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“The Sunday Political Brunch” – October 9, 2016

Sunday, October 09, 2016


{image_1}I had been planning all week to write a primer for each of the Presidential candidates on strategies for the second debate this weekend, and I still am, But the events of Friday and the revelations of the “Access Hollywood” outtakes from Donald Trump certainly cannot be ignored. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“The Apology” – Whether it happens prior to the debate or within it - or both - Trump has to be humble and unequivocal in his apology. There is no wiggle room here. On Friday Trump apologized – well, sort of – by saying, “This was locker room banter, a private conversation that took place many years ago. Bill Clinton has said far worse to me on the golf course - not even close. I apologize if anyone was offended." He needs to pare it down dramatically. No locker room excuse; no Bill Clinton comparison; and, no ‘years ago’ disclaimer. His apology has to be succinct and sincere, and has to be an acceptance of total responsibility, with humility. Otherwise, he won’t survive this scandal; and he may not anyway.

“Don’t Go There” – This – in truth – is going to require some deft and deliberate response from Hillary Clinton. My suggestion for her is not to be smug or lecturing. She might even be so gracious as to say, “Mr. Trump, I accept your apology. Let’s move on and discuss the critical issues that voters want us to debate!” I say this because this could get ugly. Trump had been strategizing about lashing out at Bill Clinton and his many indiscretions, and Hillary Clinton’s efforts to discredit some of the women involved. It could open up a “can a worms” the Clinton campaign just doesn’t need right now. Her best shot: Take the high road, and let Trump’s remarks stand on face value.

“Bush League” – I’m not a great believer in political conspiracies; nor am I a believer in coincidences. Of all people to have the Trump interview outtakes, it was Billy Bush of “Access Hollywood.” Some people in my newsroom were stunned when I pointed out that Billy was a member of “that” Bush family. He has flown under the radar and has done his own thing for many years, never riding his famous family name to accomplishment. He’s worked hard and kept his distance; but his dad, Jonathan Bush, is the brother of former President George H.W. Bush. Billy, President George W., and Governor Jeb are all first cousins. The Bushes don’t like how Trump treated Jeb and - by extension – the whole Bush family. If this is a payback, then paybacks are truly hell! And my gut tells me that matriarch Barbara Bush might be leading the charge. She doesn’t much like people messing with her family!

“Benghazi” – Trivia question: Name a key issue and place in the 2016 Presidential campaign that was never mentioned in the first debate. I just did a transcript keyword search because I could not recall Benghazi ever being mentioned. I was right - not a peep in 90 minutes. If Trump wants to turn the debate, he needs to put Clinton on the defensive (or risk himself being on the defensive all night long). He must attack, or his chances at winning this race are toast. There is plenty of evidence that Americans in Libya called for more help, and were denied. Four people died; and the nation was embarrassed, especially by a phony excuse that some “anti-Muslim” video provoked the attack. Trump needs to make his case here, and vigorously so.

“What’s Your Email Address?” – Another area of vulnerability Trump needs to attack is the Clinton email scandal. He needs to make a very focused, pointed attack. For example, Clinton said she never emailed any classified, top secret documents. But she did, and the FBI confirmed that, even though it chose not to seek her prosecution. Again, the email issue was barely touched in the first debate; and Trump can’t blame Lester Holt for that. Look, if the moderator does not ask the question, then - as a candidate - raise the question yourself. Call her out, and be relentless.

“You’ve Got Mail!” – I want to circle back to my previous point about a Trump apology. Hillary Clinton issued a brief regret in the first debate, and it defused the issue. It was brilliant and disarming on her part, and Trump should heed the lesson. When the email issue came up, Clinton responded, "I'm not going to make any excuses, it was a mistake." Eleven words - that’s it - and the issue came up only once later in the debate. She didn’t say, “But other Secretaries of State did it, too,” or make other excuses. She just acknowledged her mistake, and moved on. Trump has a chance to make a similar mea culpa, so let’s see if he does.

“The Vision Thing” – One of the biggest disappointments of the first debate was that neither candidate offered a vision of the future. There was no John Kennedy “send a man to the moon” vision, or no Ronald Reagan “shining city on a hill” image. Back in 1992, when challenger Bill Clinton was painting very futurist goals, President H.W. Bush admitted candidly that he needed to work harder on“the vision thing.” We need to hear from Clinton and Trump Sunday about some lofty goal or vision of the future for our kids. Elections need to be about hope!

“Stand Your Ground” – The second debate comes exactly 30 days before the vote. My advice to Hillary Clinton is to be consistent and resolute. Be the voice and vision of experience. Look, she’s not warm and fuzzy; and she gets low marks for trustworthiness; so her one ace is to sell her resume. She needs to come across as steady, sober, and competent. It may seem an odd sell, but to the undecided voters out there she needs to make the case that, “You may not like me, but I can do this job!” No, it wouldn't make a good bumper sticker, but it may sway the final, wavering two to five percent of uncommitted voters needed to put her in the White House.

“We’re Here, Too!” – For third-party candidates, Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Jill Stein, my recommendation is "Buy a plane ticket to St. Louis and let the media know you are there, just as you did at the political conventions this summer. Elbow your way onto CNN, Fox, and MSNBC. They would all love to have you. Even though you aren’t on the actual debate stage, you can still make some waves."

What is your recommended debate strategy for the candidates? Just click the comment button at http://www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.


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