The 2016 Republican and Democratic conventions now belong to the history books. The two major party nominees, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have made their respective cases to the American people. Overall, it can be easy to dismiss Trump’s candidacy as a quixotic adventure. But it is equally impolitic to predict the eventual outcome in a bizarre electoral season like this. By contrast, Clinton is generally a good presidential material. She is knowledgeable, experienced, measured, serious, and comports herself like someone aspiring to lead the free world.
But Mrs. Clinton may lose the election after all. This predicament is not because of her gender or lack of efforts. It is not because of the common rap of untrustworthiness or lack of vision. The problem is that the history has placed Madam Secretary in a paradoxical profile whereby her greatest attributes have turned out to be her worst undoing. The point is that the former First Lady has become too presidential to resonate with the ordinary people, particularly the millennials and white men without college education.
In tireless efforts to provide a detailed solution to America’s myriad of problems, Clinton’s core message is often lost among voters because of two fundamental dilemmas: First, unlike Trump, Clinton’s communication style, though traditional, portrays her as someone who has lost touch with the times. She has failed to adjust to the reality that these millennials and very non-college-educated white men resent in-depth analysis of issues. Their typical attention span is warped to grasp thoughts in plain talk or messages written in 140 characters or less. Thus, even as Clinton’s campaign website is loaded with good ideas, any hope that these two key voting groups will dedicate time to download the message into their cell phones is akin to forcing a horse to drink water.
Yet, while his oratory skills can never be equated to that of President Barack Obama, Trump is definitely an effective communicator. The real estate mogul has been able to influence voters by carving simple and short speeches that tap into the visceral anger of the last decade occasioned by job flights, terrorism, and various post-9/11 exigencies.
Right or wrong, Trump has masterly stoked a view of America as a nation not only in decline but also in crisis. Today, his slogan of “Make America Great Again” is as captivating as presenting himself as the “Law and Order Candidate.” Like or hate him, unlike Mrs. Clinton, even without any specifics, Trump has been plainspoken on what he says his campaign is about.
Perhaps, we get Hillary’s theme of “Stronger Together”; the implication is enduring. But don’t expect the millennials to also get it. They prefer clear and simple slogans that seem to address their immediate concerns. Besides, togetherness or mere unity has never been a sole panacea to effective leadership, particularly in the American democracy highly esteemed for its competitive party politics.
The second dilemma is that Hillary Clinton lacks in charisma but is facing an engrossing showman. Even non-voters are glued into the Trump mania—not for any vision for America but for the entertainment value. The nature of his next eccentric gesture is a huge draw. This explains why the Republican nominee, a candidate who wears bêtise like a badge of honor, could draw four million more viewers than Clinton during their acceptance speeches. Yet, he continues to trail the democratic opponent in most post-convention polls.
But this apparent failure to elicit enthusiasm does not bode well for the Clinton’s candidacy moving forward. With about three months to go before the election, she can no longer afford the habit of assembling pockets of folks in antique parlors while Trump fills the arenas. The first major party woman nominee direly needs to start attracting larger audiences to deepen her message. While the Republican flag bearer is definitely not electable in his present condition, it is a huge gamble to write him off entirely. The American electorate is very forgiving. Any therapeutic mix of apology from Mr. Trump for his long history of incendiary rhetoric and a sensible pivot to the issues can become a game-changer in an electoral cycle where a vast majority of voters craves change. Moreover, boring campaigns hardly win the White House.
The Democratic nominee can inject the desired gusto by embracing the pop culture to the fullest. But one can still tame the pig without getting into a brawl. A ready game plan, therefore, is to hire a stand-up spokesperson who can match Donald Trump not only in rock-star status but also in simplicity as well as wackiness. A perfect fit is Chris Rock, a trash-talking comedian and actor, who is famous for crafting exciting one-liners. His main assignment is to join every campaign event to translate Mrs. Clinton’s wonky presidential tenors into plain tunes. This cue sure sounds somehow, but that is how low the American politics has fallen.
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