Wednesday, July 26, 2023

BTRTN: Dear Nikki and Tim, Here’s the TV Ad You Can Use to Attack Trump.

With Ron DeSantis free falling faster and farther than a Tom Petty lyric, hope shifts that some other Republican can emerge to challenge Trump for the nomination. Desperate to keep Trump away from the White House, Steve offers Nikki, Tim, and the others a game plan for attacking Trump. 


Readers of BTRTN may have noticed that I have a periodic need to make suggestions to Republicans that could drastically improve their communications.  

Why, you ask, would this progressive blogger feed Republicans ideas for better communications strategies and sharper, more compelling messages? Two reasons.

First: as a career ad guy, critiquing mass communication is what I do. It is a reflex. When I see stupid marketing communications – like the one thousandth commercial to use Queen’s “We Will Rock You” as background music -- I don’t scream and squeeze the remote button. I scream and then think about how I might have approached the communications task differently.

But there is a bigger reason I’d like to help Republicans.

My dream is to come up with the idea that takes Donald Trump down, once and for all. Every day, Donald Trump grows as a mortal threat to our democracy, to our freedom, to our world. If he is indeed nominated in 2024, we must devote every ounce of our strength to defeating him. But it would be far better is to cut him off at the knees now, to weaken him in the Republican Primary so that he limps into the general election… or to deny him the nomination outright.

The right message could do it.

All that’s needed for my dream to come true is one viral moment in which one of my suggestions for attacking Trump gets traction on the internet, is seen by a Republican rival, who uses the idea to finally break the mystical hold that Donald Trump exerts over the MAGA base. That’s the dream.

But why do I have to help a Republican to achieve this? Easy: only a Republican can shatter that mystical grip. Democrats can beat Trump in ten straight general elections, but that will only make the MAGA base think every election is rigged. Nothing a Democrat could ever say or do would damage Trump. Usually such attacks only make Trump stronger.

Only someone with impeccable conservative credentials who is respected by the MAGA base has a prayer of taking on Trump, attacking him effectively, and perhaps even wresting the nomination from him.

For a while we thought Ron DeSantis had a chance of taking down Trump, and for that same while we thought that it would be better to have DeSantis as the nominee than face even the slightest chance of a second Trump administration. Now that Ron DeSantis has proven himself to be an unspeakably cruel, Machiavellian racist, it is hard to make the argument that it would be better to have him in the White House than Trump. Both are completely despicable and equally unacceptable.

Back before DeSantis announced his candidacy, I offered him some pretty good advice that he might have been wise to listen to.  I urged that he focus his marketing message on electability and governing competence.

DeSantis approached the race with a heckuva story to tell. He had just crushed his Democratic opponent for governor by a shocking twenty-point margin in a state very recently viewed as purple. DeSantis could brag about a strong Florida economy, and he had a formidable record of implementing a deeply conservative agenda. “A winner who gets things done” – heck, that would have been a pretty good campaign slogan to use against a loser who didn’t.

These were simple, credible messages. More important, they would not require DeSantis to diss Trump or disown Trump’s politics. All DeSantis had to say was that he agreed with Donald Trump’s political goals, but make the points that Trump had proven himself to be a consistent loser at the ballot box and point out that he never got anything done. No wall, not paid for by Mexico.

Instead, Ron DeSantis frittered away his momentum by fighting a holy war of intolerance against the Woke, LGBTQ, Blacks, Women, and independent education. He is flailing and failing, displaying an astonishing tone-deafness that seems consistent with a campaigning style that shows him to be utterly unable to connect with ordinary voters. Ron DeSantis, we have learned, is every bit as disgusting, divisive, vile, and morally bankrupt as Trump. The DeSantis death knell: he has destroyed his own “electability” argument by making himself every bit as toxic and “unelectable” for the Presidency as Trump.  Ron DeSantis is not the guy who is going to save the Republicans from Trump… nor would we want him to be.

So: no more helpful suggestions for DeSantis from me.

In a world where Trump leads most every poll by 30 points, it’s daunting to even entertain the notion that someone could defeat him for the nomination.

