Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Win the Nomination. Lose the General Election

We can learn from the Oprah-for-president excitement.

Her brand is as big as Trump's, and nicer.  That is the problem.

Political parties force cohesion among their members.  They choose their candidate. It gives us clearer choices in the general election.  The system sometimes picks weak candidates..

We have seen it happen.  I watched the Democratic Party leaders in my community pick a candidate to fill a vacancy in the state senate.  The candidate won the overwhelming vote of the Precinct Committee people out of a group of 13 candidates.  She had earned their support. She believed all the right progressive-environmental Democratic things. She was a loyal, active part leader and had earned their support.   She lost the general despite a strong registration advantage.  The things that made her a strong primary candidate contributed to her being a weak general election one.

Hillary Clinton won the overwhelming vote of black Democrats in the early primaries in red states. Those solid Democratic bloc votes came in states she would never win in the general election.  

Alabama Republicans nominated Roy Moore over a reliably conservative, electable incumbent Senator, then lost.  They picked their candidate, not a strong one.

Now Oprah.  Oprah would be a very formidable Democratic primary candidate.  She would draw massive crowds.  Media would cover her nonstop because audiences would follow her. She would have instant credibility with two massive Democratic voting blocks, politically energized women and people of color.  She would get pluralities--possibly majorities--in a field of multiple candidates.  

Everyone in America has heard of Oprah. She has a one word name.  She would be a fascinating match-up against Trump--but a weak one.  

Oprah has a brand.  Empathy.  Generosity. Women.  Respect for people of color.  Respect for the disadvantaged.  Self made billionaire. Media star. 

They match up poorly against Trump, even though the attributes are nicer than are Trump's.   

Trump represents masculine conflict, so an ugly campaign fight strengthens his brand. He is the bad boy warrior, happy to get mean and dirty. He got famous for judging people and firing them.  He denounces things he dislikes.  He appears strong.  He steadfastly represents that he is fighting for Americans.  The tax bill, he says, hurts him.  On immigration, he says, Congress should do the right thing and "I'll take the heat."  Trump detractors consider this laughably dishonest and self-serving, but his base sees him as governing on behalf of the interests of white, conservative, Christian, nationalist, cultural traditionalists like themselves. 

Click to see how Fox is handling this..
A political campaign would destroy Oprah's brand.  She is a uniter.  She empathizes.  She includes. She is a lover, not a fighter. She is nice.

A campaign would mess that up.

Trump will insist this is a fight. He would attack her. She has a jet, so she's a hypocrite on climate.  She interviewed Bill Clinton, so she's a hypocrite on women.  Trump will find some white male who got fired and is delighted to complain, and say it is proof that Oprah seethes in hatred of working men.   Would this be unfair?  Of course, but ugly fights with nasty charges are the arena that Trump will insist the campaign go and that is in his power to do.

Trump's brand is affirmed by a dirty fight.  Oprah either endures the nasty attacks--and looks weak and "feminine"--or she fights back, at which point her brand is muddled.  Either way is bad. As a fighter she is no longer the nice, empathetic inclusive woman of her brand. If she tries to deflect the fight, she is a womanly soft hearted coward.  

Lose, lose. Oprah's brand is a glass jaw in a campaign.  Democrats would be making a mistake to nominate her. 

Unless.  Unless, Oprah takes the next eighteen months to extend her brand.  She has the power to attract the media attention.  She can say that she is now the new Oprah, inspired and committed to political change.  Still empathetic but now deeply committed.  She can say that Trump was the last straw, the road to Damascus, the cause of her conversion from non-political to political

It would be a brand change.  She would go from beloved to controversial. She would become an an archetypal Amazon, a woman warrior.  It may not be a winning idea. Traditionally, men are the warriors, and women are nurturers.  Oprah would not just be switching brands, she would be going from one that is easy and intuitive to one that runs against expectation and culture.


Rick Millward said...
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Rick Millward said...

Excellent satire! Oh wait...You're Serious?

Yes, in the modern era the line between entertainment and politics is blurred, TV being the vehicle. This is the problem.

I can't decide which is more terrifying; that anyone would seriously consider yet another unqualified celebrity for public office or that yet another one is seriously considering it.

If Congress does nothing else it should legislate education and experience requirements for public office, especially the Presidency, and put an end to governing by popularity contest.