In education, if a teacher confuses their students, they lose the student. In marketing, if a company confuses their customers, they lose the customer. The same is true in political campaigns. A candidate who confuses the voters is likely to lose the election.
If you confuse, you lose.
One of the very first articles I wrote for this site covered the importance of staying on message while campaigning. During a political campaign many things will be coming at you that can distract you from your message. Attacks from an opponent, off the wall inquires from the press, or something scandalous on social media.
These are all part and parcel of running for office. While they can often be minimized, they can’t all be avoided – especially in a contentious race. The truth is every day on the campaign trail someone will say or do something that can distract you from your winning message.
Opponents will lie awake at night trying to figure something out to hit you with. Reporters pride themselves at asking the perfect “gotcha” question that can overtake a news cycle for several days. Even well-meaning supporters who don’t understand the nuts and bolts of winning an election will unknowingly try to pull you off message.
Your job, and that of your campaign team, is to keep you on message. You need to stick to the theme of your campaign, the main reason you’re running for office in the first place. You need to tell your winning campaign story over and over again until the voters know it as well as you do. That’s how you win. Staying on message and not veering off into the weeds.
Candidates off message and out in the weeds don’t connect with voters. They talk about things that don’t matter to the people. Worst of all they stop telling their winning stories. When you’re not telling your winning story, you’re not doing what needs to be done to convert voters into committed supporters. Instead you’re confusing them about why you’re running. And when you’re confusing the voters, you aren’t lining them up in your support column. You’re leaving them out there to be picked up as supporters by your opponent.
Candidates who confuse the voters, lose the voters.
If you doubt this, just ask Donald Trump.
Three weeks ago Donald Trump wrapped up the Republican National Convention in Cleveland with an acceptance speech that told a winning story. In his story, Trump has a plan to make America great again (his campaign theme) but if he didn’t win and Hillary Clinton did, America wouldn’t get better. Things would get much, much worse. Hillary was too dangerous to have serving as the next president of the United States.
The week after that, the Democratic National Convention concluded with an acceptance speech from Hillary Clinton that also told a winning story. In her story, America was being divided and only by coming together can the country rise higher and go further than it has before. But, Clinton warned that Donald Trump himself was one of America’s principal dividers. Trump’s election as president of the United States would be very dangerous for America.
With both candidates telling a strong story to the voters, I thought that this was lining up to be a ferocious and a much closer election than most people, even myself, had thought it would be.
But then Donald Trump decided to stop telling his story to the voters. He decided, intentionally or inadvertently to confuse them about why he’s running for president.
Instead of staying on message, Trump got into a public spat with Khizir Khan who had called the Republican nominee out during a speech at the Democratic Convention about the Republican nominees understanding of the Constitution. Trump then made news by publicly holding back his endorsements of House Speaker Paul Ryan and embattled Republican Senators John McCain and Kelly Ayotte.
Then Trump made a remark about the Russians hacking Hillary Clinton’s emails so the American people could see what she might have deleted. And then this week he made a remark about Second Amendment supporters stopping Hillary Clinton that her surrogates have turned into a veiled threat to harm the Democratic nominee should she win the White House.
The entire time this was happening, Trump’s winning story wasn’t getting out. He wasn’t talking about how to make America great again. He was talking about things that didn’t pertain to his message. Even worse, he was talking about things that made many voters question his fitness and and temperament to hold the highest office in the land – the main component of Clinton’s story featuring Trump as the villain.
Alternatively, Hillary Clinton has stayed on her message and stayed on the attack, even as Republicans and the media continue to raise valid questions about her improper use of a personal email serve while she was Secretary of State. Her evasions and inconsistent answers have drawn great ire from her opponents and detractors, but Mrs. Clinton has done everything she can to shift the email issue into a minor distraction and stay on message.
While Trump’s been confusing voters, Clinton has been telling her winning story and the polls reflect it. If the election were held today, Hillary Clinton would be elected the 45th President of the United States – and the county’s first female president with 47% of the vote to Trump’s 41%.
Donald Trump’s self-inflicted distractions have been so damaging that at the time I’m writing this even the typically safe Republican states of Arizona, South Carolina, and Georgia are in play for the Clinton campaign.
Whether you like Trump, Clinton, or neither of them, as a candidate you can learn lessons from their campaigns.
Donald Trump won the Republican nomination because he told a clear, concise winning story and stayed on message while his numerous opponents did not.
Hillary Clinton nearly lost the Democratic nomination to Bernie Sanders because he was the candidate telling the clear, concise winning story while her message was hardly resonating with the voters.
Now the two have reversed roles. Trump is off message and Clinton is hitting her stride. Does this mean that Hillary Clinton is definitely going to win on November 8th?
If 24 years of watching the Clintons has taught me anything, there’s always a scandal coming. They typically survive, but in the short term they take significant damage and are unable to stay on message. If that happens and Trump has gotten consistently back on message as he did in the primaries, this could still be quite the duel for the White House.
As a candidate for office this is what you must take away and implement on your campaign.
- Don’t get distracted and confuse the voters.
- Tell a clear and concise winning story.
- Always, always, always stay on message.
Those three things, and the discipline to adhere to them, can truly make the difference between an Election Night victory or a heartbreaking loss.