January 28, 2016
NOTE: If Trump winds up changing his mind and decides to participate in the debate, please kindly disregard the following advice. I’m assuming the Cruz Team already has a plan for what happens if The Donald makes an appearance after all.
Today is the biggest day of your presidential campaign. After decades of hoping and planning for the White House, a victory in the Iowa caucuses would give you a leg up. Though Donald is ahead in the polls, you’re still in good position.
Everybody says great things about your ground game. A victory will now count as a comeback instead of something we should have all expected. Who knows, if ducking the debate blows up enough on him, you might even make it uncomfortably close in New Hampshire.I’m sure you have some great zingers ready for Donald if he shows at the last minute. Delivering them in his absence is tempting. I’m willing to bet Chris has a line or two ready for the cameras. He’s looking to peel off soft Trump support in New Hampshire.
Let him have his fun. It’s not going to make a difference in Iowa. Jeb will stick out his chin and say we need a serious leader. Whatever. Let him do his thing too. Kasich will hang out on the side of the stage and make a few veiled comments. Back in Nashua, Concord and Keene, where Granite Staters are attuned to his subtleties, the governor will rack up a few points. Not your concern yet.
Take one shot. One only. When a moderator invariably asks you about the missing Donald, avoid a lengthy discourse on how this means he can’t hang in there with Putin.
Simply say, “I think he’s ducking me. If he prefers CNN to Fox News, that’s his call. The people of Iowa will decide for themselves if his absence tonight is a problem. I know Donald shares my concern for our veterans, and has the best of intentions in raising money for them tonight. As I told him yesterday, my supporters are ready to donate a minimum of 1.5 million dollars to veterans groups if he will debate me by Sunday. Since we know how committed he is to our troops, if Donald doesn’t want to debate, the only reasonable explanation is he fears allowing Iowans to make a direct comparison between us.”
Skip talking about how you’re doing the Full Grassley. That sounds like a frat house event where you sample 12 different bongs in 12 minutes. Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee are visiting all 99 counties too. Anything they are doing is automatically not impressive anymore. People from New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada, who you’ll need soon enough don’t need to hear you pander excessively to Iowans.
Don’t talk about the Iowa process, what Iowans expect. If they’re as smart as all you pols and the talking heads say, they can draw the contrast easily enough.
So about the danger. There are three obstacles. Marco. Rand. Ben. Remember, a bunch of voters are undecided still. If they aren’t, you’re reduced to hoping Donald’s voters won’t actually caucus. Your ceiling is still in the mid-upper 30s, but your floor is below 20. It wasn’t such a long time ago that you were in that range.
Each of the three have at least a little momentum this week. Any of your wavering supporters (and the numbers say at most 60-65% of the people choosing you in polls are locked down) are cross-shopping you against one or more of these candidates.
If you make a big deal about Donald, anything much beyond my great pitch above, it gives these guys an opening. Your task is to seem like a legit nominee. That’s the opportunity. Voters get to picture a Trump-free world. Back in July, when everybody thought he was just a temporary distraction, they pictured a scenario where he evaporated before February.
For two shining hours, that vision is a temporary reality. Don’t ruin it by bringing him back into the picture. Either way, you’ll get attacked like a front-runner tonight. Marco and Rand will go at you directly. Not sure if you caught Rand on TV today, but it sounds like he’s loaded up to question your consistency.
He’s very close to doing well enough on Monday to avoid embarrassing himself and making everybody in Kentucky resent his Don Quixote act. Polls have him at 5% or so. If he can pull a few of those college students he’s been hanging out with, that gets him to 7. Ten percent and he’s justified his existence. You have that missing 3.
You’ve done a great job pulling some libertarian-leaning Tea Partiers your way. Why you felt the need to brag about it in interviews is beyond me, it’s that type of thing that costs you with people. I know you’re a dork, you know you’re a dork. It’s fine. I’m one too. The Princess Bride imitation was great.
You don’t need to be slick. Look how popular Crazy Great Uncle Bernie is. Whenever and however possible, please resist the temptation to remind people how smart you are. Maybe get yourself a bracelet that says “I clerked for Chief Justice Rehnquist after going to Harvard Law and Princeton.”