As DeSantis stumbles, we now see articles about Tim Scott’s fundraising prowess, and there are renewed flickers of interest in Nikki Haley as the non-MAGA Republicans desperately wish to unite behind an alternative to Trump. Vivek Ramaswamy is actually ahead of both in the polls, but the out-of-nowhere multi-millionaire has yet to endure any of the rigorous scrutiny aimed at the better-known candidates. Mike Pence is struggling to raise money and continues to suffer from Low-C, the clinical term for a alarming deficiency in charisma.

The problem is that neither Scott, Haley -- nor of the other Republican contenders -- have figured out how to run against Donald Trump. Most sit between a rock and hard place: they are afraid to hit him hard for fear of alienating Trump's voters, who they will need big time in a general election. But in failing to throw punches, they unable to articulate why they are any different or better. Chris Christie is trying to make a kamikaze run at Trump, but his blistering criticism is falling on a Grand Old Party of deaf ears.

So let’s go back to the basics.

There is an old rule in marketing: if you want to be the leader, find out what the most people want the most, and then deliver it better than anyone else.  It is a simple idea, repeated time and time again in countless product categories. Tide cleans best. Coke refreshes you best. Google searches are the best. Find the most important benefit in the category, deliver it better than anyone else, and you will be the leader until somebody comes up with an even more important benefit… or figures out how to deliver the most important benefit better than you do. It’s just common sense.

Well, there is also an old rule in politics: the most important thing to the party out of power is to find someone who can win. In 2020, the Democratic Party quickly coalesced around Joe Biden for one reason: everyone felt that he could beat Donald Trump, and everyone was terrified that Bernie Sanders couldn’t.  Electability was everything for the Dems in 2020… and it is every bit as critical to today’s Republican Party. Who can beat Biden? Who is most electable?

So far, no Republican candidate has mounted a serious effort to challenge Trump on the issue of electability. No one has thrown down the gauntlet on what should be most important issue in the primary.  No one has made electability the centerpiece of their campaign. Candidates are wasting their time on “woke,” on waging war on LGBTQ citizens, on whether the DoJ is biased, and on just about everything but the most important issue.

This, despite the fact that Trump is exceedingly vulnerable on the issue of electability. After Donald Trump won the election of 2016, he has been “the biggest loser,” having lost control of the House in midterms of 2018 (when Democrats picked up 41 House seats), losing the Presidency, the Senate, and the House in 2020, and severely underperforming relative to expectation and opportunity in the 2022 mid-terms. He was already a loser before being branded with what now appears will be a toxic array of ominous Federal and State indictments, with trials likely to be in various stages of forward motion right in the thick of the campaign season. Sure, the 2024 election will once again largely come down to who gets their base out to the polls… but the independents will once again find Trump’s chaos a bridge too far.

The obvious answer for Nikki Haley, Tim Scott, or any other Republican contender: make electability the central issue in the campaign.

Here’s a way to do it that might make MAGA Republicans stand up and actually freak out.

This thought occurred to me when I stumbled across one of those mind-blowing Instagram clips in which liberal comic/correspondents like Jordan Klepper of The Daily Show fame interview MAGA voters and entice them to express their unvarnished opinions on every topic under the sun. In one such clip, a MAGA Republican said that he would prefer to have Vladimir Putin as President of the United States to Joe Biden. When asked why, he replied, “At least Putin loves his country.”

The comment --  breathtaking, but somehow not surprising, or perhaps even all that unusual --  is an insight into the MAGA mentality. The MAGA base – or some significant portion of it -- is not motivated by conservative principles. Rather, they are fueled by hatred of liberals, and all things that liberals espouse.

It is the same logic that causes Republicans to condemn Critical Race Theory and “woke-ism.”  The majority of Republicans have a hard time accurately defining either, yet they are absolutely certain that they oppose them.

It is intriguing to read this data and speculate that the most visceral, animating emotion driving the far right is not a love of Donald Trump, so much as a raging hatred of liberals.

The secret, therefore, for Republicans trying to compete with Trump for the MAGA base may be to ignore Donald Trump, and tap into their geyser of poisonous rage against Democrats.

Which is why the following ad might work.

