On Messages, Megaphones and Momentum

October 26, 2012

When a campaign is in trouble – and I should know, I worked for McCain in 2008 – it starts to show in a lot of ways. One of the easiest to spot is when its megaphone is way too big for its message.

At the presidential level, the megaphone is money. This is because the contest is spread across the nation, or at least across the battleground states, which means across a number of major media markets. And each of those markets costs money to contest. An incumbent that has the race in hand will usually have settled on its message strategy by the time the huge ad buys start airing.

That has not been the case for Barack Obama. Ever since he had his head handed to him in the first debate, his messaging has been, well, undisciplined. He has tried fictional characters (Big Bird), word games (binders of women), more word games (Romnesia), cutesy titillation (my first time was with Barack) and base-riling distortions (war on women, take two!). In an election that everyone seems to agree is mostly about the economy, these are all conspicuously missing any green eyeshade quality.

The campaign is struggling because it has a shiny, powerful megaphone, but nothing to yell into it. That is a problem because the size of the megaphone only accentuates the smallness of the arguments that it is broadcasting.

Former Congressman J.C. Watts famously said, “If you’re explaining, you’re losing,” which is a good rule of thumb, but not always true. But f people are dying to know what you can do differently in the next four years to get the economy moving, and you’re explaining made-up words and the similarities of Elmo to OJ Simpson, then you are definitely losing.

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