Monday, August 22, 2016

Trump vs. Hillary as Analog vs. Digital

There was a lot of media kvetching on Sunday about Hillary's not doing a press conference in 260 days. To be sure, she gave one a few weeks ago but the media has decided that didn't count as it didn't meet their exact specifications.

I argued that if the media wants a Hillary presser that badly-and this is being driven by the Trump campaign-then they should offer her something in return.

1. Trump should release his tax returns-for many years, not just one or two and not just a summary.

2. CNN should fire Corey Lewandowski who continues to draw a salary from Donald Trump.

After all, what does she gain from a presser at this stage in the game? She's shown she doesn't need a presser to win. At most the media can try to guilt her into giving one on the premise that it's in the public interest.

But it's not clear what public interest is really involved. As Yglesias points out, Trump's media access hasn't led to more or any clarity on his actual policies.

Matt Yglesias:

"The tragedy of this election is that since Hillary won't do a press conference it is impossible for anyone to learn her views on the issues"

"The good news is that Trump's broad availability to the media has made the contours of his policy agenda crystal clear for all to see."
This is a very good insight. Trump has been the least transparent Presidential candidate in history in terms of what he actually plans to do, while Hillary's policy agenda is very well known.

Turns out that press conferences aren't everything then if the issue is policy clarity.

The trouble for the media is, that Hillary really doesn't need them. Her lack of pressers is part of a larger secular trend. George W. Bush gave less press conferences than Bill Clinton and Barrack Obama has given less press conferences than George W. Bush.

This is very frustrating for the print media, but the truth is, a smart Presidential campaign doesn't need them the way they once were needed.

This leads us to some very interesting observations that Bloomberg reporter Sasha Issenberg has made about the 2016 Presidential race.

"Hillary and Trump are running radically different types of campaigns. Hillary is the most digital campaign ever, while Trump is running a campaign out of the 1980s-later on Twitter, Issenberg rethought it and said Trump is running a 1970s campaign."

Like why is Trump accessible to the media in a way that Hillary isn't? Though we should filter that question by pointing out that he only talks to Fox News now and has banned all manner of news organizations.

But Trump's whole strategy is about media domination, while her strategy is based on the insight that not all press is good press. Trump is dependent on the media in a way that Hillary's campaign isn't; and remember there actually is a Hillary campaign as there hasn't been a Trump campaign.

Her media strategy is not served particularly well by doing a national press conference as she has a different message to get out to different targeted constituencies.

"Hillary Clinton is running arguably the most digital presidential campaign in U.S. history. Donald Trump is running one of the most analog campaigns in recent memory. The Clinton team is bent on finding more effective ways to identify supporters and ensure they cast ballots; Trump is, famously and unapologetically, sticking to an 1980s-era focus on courting attention and voters via television."

"It is a deep contrast in how the Democratic and Republican nominees allocate their time, staff and campaign funds, and one that the entire political world would be buzzing about in almost any other election year."

"But this is not an ordinary year, and so the candidates' strategies have received less attention than, for example, the Obama campaign's vaunted data-mining operations in 2008 and 2012. That's why we're lucky to have Sasha Issenberg — a Bloomberg reporter and the author of (the recently updated and reissued) "The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns" — on the beat.
The Clinton campaign is doing things differently — dispensing altogether with the geographical logic for breaking down the country. They've split it into three, with each "pod" responsible for states where there will be a common strategic approach. So one pod includes big diverse states where mobilization will be essential to her victory, and one small states where persuasion will play a bigger role. Then, perhaps most interestingly, they've broken off states where a significant portion of the electorate will vote early or by mail."

As for Trump:

"Broadly speaking, it seems like Trump's campaign has been overwhelmingly focused on ways to leverage media coverage: interviews, rallies, online social content. There has been hardly any concerted use of any mode of communication that isn't fundamentally amplifying the candidate's voice across free mass media. There's been very little targeted voter contact, either online or offline. Only today the campaign appears to be starting its first general-election television ad buy, although it looks to be very meager by the standards of a national campaign — and certainly compared to what the Clinton campaign and its allies have already put on the air."

"Part of the reason he's able to have such a small, centralized campaign structure is with so few, barely targeted tools there are ultimately few tactical decisions that need to be made on a daily basis. Which city does the plane fly to? What's the subject of today's tweetstorm or Instagram video? Which three TV producers do we say yes to today?"

Remember about a week and a half ago when he said that if people want to vote for him, they'll vote; why bother with mobilization efforts, etc?

The upshot of this is that Hillary has no actual need of the national press to get out her message. Trump on the other hand is totally at the mercy of his coverage. His whole premise has been that through media dominance he'd roll.