Here you go, Tim, Nikki, and whoever else is interested… this is the television commercial that could make Donald Trump’s base open to your candidacy:

“The Problem” :60 Television Commercial


Photograph of Nancy Pelosi

Voice over announcer:

“In her fondest dreams, there is one candidate that Nancy Pelosi desperately wants to win the Republican nomination for President.”

Visual: Dissolve to video of Donald Trump

Visual: Photograph of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Voice over announcer:

“Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has a secret hope about who will win the Republican nomination for President.”

Visual: Dissolve to video of Donald Trump

Visual: Photograph of Bernie Sanders

Voice over announcer:

“Bernie Sanders tells his friends exactly who he hopes will be the Republican nomination for President.”

Visual: Dissolve to video of Donald Trump

Visual: Photo of Joe Biden

Voice over announcer:

“Yes, Republicans, in the White House right now, Joe Biden’s gang of progressives, Democrats, and liberals are hoping one man will become the Republican nominee for President.”

Visual: Fade to video of Donald Trump

Voice over announcer:

“Why do all of these disgusting, country-hating, woke liberals want Donald Trump to be the Republican nominee?

Because they all think that he would be the easiest Republican candidate to beat.

They feel that they beat him before. That they beat him in the mid-terms.That they can beat him again.

They see the polls. They know that he cannot win a majority of votes.

And now their liberal Department of Justice is flinging indictments at Donald Trump to make sure that undecided voters vote against him.

Visual: Split Screen of Pelosi, AOC, Sanders, and Biden

The problem, my fellow Republicans, is that the Democrats you hate most all want Donald Trump to be our party’s nominee. They are making certain he will lose… and we will have four more years of Joe Biden.

Visual: Split screen of video of Pelosi, AOC, Sanders, and Biden laughing

Voice over announcer:

And they will all laugh at us if we nominate him again.

Donald Trump was a good President, and we all are grateful for his policies, his actions, and his leadership.

But we can’t do what the Democrats are hoping and praying we will do. We cannot nominate Donald Trump for President again, and hand the election to Joe Biden.

My friends, it is time we understood the problem fully: if we nominate Donald Trump, we are nominating the candidate with the least chance of beating Joe Biden.

The fact is that a vote for Donald Trump is a vote for Joe Biden.

Nominating Donald Trump ensures that we will have four more years of Joe Biden, and that will be catastrophic for our freedom, our economy, and our country.

We need a new face to lead our party. A new generation leader who is focused on our future, not our past. A young, energized leader who can blow out the old, frail, weak Democrats who control Washington D.C. 

A new generation leader who can win the undecided voters that can put a Republican back in the White House. 

 A new leader who can win. A new leader who WILL win.

Vote for (Nikki Haley, Tim Scott, etc.) to be the Republican nominee for President.”

Of course such a campaign wouldn’t just be a single commercial. You’d have the version in which prominent members of the LGBTQ community are each identified as people who secretly want Trump to win the Republican nomination. Blacks. Immigrants. All are depicted as hoping that the Republicans nominate Trump, because they know he will lose.

Here’s the bet: MAGA Republicans actually hate Nancy Pelosi more than they like Donald Trump. So the news that Nancy Pelosi prefers Trump as the Republican candidate – and does so out of confidence that he will lose – could trigger uncertainty in a MAGA voter. What is more important? To nominate Trump, or to thwart Nancy Pelosi?

There you have it, Nikki, Tim or any other Republican… that is how you take on the “electability” issue. You don’t say that you think Trump isn’t electable… let the evil demon Democrats do it for you. And if you are terrified of running that ad, convince some fat Republican Super-Pac to do your dirty work for you.

Run that commercial and watch how it confuses the MAGA brain, which has been trained to hate everything Nancy Pelosi wants, to scorn every position AOC espouses, and to reject everything Joe Biden advocates. Tell the MAGA maniacs that Nancy Pelosi wants Trump to win, and watch the MAGA brain dissolve into a tapioca of flummoxed uncertainty.

Nikki, Tim, and all Republican wannabees… wake up! You have six months until the Iowa Caucuses. You have six months to eradicate Trump’s 30-point lead in the polls.

You are not going to do that by playing nerf ball.

Position yourself as the strongest candidate on what is most important to the voters.

And that starts by aggressively communicating that the current front runner is the weakest candidate on what is most important to the voters.

