Campaign 2016—Lessons To Date
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
With the Primary season over as well as both parties’ conventions, there already are any number of lessons to be learned from this campaign which suggest that the hackneyed expression used quadrennially may indeed be more appropriate this year than ever before. America is indeed experiencing a transformative election. Regardless of what the results will be in November and with approximately only 90 days left to go, historians will view campaign 2016 as a radical, fundamental shifting experience. While these changes may indeed affect the eventual results, they are even more likely to influence future elections and future political party behavior.
- Both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have confirmed unequivocally that major segments of the American people feel disconnected to the party system as it exist. Many liberals and conservatives believe that the current political parties do not speak to them or represent their views—at all; what that will produce for the 2020 campaign is unpredictable. Whether the voters will revert to previous electoral form is unknown, but a precipitous drop in turnout in November may well indicate the depth of voter dissatisfaction with the existing parties.
- Trump already has found a better technique to address the preposterous amounts of money that campaigns can now raise and spend—directly or indirectly—as a result of the Supreme Court campaign finance decisions in the Citizens United and the McCutcheon cases. Trump defeated 17 other aspirants for the nomination who spent millions of dollars more than he did. He achieved this by not raising the money and thus not spending it. Bernie also ran the first part of his campaign on a shoestring until he started raising money but almost all from small donations and without any PAC money.
- Trump proved that if you have high name recognition you can get the media to cover you as if you were Hollywood personality without an agent. He was able to saturate televisions without paying for it. Similarly, Trump demonstrated that you do not even need to have an enormous advertising budget.
- Trump, showed you do not even need to physically meet the media. You can communicate through social media—in his case through Twitter—and call in to news shows while relaxing in Trump Towers. He got his story out and almost never missed a night at home in his own bed. His use of social media was not only dramatic it was brilliant. As Bill Clinton did by using MTV and late-night talk shows so too did Trump and to a lesser degree Hillary and the other candidates moved the campaign to today’s form of communication.
- Fewer and fewer people watch network so why run ads which no one watches. It is remarkable how few ads Trump ran during the primary campaign and even now how little money he is spending on advertisement. (Ads on cable are dramatically cheaper anyway, but Trump might break down when the football games and baseball playoffs begin.)
- You do not need to do polling and focus groups because much of that is already being performed by independent operations. If you don’t like the results you deny them and if they are favorable then you tout them.
- Trump has run his campaign with a truly skeleton staff and with virtually no GOTV noticeably in place. These decisions are both like to come to haunt him.
- Both Sanders and Trump have challenged the conventional campaign speech. Trump has drawn his audiences with his bluster and his style and not with his content, while Bernie plugged away unceasingly on his issues, perhaps even to a fault.
Bernie and Trump eventually may be disappointed in the behavior of the next President, especially if it is Hillary who has run a very traditional campaign; but the lessons will remain to be understood. (To be continued)