This worked in the primary but less well in the general.

Trump's campaign is a throwback. His campaign strategy and technology matches his throwback vision for America.

"What you're describing here is a Trump campaign that is running what we could charitably call a "throwback" strategy to the days when television dominated campaigns — which would be what, the early ’90s, at the very latest? — or less charitably called an "analog" campaign in a very digital era."

"In a way, that strategy matches his campaign message, which is in large part a nostalgic appeal for an America that felt safer, more prosperous and more … culturally comfortable … for a particular class of blue-collar, white workers."

"The one difference, though, is that what I would think of as those high-modernist campaigns of the late-20th century all relied on a lot of paid television, not just free exposure through the media. Up until 1988, basically, campaigns would cut three checks — one to each of the television networks — and communicate with the electorate through national ads."

"In the 1980s, direct mail became useful for persuasion, and then over the last 15 years, we've seen a renaissance of highly targeted individual contact because the data and analytics are now available to segment the electorate in all sorts of previously unimaginable ways."

"Trump is very much a throwback to that old mass-media world — this is a guy who seems to prize being on the cover of Time or featured in "60 Minutes" above anything else — but has also decided to run for president on the cheap. So he's still relying on the three national networks (and cable news), but since he isn't paying for airtime, he is reliant on the media to filter his message in a way that past candidates haven't been. No wonder he's in such a love-hate relationship with us."

"I'll say that I think Trump has a more coherent worldview about campaigns than many politicians, and his tactics actually do a pretty good job of reflecting his strategic assumptions. He considers campaigns to be purely a candidate-driven, mass-media exercise. One could also say, perhaps less charitably, that he sees his candidacy as an extension of the mechanism of becoming a celebrity: It's about using television to get in front of as large an audience as possible to get as many people as you can to like you. Even as his campaign has grown and changed, he has been remarkably disciplined at not spending much time or money on anything that doesn't reflect that approach."

"Now I think that dramatically fails to appreciate the extent to which campaigns are not just about changing people's opinions to get them to like you. Now more than ever, thanks to partisan polarization, campaigns are about modifying the behavior of people who already like you — getting the unregistered to register, mobilizing infrequent voters to turn out. That is best done through targeted communications that don't involve the candidate."

"We know from dozens if not hundreds of randomized field experiments that the best way to turn a non-voter into a voter is to have a well-trained volunteer from his or her neighborhood conduct a high-quality face-to-face interaction at the doorstep. The Clinton campaign is building the structure to do a lot of that, at scale, before voters they have modeled as most likely to change their behavior as a result. That doesn't fit into Trump's idea of what an election is about. To his credit, though, unlike a lot of candidates, he doesn't go through the motions of halfheartedly opening field offices — or printing up yard signs to fill them with — without understanding how they fit into his broader strategy."

That's another thing about Trump: his approach is a totally candidate centered approach. One very interesting aspect of this very interesting year is that two different theories of POTUS elections have been in play.

On the one hand there has been the candidate centered theory of elections.

Ezra Klein did a good job of showing two things:

1. That Hillary Clinton actually is a great politician
2. Why she is widely seen as a not so great politician by the media.
The discrepancy comes from the fact that while there are three aspects of politics:
1. Communicating
2. Listening
3. Building coalitions
Only number 1 has been valued in recent years. Hillary in her own way is a kind of throwback to the pre George McGovern reforms, when the party decided, and no one denied or agued with the fact that they did.
Number 1 tends to be a male skill: we guys like to talk. What has been less valued is listening which is a mistake: after all, if you like to talk you need to find someone who actually likes to listen. 
If we all want to only talk all the time, then we will all end up frustrated. 
So when Hillary talks about going on a 'listening tour' the media scoffs. Klein admits that only recently did he consider the possibility that her listening tours weren't just bs; an excuse not to have to talk. 
What's ironic is that Hillary as the first major party female nominee has been up against not just two guys but two guys who are all about 1. They are not just male politicians but almost a pure type of male politician. All 1 with no 2 or 3. 
Both Bernie and Trump were at best tangentially connected to their respective parties. Hillary is the classic party decides candidate while Bernie and Trump were about bucking the party. 
In fairness to Bernie, once he lost he did stand behind his party. Trump until very late scoffed at the idea of party unity. 
He would say 'It'd be great if it's unified and I hope it will be. But I can win either way. And maybe I''d be better off if it's not unified.'
He has only started trying to win over Republicans now that it's clear he does need party unity. 
This is why I think this won't be as close as 2012. That was more more less a generic Republican vs. a generic Democrat. This is a candidate whose own party is in disarray. 
But while Bernie and Trump tried to disprove the rules of electoral physics, Hillary and her party may well have the last word. 

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