I gave you the tv commercial. No charge. You’re welcome.

Now go run it.


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Sunday, July 2, 2023

BTRTN: The Oldest and Greatest Political Sin

Tom is back with the June, 2023 BTRTN Month in Review.

JUNE 2023

No, the oldest and greatest political sin is not corruption, nor stealing elections, nor lying through one’s teeth as easily as breathing.  All of those have been endemic across the centuries, readily committed by both the mightiest of rulers roaming the continents and small town pols trying to extend the tiniest bit of turf, and all levels in between. 

No, the greatest sin of them all, for a politician or a ruler, is this:  overreach.  It is the greatest sin because it is self-inflicted.  Global history is rife with examples, from Alexander to the Romans to Hitler, and in the United States, from Theodore Bilbo to Huey Long to Joe McCarthy.  This sin is not confined to the mighty.  It afflicts almost anyone who wields power and believes they are untouchable -- whether in a kingdom, dictatorship or democracy -- and dares to test the limits of their power, time and again, either consciously or reflexively.

While any politician may fall under the sway of their own power, and succumb to overreach, demagogues and dictators are particularly vulnerable to such impulses.  They are utterly convinced of their own invincibility, utterly assured of the justness of their cause, and utterly contemptuous of advice, preferring to surround themselves with sycophants.  They have no self-discipline and no sense of potential mortal danger. Like the shark endlessly seeking its next prey, they move in one direction, relentlessly, and at only one pace, recklessly.  There are only two possible outcomes for such a beast:  death or overreach.  As long as they are breathing they march on inexorably until they finally push the overreach button and self-destruct.

We are now watching epic events unfold on the world stage featuring two of the most powerful figures the 21st century.  Not the two most powerful at this moment, for they are Joe Biden and Xi Jinping.  Rather, we mean Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.  One is a demagogue, the other a brutal dictator, and both are beginning to suffer from their excesses.  Both are being challenged by noteworthy opponents with a power base of their own, and, at this juncture, their ultimate fate is unclear.  But both Trump and Putin are damaged, to be sure, and, on some level, teetering.  They may emerge from their troubles stronger than ever, and achieve new heights of power – both face elections in 2024 -- or they may finally fall victim to overreach, like so many before them.  

It was less than two years ago when Putin began amassing Russian forces along the Ukraine border, and U.S. intelligence concluded that this show of force, while not the first of its kind, was not likely another bluff.  Putin, the KGB strongman who watched the Gorbachev era and the demise of the Soviet Union with deep dismay and disdain, seemed bent on restoring some semblance of the USSR.  Having found the West’s resolve to be wanting in facing down Russian aggression in both Georgia and Crimea in the last decade, Putin set his sights on Ukraine, which at various times was part of the Russian state (in various incarnations, including the USSR), but freed in 1991.  Putin’s legacy was secure at the time, as the man who had restored Russian pride, the Russian economy, and firmly held power for more than two decades with no end in sight.  At age 69 (at the time of the buildup), he might have enjoyed at least another decade of power or more, had he not pushed a whole stack of chips on the table and crossed the Ukraine border. 

Within days of the attack, it was clear that Putin had badly miscalculated, underestimating, at first, the strength of Ukrainian firepower and fortitude, embodied by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and then, the degree of unified Western military support and resolve, embodied by President Biden.  Far from overrunning Kyiv within a week, the war, 16 months hence, has become one of attrition, the Russians at this point trying to hold on to Russian-occupied territory in the east.  Putin has continually tried to convince his people of the righteousness of Russia’s “special military operation,” the strength of its battle plan, and the capability of its military to execute that plan.  But while he has an ironclad grip on state media and a brutal track record in dealing with dissenters, he is finding that he is still subject to forces beyond even his control.  When, a month ago, drones started inflicting life-threatening damage to tony Moscow suburbs, the oligarchs, perhaps privately long skeptical about the Ukraine effort, began to grumble a bit more loudly.

