Category Archives: campaign tactics

Richard Ben Cramer, Rest in Peace

Just heard the very sad news this morning that Richard Ben Cramer has passed away. He was the author of one of the best books about politics, What It Takes: The Way to the White House. I don’t really know the particulars of his life. The news said he had lung cancer. As a writer, I suspect he would prefer we focus on his writing, his legacy.

His legacy is that he wrote a masterpiece on American politics. Really. In a world where superlatives are tossed around like confetti, this work is in fact a masterpiece. It also could be a doorstop, with over 1000 pages in the hardcover, which I acquired shortly after it was published.  When you combine exhaustive research and beautiful writing, you may have a good book.
But Richard Ben Cramer got each of his subjects. Some of them come off better than others, but you never have a sense that he was playing favorites, or that he was unfair.It is so easy to slide into insults and sarcastic comments when referring to politicians. Not that we shouldn’t, but we know, surely, that there is more to it. Not many books focus on this subject without trivializing the subject and the subjects. He was able to plumb their public persona and reach the person–the Human that we know must be inside all politicians.

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Filed under 2012 Election, Biden, campaign tactics, Vice President, White House

Bob and Jack Missing; Possible sighting near Hofstra (Pls Tweet if you spot them)

Apparently there is a bar near Hofstra called the Dizzy Lizard. They aren’t answering their cell phones. I expected this of Bob. In fact, I thought Bob might accidentally go to Detroit to watch the Yankees. But Jack? Not sure how he’s going to spin this.

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Predictions on the VP Debate: Bob and Jack are Back

Jack pushed open the door of the bar and squinted into the dark until he saw Bob.  “Why aren’t you at the Old Ebbitt? I’ve been to half the bars in town looking for you. Are you coming over to Evan’s tonight to watch the debate?”

Bob watched him approach. “The debate? What about the game?”

“We have that covered. Two TVs. Side by side.”

ow.ly/epoEE

“Can I have the remotes?”

“No. And, Evan said not negotiable.”

Bob nodded thoughtfully.”I guess we know who will win anyway, since it’s all in Spin Doctor.”

Jack dragged a bar stool into position and sat next to Bob. “By the way, I have to hand it to you. You nailed it. Watching with the sound off may be one of your best ideas yet.”

Bob shrugged. “You seem surprised.”

“I thought you were just looking for an excuse to hang out in a bar.”

“Right. Like I need an excuse.”

“Okay, smart guy. What about the VP debate?”

“You tell me. You’re the Spin Doctor, after all.”

“I think we go with the sound off again”  Jack waved at the bartender and ordered a Bass Aie.

Bob nodded. “But not because of the visuals. It is possible that listening to this debate, without proper medication, could induce drowsiness.”

“So you don’t think Biden will implode?”

Bob shook his head. “Biden is over rated as an entertainment. He knows how to woo an audience, that’s all. Sometimes he gets caught by another audience that thought he loved them more.”

“What are you talking about? He’s married.”

“Funny. Ha ha. You know what I mean. He can talk to the Economic Club of Chicago and the Brotherhood of Baggage Handlers  and they both will think he’s their guy. Then, they see the news and find out he has a multiple personality disorder.”

“Exactly. And it will be great!”

The bartender slid the bottle of beer in front of Jack, no glass, and another drink in front of Bob.

Bob went on:“No. Think. Tonight the audience is everybody. Tonight he will be buttoned down and buttoned up. No gaffes, no shooting from the lip. Just get out of the debate alive with no headlines. He can’t move the needle so–just don’t blow it.”

Jack blinked at him. “No. I don’t think so. He has absolutely nothing to lose tonight. He’ll swing for the fences. Hold up Big Bird’s lifeless body.  He is going to go for the jugular, be the defender of the President. Even if he goes over the line, he’s not going to lose votes. But, he might energize the base. Right now, the air is coming out of the base. Turnout will be everything.”

“So what are you saying? You have too many metaphors. I can’t follow.”

“Abortion. The women have fled the ticket. This is no time for sweet talk. Immigration, another base issue. And then, a blend of economics aimed at black voters.”

Bob’s pinkish eyes  widened. “The race card?”

“Not saying they will play it. But they might accidentally drop it on the table then quickly pick it up.”

Bob stirred the ice cubes in his glass with the bar straw.

“What do you think?”

“Does Evan have any Glen Fiddich or should I bring my own?”

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Filed under 2012 Election, campaign tactics, Spin Doctor

Debate Advice from Jack and Bob: Look, Don’t Listen!

I know the debate could not possibly be as eventful as the one in Spin Doctor.  However, I asked a couple of characters to give us a report on it:

Jack pushed his way through the tourists at the Old Ebbitt toward the bar in the back, where he was surprised to see Bob, already at the bar. “I thought M.C. asked you to go to Colorado for the debate. What are you doing here?”

Bob shifted on the barstool. “I’m supposed to watch the debate, right? So I can do that here.”

“No, you are supposed to be there. In person.” Jack slid onto the stool next to him, waived at the bartender and pointed to the Heineken tap.

Bob shook his head. “First of all, the people in the room will have no idea what is going on. They will talk to each other, squint at the stage, strain to hear over the applause that isn’t supposed to happen.” He took a sip of an amber drink in a short glass. “If you want to know what happens, you have to watch TV.”

The bartender placed a napkin in front of Jack and set the beer on it. When he went back to the other end of the bar, Jack went on: “Well you aren’t going to try to watch it here, are you?  I mean it isn’t noisy, but you won’t be able to hear a word they say.”

“Exactly. If I watched it at home, I would be tempted to listen. But that’s a mistake.”

“No. Seriousy. You can come over to Evan’s condo. We are going to get some beer and watch it there.”

