The Sweep: The Speech Trump Should Have Given
Plus, your reminder that this election is all about turnout.
Campaign Quick Hits
Bouncy castle: Morning Consult and ABC had the first post-RNC convention polls. Morning Consult showed a small bump for Trump, as expected (and check out those undecided numbers—fewer than half as many in 2016 at this point). ABC showed no change in his favorability even among Republicans.
Rate my convention: Trump had a conundrum heading into his Thursday night speech: Stay on script and show queasy Trump voters that he can muster the discipline to win this thing, or deliver another campaign-rally barn burner that will leave the media grasping their pearls but also draw in more eyeballs. In a surprising turn, he prioritized winning over ratings. Using initial Nielsen numbers for television viewership, 3 million fewer people tuned in for the president’s speech than Vice President Joe Biden’s from the week before. Combining all four nights, 76.3 million people watched the DNC compared with 63.6 million who tuned into the RNC. (The RNC claims that it made up the difference with streamers and had 147.9 million viewers with those platforms combined. But I haven’t seen any reliable information on how organizers determined their online viewership.)
Money pit: The Trump campaign and RNC say they raised $76 million during their convention week. According to the Biden campaign and DNC, they came in just shy at $70 million during the previous week. As Kirsten Kukowski told me during our mop-up conversation last week, “both these candidates are going to have enough money to do whatever they need.” So money at this point isn’t telling us who can afford to buy more TV ads, it’s telling us about voter enthusiasm, which means the number of individual donors probably matters more than the amount at this point.
Party time, excellent: According to Gallup, “the Democratic advantage over the Republican Party, which was an unusually large 11-percentage-points in June, is now six points.” For those interested, Democrats had a 3-point advantage in October 2016, an 8-point advantage in October 2008, and an 11-point advantage in October 2000.
Special K … -shaped recovery: Trump still holds a 10 point lead over Biden on who is best able to handle the economy, according to an NBC poll. And in the latest AP poll, “about half of Americans, 47%, approve of how Trump is handling the economy … significantly higher than his overall favorable rating of 35%.” Bloomberg reported that “new-home sales jumped to the highest since 2006, while a regional measure of manufacturing was the strongest in almost two years” even as “roughly 1 million new Americans are applying for unemployment benefits” every week. What will a K-shaped recovery mean for the election? I think we’re about to find out.
It’s the riots, stupid: Are the riots in Kenosha and Portland having an effect on the polling, as Don Lemon suggested the other night? There’s a lot of polling “background noise” right now—the conventions just happened and we’re getting close to Labor Day, when polls usually start tightening. Perry Bacon Jr. at FiveThirtyEight makes a decent case for why the violence hasn’t had an effect yet, but he loses me when he admits there’s no data that could convince him it is having an effect. My gut says that at this point it is locking down some “wobbly” Republicans who don’t like Trump’s style but have a visceral reaction to all these viral videos they’re seeing in their Facebook feeds. And that is what explains the Gallup party affiliation numbers ticking down and then back up for Republicans since June. The wobblies are coming home, and they were never really going to vote for Biden.
Empty chairs at empty tables: Smart ad from the Biden camp late last week. It has a kind kind of Friday Night Lights vibe as it pans through empty stadiums—professional, college, and high school followed by an empty classroom, church, main street, highway, and beach as a dystopian national anthem plays. I think the tagline at the end could have punched harder but the point came across just fine without it. And what better gauge of effectiveness than the president responding on twitter.
Turn Out for What
Last week I tweeted this during the first night of the GOP convention:
But Twitter allows only so much nuance, so let me expand on my point a little.
First, I was referring to folks mocking the messaging and production of the convention itself. I.e., “good luck persuading a single Biden voter with this crap.” Those types of comments—to me—betrayed an ignorance of how campaign strategists think about voters and what the GOP was trying to accomplish with its convention. Conventions aren’t watched by low-information, undecided voters. Operatives know this. So they targeted their respective audiences.
So let me break down a little of what I think the Trump (and Biden) campaign’s strategy is.
Generally speaking, if all Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters and all Republican and Republican-leaning voters voted, Democrats would win. But that's not what happens. Why? Because some people are more reliable voters than others and more of those people are likely to vote Republican.
This is why, as we discussed in the voter scoring write-up in The Sweep a few weeks back, campaigns look at voters along two axes—who they are going to vote for and whether they are going to vote. We know there is very little campaigns can do on that first axis. They are more likely to push away an undecided than to flip one to their team. But that second axis—voter turnout—is something campaigns have a lot of control over. (And, hey, it’s basically what this newsletter is named after!)
The entire strategy at this point is about turning out voters who already like your guy but would prefer to stay home. Trump’s polling average was about 43 percent last week. There are 158 million registered voters. If Democrats have the same turnout percentage as last time (we aren’t even talking about new registration numbers) and Trump can magically get 97 percent of his 43 percent of those 158 million registered voters to show up, that's 65.9 million votes. In 2016, Hillary Clinton got … 65.8 million votes. Voila!