Finally, the dam broke in June.  It could have been pierced in any number of ways – perhaps by a move by the oligarchs, or the Russian generals, or an uprising of the people – but instead it came in a particularly dramatic form, in the person of Wagner Group military entrepreneur Yevgeny Prighozin, who founded and heads the most effective fighting troops at Putin’s disposal.  Prighozin’s method was not subtle, and it was particularly devastating, in that he first complained very loudly about the state of the war and then marched his troops straight to Moscow, traversing a large swath of land unimpeded, apparently with mutiny in mind.  They were stopped not by the sword, but by a deal, or so it seems, that allowed Prighozin safe harbor in Belarus with a hefty check.

The optics were crushing to Putin – the all-too-resonating critiques, the abandonment of his cause by his best fighting soldiers, his exposed inability to defend the Russian people, the confusion over whether Prighozin would even be prosecuted for clearly treasonous behavior.  Putin’s Folly in Ukraine, a textbook case of overreach, had finally come home to roost. Where it goes from here is anyone’s guess, but Putin is certainly weaker even as he carries on with strongman propaganda.

As for Trump, one of the truly stunning aspects of his current troubles is that not one of the actions he is under criminal investigation for fell between his Election Day victory in November, 2016 and defeat in November, 2020.  Think about that.  His behavior in the four years between those two dates have been endlessly catalogued and reviled.  Lists have been compiled (including by BTRTN) itemizing the myriad of ways Trump diminished the presidency while he held it, beginning with his nearly insane Inaugural address (“weird shit,” according to George W. Bush), the madness about the size of the crowd that showed up to hear it, and the introduction of “alternate facts” into the national parlance.  But none of the events on that long list are at issue now. 

What is at issue is his behavior in attempting to overturn the 2020 election results, the subject at hand in Georgia and the Department of Justice’s January 6th-related investigations, and the taking of documents after his presidency and his obstruction of their return, for which he was indicted by the DOJ in June.  (He has also been indicted in New York for bribing a porn star into silence about their decade-old affair just weeks before the 2016 election.) 

Just think if Trump had accepted his 2020 defeat with grace and moved out of the White House in conventional fashion.  Certainly there was precedent.  Both Richard Nixon in 1960 and Al Gore in 2000, sitting Vice Presidents, had ample cause (far more than Trump) to protest their election outcomes and defy the peaceful transition.  Nixon decided – literally for the good of the country – to forego challenging JFK’s razor-thin win despite reports of irregular voting bought by Joe Kennedy’s money.  Gore pursued the bizarre 2000 election (remember those “hanging chads”?) to the Supreme Court, but accepted the Supreme Court’s verdict and moved on.  Both Nixon and Gore presided over the very certification process -- formally anointed their rivals -- that Trump attempted to coerce Pence to defy.  Had Trump followed their example, and, like all of his predecessors, packed up his boxes for the National Archives properly (save a few errors, quickly rectified, by Joe Biden and Mike Pence), where would he be?  Doubtless in a stronger position to challenge Biden in 2024 than he is now, with indictments, current and future, hanging over him like the sword of Damocles.

But instead Trump overreached in trying to undermine the election – and, by extension, democracy -- through the Big Lie, and then by taking government documents that belong to us, not him, and willfully obstructing their return.  He was correct in assuming he could convince his base of, well, anything, but beyond that, the Big Lie has proven to be political poison, and the document theft also appears to be a political loser.  Trump is losing the middle and a material chunk of his own party, groups he needs behind him to have any hope in 2024.

Trump once famously said that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue in New York City and his faithful would still support him.  That statement, uttered in January, 2016, shortly before the Iowa caucuses, revealed a man who thinks he can literally get away with murder, a state of affairs that he has been proving quite convincingly ever since.  Figures like Trump and Putin do not really explore the edge of the envelope – for them there is no envelope, no edge, no act that they cannot explain away, deny and emerge from all the stronger for having survived.  They simply keep going, in a space not defined by envelopes to be tested but more akin to traveling the universe, a space of infinite elasticity.  Until, that is, they are done in by overreach, and they find – usually in rude fashion – that there was a boundary to their behavior after all.  This is what happened to Adolf Hitler in Russia and the Ardennes.  It is what happened to Joe McCarthy in taking on the Army.  And it may be what both Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin are experiencing now – time will tell.

