M E M O R A N D U M
To: U.S. President Joe Biden (if you take my advice)
From: Allan Bonner
Re: Your strategy
Your recent media interviews and commentary about you is the catalyst for this memo. What follows are principles and advice you must recognize and adhere to in order to win the November U.S. presidential election.
You can lose. You must treat this possibility seriously in order to win.
Incumbency is a great advantage for President Donald Trump. He has workers, donors and the White House staff to mobilize. He can appoint ambassadors, invite donors and supporters to state dinners, and give free rides on Air Force One. You can’t.
Depending on the poll and the state, you’re 12 points ahead. Considering the distribution of the vote and the electoral college, you should consider you’re in a dead heat and the polls are within the margin of error.
You and all politicians have to run as if you’re in a tight race and fighting for your life. You may be. If you’re not, you still have good reason to run as if you’re far behind. You need a resounding victory to garner public support and confidence. A resounding victory gives you more influence to recruit cabinet members and exert influence during future mid-term elections. A big winner attracts better supporters and more money than a candidate who squeaks through.
You must shorten your answers. Research shows that the optimum length of an answer to a question in a high-risk-low-trust situation is 45 seconds. You’re in a high-risk situation. All politicians suffer from low trust. The maximum length of an answer is two minutes. After two minutes, you’re buying back the goodwill you generated in the first two minutes. You’re encroaching on eternity with your answers. Stop when you feel you’re halfway through. You will be given another opportunity later in the interview or in another interview.
Answer the question. MSNBC’s Joy Reid recently asked you if you were still committed to choosing a Black woman as your vice-presidential running mate. The answer was simply “Yes.” But you engaged in weird backwards speaking by saying: “I have not committed to naming any but the people I have named and among them are four Black women. So that decision is underway right now.” There was some interpretation that you also were considering two other candidates for a total of six, two of whom might not be Black. You may have a clear position on this, but it’s not evident from what you said. It’s “Yes,” “No,” “Maybe” or “I don’t know,” but you can’t fudge the answer with more words.
Speaking of more words, they often don’t help. Reid played a clip of Trump saying he was going to pass a new healthcare bill soon. Reid then interpreted or misrepresented the president’s quote by asking how he could consider limiting or reducing healthcare coverage to 20 million to 30 million Americans during a pandemic. That wasn’t evident from the clip but that was her riff. You followed by criticizing Trump. But that criticism isn’t evidence of a clear position on healthcare.
You should assume the Trump campaign has something controversial on you or your son Hunter and that will be released. That’s one of the many reasons you have to campaign as if you’re in a dead heat or down a few points. A September or October surprise may make this true.
You can’t compete with opposition research. It seems we’ve already heard the worst there is to say about Trump and heaping more adjectives on the list won’t resonate.
Political conventions usually give a candidate a bump in the polls. Remember that Democrat Michael Dukakis was 17 points ahead of Republican George H.W. Bush in the polls leading up to and just after the Democratic convention in 1988. This eroded quickly, with Bush benefiting from negative advertising and the presidential debate that painted Dukakis as soft on crime.
You won’t have a convention to give you a bump, so the only place to go is down. But you can use the current ethos and pandemic lockdown to create your own bump. Look at the Rolling Stones’ and Robbie Robertson’s YouTube songs. Robertson was especially smart to involve musicians and singers from all over the world. This is a method and platform you can use to generate excitement without a convention.
Many big stars, including Mick Jagger, have insisted Trump stop using their music. Harness these people to do a worldwide YouTube video in support of your candidacy. Live Aid, Farm Aid and other philanthropic efforts are the template. Make it look as if the whole world is helping you win the election.
Generate excitement as a result of your choice of a running mate. That’s a two-day news story and that’s it. String it out for a week with more announcements.
Hillary Clinton could have generated excitement in 2016 by announcing some of her cabinet members at the Democratic convention. Imagine if she had brought Bernie Sanders on stage to announce he was going to be in her cabinet? This might have kept Sanders’ supporters on side and working for a Democratic win.
Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are extremists in the eyes of many Americans. They would also be huge targets for the Trump campaign. But indicating they’re going to be in cabinet and not on the ticket might generate excitement safely. My guess is that several posts, such as interior, agriculture, labour, health and human services, education, small business and the Environmental Protection Agency might also be appropriate for Sanders or Warren. Many Americans don’t focus on these posts and might think any of them as good spots for people they perceive as left of centre – spots where they can advocate but not do a lot of harm.
The bombshell would be appointing Mitt Romney to State. This and other strategic appointments of Republicans might attract voters who are either wavering or even Republicans who are fed up with Trump. Republicans would be perfect for treasury, commerce and energy – the economic portfolios.
You could make one announcement a day for 10 days starting right after Labour Day.
Take a lesson from cabinet-making in the Westminster system. We have to balance gender, region, language, ethnicity and skills. Harness this approach and generate excitement.
Dr. Allan Bonner, MSc, DBA, is a crisis manager based in Toronto.