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Who Won the First 2016 Republican Debate? Media Training

Observations from the first debate.

Regardless of what you think of their ideologies and position platforms, this is a slate of candidates filled with strong communicators. Specifically, I put Trump, Bush, Walker, Cruz, Rubio, Kasich, Bush, and Huckabee as B+ communicators or even better (and they all have A+ moments).

Rubio came across as the most forceful, engaging and dynamic on the stage.

Kasich will win the pundit vote, and from moderates and liberals who don’t have any sway in the Republican party.

But Donald Trump was the big winner from the debate last night.

Why?

Donald Trump’s “brand” is that he is willing to tell people he is the greatest, no matter what is thrown in his face (check). He’s willing to call everyone else a dummy or stupid (check, check, check,). And he’s willing to be obnoxious and not be embarrassed about it (Rosie O’Donnell is a big, fat slob, check, check check).

So I would argue that Trump did more to reaffirm his band and the core messages of his campaign than anyone else.

Here is the top headline in the New York Times this morning.

Trump Steals the Show, Mixing Politics and Pizazz

 

Notice the nine candidate names NOT in the headline?

I am well aware that pluralities and sometimes even majorities of voters in the GOP say they would never vote for Trump. Indeed, if the field starts to winnow, as it traditionally does, Trump’s 20% base will look little better than a Ron Paul showing.

But, and this is a big but, with tens of millions of dollars from Super Pac money flowing to virtually anyone willing to trash Hillary Clinton, what if the Republican field still has 10 active candidates running next June? Traditionally, that has never happened, because candidate money dried up. But now, Ted Cruz can run through the convention as long as he pleases one rich billionaire, never mind that Cruz might never get more than 5% of the vote in any one primary.

Political communication has traditionally been a staid affair, given the need to appeal to 50% of the voters plus one.

But what if politics is fragmenting in the same way network TV has fragmented into Netflix and 2 million podcasts?

Trump seems to be banking on the idea that in a 10 person field, the candidate who can consistently get 11% of the vote in winner take all primaries can win the whole thing, easily. Not only does it not hurt to be hated by a majority of voters, it actually helps, because it makes your core supporters feel more special.

Trump is using the Rush Limbaugh strategy. Rush says obnoxious things and his hated and reviled by as much as 90% of the population. Yet Rush has been number one in the talk radio game since the late 80s by appealing to a narrow base of supporters. And that works, when there are dozens of radio hosts to choose from in any given hour of the day.

The fundamental flaw in all conventional political analyses at the moment as I see it is the assumption that next February and March, all the candidates who don’t finish in the top 2 or 3 slots on primary nights will soon drop out. I disagree with this analysis. I think they will stay in until the convention, given that they will have Super Pac money. And if you are a megalomaniac, there is nothing more enjoyable than running for president, so why quit?

If the conventional wisdom is correct, the crowd narrows quickly, and once it is a 2 man race, Trump loses 20-80 and become an afterthought. But if I am right, Trump may win the
GOP nomination with as much as 80% of GOP voters and 100% of the party establishment despising him.

So Trump’s debate communications strategy may be perfect for him in his quest to get the nomination, and (much) more important to Trump, guarantee Trump’s face on TV every day for the next 14 months, which may be Trump’s only goal.

Of course, if Trump does get the GOP nomination, it would guarantee a 50 state landslide for Hillary Clinton, even if she were to pick Willie Horton or Fidel Castro as her running mate. And it would guarantee the total destruction of the modern Republican Party.

It’s going to be an interesting Debate/primary season.

Stay tuned.

TJ Walker is president of Media Training Worldwide www.mediatrainingworldwide.com

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