Meanwhile, Joe Biden has clearly decided that the best path to remaining in power is simply to hold himself up as a counterweight to both Putin and Trump.  He does not talk much about either, preferring instead to act in traditional presidential fashion, forging deals, supporting allies, projecting calmness and the stability borne of experience, and hopes the contrast is clear.  His main problems are his age and that he cannot seem to convince voters, even some in his own party, of the fact of his myriad accomplishments.  His campaign focus will be on the economy, the very real improvements that have been made in GDP growth, unemployment and, of late, inflation, and the better days ahead, in part enabled by his investments in infrastructure and alternative energy.  Biden will contrast these proactive investments in the economy with the “trickle down” orthodoxy that still guides GOP economic orthodoxy, despite the numerous failures of tax cuts to grow anything except the wealth gap and the size of the federal debt.

His best campaign calling card is actually the GOP “platform” -- in quotes because there is no such formal plan, only a set of stances, votes and Supreme Court decisions on key issues.  The GOP has committed legislative and judicial overreach of its own, in their zeal to wipe abortion off the face of the country, a plan that is antipathy to of the majority of Americans.  Abortion alone will drive Democrats and the persuadable middle to the polls in droves, agitating suburban women and younger voters alike.  The GOP’s inability to keep their hands off the third rail of Medicare and Social Security reform will drive away the seniors, while their pro-gun and climate change policies also infuriate the majority of voters who can plainly see the human tragedies resultant from GOP neglect.  With issues like these, and a steadily improving economy, Biden can withstand whomever the GOP runs, as long as he does not suffer a sharp, sudden physical or mental decline.

The GOP agenda is aided and abetted by a Trump-driven Supreme Court that is simply not aligned with the views of the majority of Americans.  The Roberts Court (though it is not his anymore, by any stretch) offered a few positive June surprises on immigration and the burial of the so-called “independent state legislature theory,” but the trio of opinions released in the last few days of June -- banning of affirmative action in college admissions, refusing to defend LGBTQ rights, and denying Biden’s attempts to ease the crushing burden of student debt burden -- will further inflame Democrats.

Biden’s overall strategy of standing tall while Putin weakens and the GOP implodes – a modern day version of the Rose Garden strategy – is clearly the correct path, especially for a gaffe-prone 80-year-old who has never been a particularly inspiring orator or force.  Whether it is enough to prevail in 2024 is, of course, and open question, but there is no doubt that his opponents are awash in overreach and cannot stop themselves from offering a very dark vision of their alternative world of criminal behavior, unpopular policies, and botched invasions.



Biden's approval rating remained at 41% in June, but there was slippage on his performance on some key issues.  The "Bidenometer" improved significantly from 32 to 37, driven by increases in the Dow, consumer confidence and the last GDP estimate for Q1.  Gas prices were flat for the month and unemployment ticked up.



The Bidenometer is a BTRTN proprietary economic measure that was designed to provide an objective answer to the legendary economically-driven question at the heart of the 1980 Reagan campaign:  “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”  We reset the Bidenometer at this Inaugural to zero, so that we better demonstrate whether the economy performs better (a positive number) or worse (a negative number) under Biden than what he inherited from the Trump Administration.

The Bidenometer measure is comprised of five indicative data points:  the unemployment rate, Consumer Confidence, the price of gasoline, the Dow-Jones Industrial Average and the U.S. GDP.  The measure is calculated by averaging the percentage change in each measure from the inaugural to the present time.

The +37 for jUNE, 2023 means that, on average, the five measures are 37% higher than they were when Biden was inaugurated (see the chart below).  With a Bidenometer of +37, the economy is performing markedly better under Biden compared to its condition when Trump left office.  Unemployment is much lower, consumer confidence is higher, the Dow is higher and the GDP is stronger.  On the flip side, gas prices are higher, as is overall inflation, of which gas prices are a primary component.

Using January 20, 2021 as a baseline measure of zero, under Clinton the measure ended at +55.  It declined from +55 to +8 under Bush, who presided over the Great Recession at the end of his term, then rose from +8 to +33 under Obama’s recovery.  Under Trump, it fell again, from +33 to 0, driven by the shock of COVID-19 and Trump’s mismanagement of it.  Now we have seen a recovery under Biden from 0 to +37.

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