Another way to think about it: 138 million people voted in 2016. That means just under 90 percent of registered voters who reliably vote in presidential elections cast ballots four years ago, but it also means there’s 20 million registered voters who stayed home. Those are your “undecided” voters this race. They aren’t undecided about WHO to vote for. They are undecided about WHETHER to vote at all.
But here’s the rub. Those 20 million voters aren’t evenly split between the candidates or the polling averages. They are much more likely to be under 35 years old, as just one example. Next problem. There’s also the assumption that the Trump campaign’s tactics will have no effect on Biden voters. If Trump increases enthusiasm among his voters by telling them he’s never going to allow another immigrant into the country, it may increase his turnout by .05 percent but Biden’s turnout by .06 percent in reaction.
So every time you hear a pundit talk about undecideds, roll your eyes with me!
What Trump Should Have Said
(Don’t worry… next week I’ll do Biden.)
First of all, I want to make clear that some of you may not like this speech. When folks like me write “here’s what so-and-so should say” what normally follows is something that person would never say and is not even to their strategic advantage to say. That’s not what I’ve done. I’m taking the Trump campaign’s strategy as I see it, as well as Trump’s style, and noting the areas I thought were missed opportunities last week.
Second, when you start writing a speech (or a press release or prepare for a media interview), the first question you need to answer is: What headline do I want to come out of this? This can be a difficult exercise for my college students, for example, but it’s vital. So what is the headline for the below speech? Like my college class, I’m going to let you think about this question as you read it and then I’ll give you my headline at the end. (Spoiler: It’s a bit of a trick question.)
Next, I’m not saying everything below is meticulously accurate or even fair. (Some of it might be wildly inaccurate!) But politics ain’t beanbag, as they say. And remember, this speech is about one thing: turnout. As I said above, there are very few undecided voters. This is about targeting people who are Trump-wobbly but aren’t going to vote for Joe Biden.
So why do I think this would have been more effective? It’s shorter, for one. He spoke for about 70 minutes on Thursday. It got boring and felt like it lost direction. My speech has some quick reminders on policy areas—life, immigration, religious liberty, school choice, judges, and obviously jobs. It ties Biden to the radical wing of his party. It’s got some fear-factor stuff in there about the riots.
But more importantly, it has a theme: “They’re attacking me because I’m fighting for you.” Funny enough, he said this on Thursday. At the 40 minute mark. If you didn’t notice it, it was because it was lost under the sheer tonnage of the rest of the speech, which had about 17 different themes in it. (A theme, by the way, is often different than the headline. The theme is what your audience hears. The headline is what non-listeners will get from the mainstream media, Twitter, etc.)
Of those 17 themes, though, this is one that I believe will be most effective at locking down his voters and has the added benefit of turning every attack against him into a plus. He needs his voters to believe that he is the one standing between them and the media, the Democrats, and the “defund the police” crowd. Joe Biden may be nicer, but he won’t protect you from the mob.
Now, one thing his real speech did better than this one would? Endless clips to share on social media. The South Lawn was obviously an eye-catching venue for a speech. Now there is an hour’s worth of material to slice up into 30- to 180-second Facebook bites over the next two months and put that against voters file to target each voter with his or her pet thing. Uplifting and presidential moment? Check. Scared of Biden’s America? Check. Every niche policy imaginable? Check. And if you know your television viewer numbers are going to be way down, maybe that’s not a crazy strategy to follow.
Even so, here’s what I would have written for him ...
Thursday, August 27, 2020
High: 77; Low: 58
Partly cloudy, 20% chance of rain
Location: Lincoln Park, 6900 18th Avenue
Delivery time: 12 minutes
Expected attendance: 1,500
Audience notables: Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell, Fraternal Order of Police President Patrick Yoes, President of the Police Benevolent Association of the City of New York Patrick Lynch
Thank you, Oregon! When I spoke at the March for Life in January, I was by the way the first president ever to do that. Not even a single Republican President—not Reagan, not Bush—none of them had ever spoken there.
Here’s what I told them. I said, “They’re coming after me because I’m fighting for you.” It’s that simple, folks.
Everyone in the media comes after me. All day long. All night long. I read that their coverage of me has been 99.5 percent negative. 99.5. I mean what’s the other half a percent, I said? Somebody probably lost their job for that. [Laugh] But we keep winning, don’t we? Are you tired of winning yet? I didn’t think so. I promised you that we’d keep winning until you were tired of winning, so if you’re not tired yet then we aren’t done winning.
But why is the media coming after me so much? Because they know that I fight for you. And I don’t know how to tell you this, but they don’t like you very much. You’re not politically correct enough for them. They want to fire you from your job because you said something they don’t like. Or you don’t raise your fist at a restaurant.
