ads.
7. Don't make any sustained effort to brand your opponent, even as he is branding you. That would be negative, and focus group participants don't like negativity. Let your opponent define both of you.
8. To prepare for debates and similar television performances, focus on facts, figures, and briefing books. Spend little or no time on nonverbal cues, like making eye contact with the audience, and be sure not to have anyone prep the candidate who has expertise in nonverbal communication.
9. When asked in debates and similar forums about wedge issues such as abortion or guns, appear as if you've heard the question for the first time, or be ready with dispassionate responses, and make little effort to connect with voters in the center who could hear your values and resonate with them if you spoke about them with conviction. Do not describe the slippery slopes on the other side the way Republicans always do against Democrats (e.g., that your opponent believes that if your sixteen-year-old daughter were raped, the government, not you and your daughter, should decide whether she should carry the baby to term).
10. If anti-incumbent sentiment is high and your opponent's party is unpopular, make the election a referendum about your candidate (the challenger) rather than the incumbent and his party.
Is this a parody of the Kerry campaign? I wish it were. It's a synopsis.
Monday, August 25, 2008
What Obama Needs to Do
Great piece by Drew Weston. Drew Westen: What Obama Needs to Do in Denver I'll post it in two parts. First, what Obama shouldn't do, i.e., what the old Democratic play book says. And second what he should do.