That’s pretty solid. You don’t have anything to prove. When in doubt, don’t brag about your political strategic acumen. We’re looking for a president, not a new Karl Rove.
Anyway, you have some of Rand’s voters and he’s pissed you were smug about stealing them. Just remind everyone Glenn Beck endorsed you. Remind them you have a 100% voting rating from various conservative groups (name them, I’m just too lazy to google the list right now, but you have them memorized).
You notice I’ve been lecturing you on attitude and tone. Partly, it’s just my nature. Partly, I want you to watch video of yourself from the third debate when you were at your most presidential. Be that guy. For the first time you really sounded like a leader, someone who could rally the party and win in November.
Don’t say you’ll beat Hillary. Don’t refer to those bogus pseudo-matchup polls. Yes, you’re doing slightly better than Trump, but Marco does better than you. Bernie Sanders often kicks your ass. Do you really want to go there? Either the polls aren’t real predictive right now, or you can’t beat Bernie. I’m assuming they aren’t real predictive.
Show. Don’t tell. The guy in Debate #3 showed. This helps you contrast yourself with Marco. He’s nicer and smoother, but voters think you’re tougher. If you can add the leader part, that’s an edge. That version of you isn’t so over-scripted.
The CNBC moderators asked a few questions that weren’t easily anticipated. That let you take advantage of thinking quickly on your feet and improved your tone. Like Marco, you have the habit of trying to cram half your stump speech into the debate. Don’t. Fresh improv material please.
Marco sometimes gets too excited when he has an answer ready and rushes his delivery. He’s still your biggest competition, and in a world where Donald doesn’t devour the whole nomination process, you still need to get past him. If he’s hurried, trips on a couple words and appears over-packaged, it’s an opening.
Don’t piss away the advantage by being too clever by half. You have one important point of attack. Let him start and then counter. You’re the front-runner for the night, so act like it. Keep thinking of yourself as the nominee to beat. Marco knows if he can close the gap with you, it gives him definite momentum for New Hampshire.
You want Kasich as the third finalist, not Marco. Whenever he hits you, whatever he hits with, the response is that his plan, his votes, whatever he just said is a continuation of the failed policies of the past fifteen years. You’ve got some real policy differences with the Bush 43 administration.
He doesn’t do a good job of explaining how he’s different from W beyond being the son of a bartender instead of a president. One of these day’s he’s going to realize a few extra points of detail on what’s different about his economic or foreign policy would get him 5 points overnight. Hopefully today isn’t that day.
I’m sure you saw he traded in some 60 second spots for single 30 minute segments showing a partial town hall appearance to the largest TV markets in the state. This is really smart. His ads haven’t worked because they suck. Too slick, too packaged, too conventional. Marco is going to do well over the weekend. You need to leave the stage clearly ahead of him.
Don’t talk about how you’re the true conservative. Show it. Trump, Paul and Carson supporters aren’t thrilled with anything that’s happened since 1990 or so. You don’t want Ben peeling too many voters away from you. He’s definitely bottomed out. He also has a ground operation. No matter what, he gets 6-7% on Monday.
If he gets above 10, you have a problem, and will require a partial Donald support meltdown to win. So again. Debate #3. One last thing. Stop talking about this election being like 1980. Don’t mention the bold colors instead of pale pastels thing. When the Gipper said it at CPAC when you were in pre-school, it was a clever turn of phrase. Come up with your own.
Most people will miss the reference. For those who catch it, it forces an unfavorable comparison with the Great GOP Hero. Also, unless you know we’re going to have 52 hostages in captivity for the next year, high gas prices after suffering through gas lines, fall into a bad recession, have double-digit inflation and interest rates, and have Putin swallow an entire country, you don’t have the same environment.
You have to run a better campaign than he did. Also, Reagan didn’t win because he ran as a conservative. He won because a ham sandwich could have defeated Jimmy Carter. Having a mandate for a conservative agenda was a nice side-benefit.
Anyway, I’ve rambled long enough. Knock ’em dead tonight. This is the opportunity you’ve dreamed of since you saw Jimmy concede in ’80 before the polls closed out West, costing his team the Senate. Hillary ain’t gonna do that.