Did you see that video? This wonderful woman is just sitting at a restaurant eating her food and this mob is screaming at her. Remember when they told you that you couldn’t go to church because it was too dangerous to be that close? Those same “scientists” haven’t said a word about these people screaming in this nice woman’s face.
That could have been any of us. Ok. Not so much me. I have these nice men all around me. They do a great job, don’t they folks? Of course, these media people live in their gated communities. Or should we call them walls? Because that’s what they are, folks. Big, beautiful walls. They love ‘em when they are around their own homes, don’t they? And they choose where their kids go to school because they can afford private school. But they don’t want school choice. It’s a beautiful thing, school choice. Beautiful what they can do for these kids. But, no, they have school choice but they don’t want you to.
And now they are telling you to sit down and shut up. Shut up about keeping your kid’s school closed. Shut up about keeping your church closed. Shut up about college sports. Can you believe that? These kids want to play. And they’ll stand for our anthem, by way.
And now they’re telling you to shut up while they burn down your businesses, loot your grocery stores, and assault elderly couples. These are all Democrat run cities, you know. They’re defunding the police. No one is going to come when you call 911 now. Our wonderful police. They’re demonizing them. They’re calling them racist. They’re calling them pigs. That’s a very bad word, by the way. Very bad thing to call our men and women in blue.
And what’s left when they get their way—when I’m gone and the police are gone?
You heard the McCloskeys a couple nights ago. Great people. Fantastic. I couldn’t believe what happened to them. These rioters broke through their neighborhood. They had no right to be there. The police weren’t allowed to come. So they tried to protect their home as these people were screaming at them and threatening them. They didn’t hurt anyone. And you know who the Democrats charged with a crime? The people destroying their city? Assaulting police officers? No. They charged the McCloskeys.
Don’t worry; we got those charges dropped. They’re all gone now. But that’s what they want to do to you. It’s your fault if you say the wrong thing. It’s your fault if you want to defend your family from criminals. It’s your fault if you believe in God.
We had the greatest economy in the world. I should know. I built it. More jobs than ever before. Lowest black unemployment ever. Women. Latinos. Then China sent the virus. We did everything we could to stop it. They called me racist then, too. I stopped travel from China, and they called me racist. It’s about power, folks. They will call anyone that terrible, terrible word when they want power. That’s what this is about. They want to come after you and I won’t let them.
And Joe just said he would shut down the country again. That’s what he said. I didn’t believe it. I said to my staff, no, he didn’t possibly say that. “Yes, Mr. President, he did.” But they’re always telling us they are the party of science? It’s a joke, folks. He doesn’t care about your job. He has to do what AOC says now. If Nancy Pelosi tells him to jump, he’s got to wake up from his nap in his basement first I guess. [Laugh] But those ladies say jump, and he doesn’t have a choice.
And China wants Joe Biden to win. Gee, why do you think that is? You think they’re rooting for the guy who has been so tough on them? I don’t think so. They want Joe. He’s a pushover. He’ll say “Oh, no, we’re so sorry you let your virus come over here and hurt our workers, let’s make another terrible terrible trade deal like I did before.” That’s what he’s going to do. Sell you out.
He’s a lifelong politician. That’s why he sounds so nice when he talks. I know. I don’t sometimes? I’m not always nice. Have I tweeted some things I shouldn’t have? Maybe. Maybe. [Laugh] But I created millions of jobs. I’ll do it again. I’m a builder. I’ve already done it. You may not know this because the media isn’t going to tell you. I’ve already brought back 9 million jobs. That’s a record for our country. No other President can do it, I’m sorry to say. Only I can. I know how to build. Joe knows how to give speeches and send your job to China.
So that’s it, folks. You know my policies. I don’t need a platform. Sorry again, NeverTrumpers. We should stop calling them that. They’re just Democrats now. They want Democrats to take the Senate. No more judges, sorry!
The media is so confused right now, by the way. How is Trump always winning? This is what you know that they don’t. They think they’re so smart but they can’t figure it out. They aren’t friends with a single person like you. Can you believe it? They sit around with each other crying, “We attack him constantly but they’re still voting for him? How can this be? We’ve called him a racist. We’ve told them he golfs.” [Laugh] Golf is great exercise by the way.
They can say whatever they want about me. Because you get it. Every time they call me a name, they’re calling you a name. Every time they make fun of me, they’re making fun of you.
I accept your nomination for president because it’s that simple: They come after Trump because I won’t let them come after you.
Thank you. God bless.
Ready for the headline I think I’ll get out of this speech?
MSM headline: Amid protests and racial unrest, Donald Trump’s acceptance speech doesn’t mention Jacob Blake.
FOX chyron (those are the words at the bottom of the screen) 30 minutes later: Reporters attack Trump for standing with police.
Photograph by Jabin Botsford/Washington Post/Getty Images.