Donald Trump 9.0 was launched last night (or is it 10.0? 9.5? I lost track).
For a brief moment in time, fueled by a teleprompter filled with messaging from new campaign manager Kellyanne Conway and campaign CEO, Breitbart’s Stephen Bannon, Trump had a narrative that finally worked.
To use a phrase of Trump’s, I hated to just give him credit for something, “believe me.”
Now, if he regresses to his usual self, he’ll say something horrible and the campaign will be caught up in a whirlwind of controversy. But what if he doesn’t? This new campaign message can work, quite effectively. So, what should Hillary do?
First, let’s take a look at the key passage of Trump’s speech, that encapsulates his new campaign theme and message:
But to achieve this New American Future we must break from the failures of the past.
As you know, I am not a politician. I have worked in business, creating jobs and rebuilding neighborhoods my entire adult life. I’ve never wanted to learn the language of the insiders, and I’ve never been politically correct – it takes far too much time, and can often make more difficult.
Sometimes, in the heat of debate and speaking on a multitude of issues, you don’t choose the right words or you say the wrong thing. I have done that, and I regret it, particularly where it may have caused personal pain. Too much is at stake for us to be consumed with these issues.
But one thing I can promise you is this: I will always tell you the truth.
I speak the truth for all of you, and for everyone in this country who doesn’t have a voice.
I speak the truth on behalf of the factory worker who lost his or her job.
I speak the truth on behalf of the Veteran who has been denied the medical care they need – and so many are not making it. They are dying.
I speak the truth on behalf of the family living near the border that deserves to be safe in their own country but is instead living with no security at all.
Our campaign is about representing the great majority of Americans – Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Conservatives and Liberals – who read the newspaper, or turn on the TV, and don’t hear anyone speaking for them. All they hear are insiders fighting for insiders.
These are the forgotten men and women in our society, and they are angry at so much on so many levels. The poverty, the unemployment, the failing schools, the jobs moving to other countries.
I am fighting for these forgotten Americans.
To be honest, that is one hell of a narrative.
Basically, “I’m sorry if I say crazy shit sometimes, but I just so badly want to tell you the truth, and it makes me as angry as you are. My unpolished words are just a reflection of the pain, frustration, and anger I feel on your behalf.”
He then goes on to a classic white-pain trope – that being pro-white doesn’t mean you’re anti-people-of-color. He says it when criticizing sanctuary cities, saying that Americans deserve sanctuary too. He says it when he says “our children” deserve to be Dreamers too – a knock on children of immigrants caught in citizenship limbo.
That’s just new spin on the classic Lee Atwater, Southern Strategy theme.
The scary thing is, it works. The scarier thing is that its aim is to cut the legs out from Hillary Clinton’s “Stronger Together” message, by saying that Trump, too, believes we are stronger together. He just happens to believe that working class whites should get all the same benefits and consideration as minorities, as opposed to Clinton. He’s arguing Clinton’s “together” means more for minorities. His “together” means whites get theirs, too.
In the immediate term, the media will lap this up, because that’s what the media does. We’re going to have a few news cycles about the “new” Trump with an effective message.
That positive coverage will become the lens through which people look at Trump, in the immediate term. His numbers will very likely rise up again – both his head-to-head versus Hillary, and his favorable ratings.
What can Hillary do?
For starters, it is time for her team to get off the sidelines. For weeks, now, she has basically sat back and allowed the Trump campaign to implode, publicly. It was smart – do not step on the story about self-immolating Trump.
But, now that he has some footing, and a message, it is time to get proactive, and it is time to let her shine.
Hillary Clinton, like Donald Trump, isn’t a natural politician. But where Trump’s strength is the ability to speak like a normal Joe (which he is now framing as being the ‘voice’ of the everyman), Hillary’s strength is her ability to analyze any policy problem and explain how it will get fixed.
While she shouldn’t trot out a new slogan, her comms team should keep a new basic theme in mind. When you’re having a heart attack, who do you want taking care of it? The plumber or the heart surgeon?
This isn’t a knock on plumbers. In my experience, they’re great. They’re more fun to talk to than cardiologists. They can rap about normal things, and can give you a few good lines about what’s screwed up in the world.
But Hillary is the heart surgeon. She understands the complexity of the human body, how it works, and in crucial times, she can jump right in and know exactly what to do to keep you from dying. No, you’re not going to shoot the shit with her, but you also know that you’re way better off with a scalpel in her hand, than Don the Plumber.
The best part about highlighting this difference is that the Hillary campaign can undercut Trump’s new poetic message about how he’s the voice of the voiceless. She can jujitsu the living shit out of his new theme.
In a series of ads of her talking right to the camera, Hillary can say these are urgent times, and unlike politicians of the past, she’s not going to waste time giving people a bunch of poetry. It’s time to get down to brass tacks. Basically, tell the voiceless they’ve been heard, but unlike Trump, I’m going to show exactly how we’re going to address and fix the things that concern you.
Each ad can then go on to have her explain her plan for: Jobs, Trade, the Wage Gap, Health Care, Education, Wall Street and Financial reform, and National Security.
That’s seven ads. Roll a new one out once a week for the next 2 months. Saturate the airwaves with her competency.
This is where Hillary really shines. Showing everyone that she knows exactly what she’s doing.
Just as Trump is trying to create a poetic message of sorts, Hillary can essentially say, “Yeah maybe you got time for bullshitting, Don, but we don’t have time for that. The American people don’t have time for that.”
Just as Trump is trying to flip the race one way, Hillary can flip it a completely different direction. Just when Trump is trying to make the argument about who really stands for togetherness, Hillary can turn it into, “Screw that touchy feely crap. Who has a f-cking legit plan?”