In full disclosure, I used to be a public official. I served for 17 years in local government and then I thought I was good enough to run for the state legislature. Well, I was good enough but my opponent ran a smarter, nastier campaign and I lost by four percentage points. Having experienced all those elections probably has something to do with the fact that I am interested in the whole process of elections, especially elections for U.S. President. Or maybe I’m just an election junkie.
But I have to tell you, I’m absolutely fascinated by what is happening in our country right now. Think about it. Whether you love him or hate him, Donald Trump is a master marketer. A couple of weeks ago he gave a speech and told everyone the cell phone number of one of his opponents. That opponent was furious! And several days later, the opponent, seeking revenge, gave out Trump’s cell phone number. But Trump had planned on that all along. When people called Trump’s number, they were greeted with a campaign message and directed to Trump’s website. And, in the process, Trump’s cell phone recorded every single one of those caller’s phone numbers. What an interesting way to build an election database!
Candidates for election are held tight by all kinds of rules, and one of them has to do with “advertising”. If you appear on a TV or radio show, then that show has to offer “equal” air time to your opponent. With 17 GOP candidates right now, it’s very challenging for TV and radio shows to offer up equality to all the candidates. But if a candidate makes “legitimate” news, well, then, that falls under the category of covering the news, not advertising. And every time Trump appears in the news, he’s getting the best of free advertising. Given our country’s extreme dislike for established politicians right now, Trump is loving every minute of it. He doesn’t care if it’s positive or negative news. He just cares that his name is being spoken (or heard) in households every day.
Another rule candidates have to deal with has to do with fundraising. The rules are many and complicated. However, if a candidate is rich and can finance his own campaign without having to raise enormous amounts of money—which Trump is—then that candidate can pretty much do whatever he wants. He doesn’t have to cater to special interest groups. He doesn’t have to make any pledges or promises. He can do whatever he wants. And anyone familiar with Trump knows that’s the way he likes it.
Honestly, I think Trump is having a blast and laughing every minute. Will he be the GOP nominee? Probably not. But, there is a slight chance that he could still win the election. As I wrote above, the majority of voters are totally fed up with establishment politicians. They could very easily vote for Trump. Stranger things have happened. If you doubt me, check out the Minnesota 1998 election for governor when a pro-wrestling lunatic was just as shocked as everyone else when he was declared the winner. Jesse Ventura ran as a reform party candidate and he won! Trump could do the same thing as an independent party candidate. Just saying…
Crossing over to the Democrats, Bernie Sanders spoke to a crowd of 26,000 people this week in Washington State. Hillary Clinton barely gathered a crowd of 6,000 on her East Coast home turf. At this time in 2008, someone else from the non-establishment ranks was drawing big crowds—then-candidate Obama. And just like Trump (and Obama in 2008), people are drawn to Sanders because he’s not an established politician. People are clamoring for change.
Speaking of change, I think this election cycle is going to bring about a lot of changes once it’s all said and done. I won’t be at all surprised in January 2017 when Congress takes up a bill dealing with election reform. With Trump self-financing his campaign, both parties will be eager to establish some firm rules about how much money a candidate can spend. And once election financing is on the table, you can bet on a Pandora’s box being opened. PACs and Super PACs will have to reach deep into their bank reserves to lobby for the status quo since all their money will have been spent on the election. And I won’t be surprised if people demand rules requiring term limits to do away with established politicians once and for all.
Just think, we have another 15 months of this before we head to the polls. Sit back and relax. Toss aside your hatred of the other party. Stop listening to the rhetoric and start thinking like a marketing manager. Consider this all a learning moment. How would you run a campaign?