“No. Thanks anyway.” Bob waved his empty glass  at the bartender, who nodded  back. “Besides, you two will probably make a drinking game out of the word “deficit” or “fiscal cliff.” You really can tell what’s going on better with the sound off. It’s visual. It doesn’t matter what they say. It’s how they react.”

“Really.”

“Stop saying that. I’m not kidding. Remember the Lloyd Bentsen-Dan Quayle moment? It wasn’t what he said as much as Quayle’s reaction. And Bush the Elder, when he looked at his watch. Visual. Didn’t say a word.”

“That was ages ago. Don’t you think voters are more sophisticated now? “

“Maybe. But it’s still about what your eyes take in. If you hear the words, it’s hard to concentrate on the visuals.”

“I’m starting to believe you are serious. What about the last election?”

“Easy.  The debate was a draw. Amiable old guy versus smooth young guy.  Bush the younger won both of his, but not on words. Gore and Kerry struck some voters as condescending. Like they were talking to a group of naughty five year olds.  And remember Gore’s sighs? And those Reagan moments they keep playing in a loop? You can tell without the sound that he nailed those lines.”

“I still think M.C. wanted you to go to Colorado.”

“Look, nothing like what happens in Spin Doctor is going to happen in this debate. I’m not going to another time zone. Also, the air is thin. And it’s not like I’m going to find anything out in those spin rooms. I can tell you what they’re going to say before the debate starts.”

“Plus, there is no bar in the auditorium.”

“I very much doubt it.”

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October 3, 2012 · 12:57 pm

What do you think will happen in the debate next week? Vote in my poll!

See the poll in the sidebar on the left.

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Filed under 2012 Election, campaign tactics, White House

What do you think about #Romney’s 47% remark?

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A whiff of Sabotage? Or just getting ready to abandon ship?

A spate of articles report that some pundits think Obama fizzled at the Convention.  According to Politico, before the Obamas left the stage, James Carville tweeted : “Certainly not the best speech of this convention.” WaPo’s Dana Milbank’s headline: “Obama the Demigod Comes Down to Earth.”

Are the Clintonistas shuffling toward the exits? Or bolting? Do I detect the notes of  a carefully spun narrative, whispered into a few eager but discreet media ears?  Now wafting out into the media airwaves, with no fingerprints and no smoking gun? A muffled clinking of the Clinton train as it is unhitched from the Obama engine? . .
Not saying they want Romney to win, do they?
What do you think? Vote in my poll, or leave me a comment.

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Jack and Bob uncover vicious infighting at the Democratic Convention

Jack* and Bob* finally made it to Charlotte. They missed the mimosa brunch but while  they waited outside their hotel for the shuttle bus,  they sent me this quick update:

Jack: M.C. wants to know what really happened with the change of venue for the President’s speech? Did you find  anything out?

Bob:  Did you see the movie, “There Will Be Blood?” Neither did I, but I like the title.

Jack: And?

Bob: They’ve been fighting about this for the last year. One side said, “We have to have a stadium and a gazillion people like before. Maybe not Greek columns. But something big. Otherwise, it will look like we couldn’t draw a crowd.”

Jack: And the other side, let me guess, said, “yeah, but what if we actually can’t draw a crowd—won’t that look even worse? “

Bob:  Yes, plus, no way they are going to get the same level of excitement—So they would argue: “Why  not just go traditional this time. Make it manageable, get some movie stars. We can blow the place apart…”

Jack: And the stadium people said, “uh uh. If we do that, the sneering opposition will taunt us. Where are the Greek columns, haw haw. Where is the overflowing stadium?”

Bob: It’s like you were in the room.

Jack: And  how about: “can you honestly tell me you don’t think there are 74,000 people in North Carolina  who would want to see the President?”

Bob: “Especially if it is free and there are movie stars, rock bands?…”

Jack: Okay, so what happened?

Bob smiled: Bad weather. Didn’t you see the news? Because weather is news, after all. Very seldom happens in North Carolina, so they weren’t expecting it.

Jack: Right. So what’s the upshot?

Bob: There are two sides, and you can guess who they are, because I’m not going to tell you. The side that pushed for the stadium, they may need to get some of those US Air tickets home, because there might not be enough room for them on Air Force One.

Jack: Are they toast?

Bob: Let’s just say, the doubts about their judgment have been realized. They may not be fired, but are officially marginalized.

Jack: Well, it looks like they have papered over it pretty well. I read in the Washington Post  a senior Obama adviser said:

“The noise in the room and response to the speech are what people are going to be talking about on Friday.”

Bob: No. they won’t. On Friday, they are going to be talking about the jobs report.

Jack: One more thing, because we are running out of space and I think I see the shuttle bus: What about the platform changes? What went wrong there?

Bob: First of all, as you know perfectly well,  the only thing you can do with the platform is hand it to the other side  so they use it to bludgeon you. In this case, the Democrats have taken that a step further and laced it with broken glass.

Jack: But how in the world did this happen?

Bob: Once again, crappy staff  work. The most passionate believers –who are so wacky you can’t even let them on the stage at 5 o’clock, when nobody is watching– they get a seat on the platform committee. They drag out the platform from the last election and massage the language a little. They may try to beef up certain parts, and someone, known as a grownup, tells them no. In a nice way of course.

The language goes up the line and someone in the White House, the campaign, or both, vet it. The White House may even send some of the more complicated issues out to the various departments to make sure it is consistent with administration policy. All along the way, everyone rolling their eyes, because they know what a worthless document it is…

Jack: When you say “someone in the White House,” do you mean the President? Did the President approve it?

Bob: No way. But somebody did. Let the finger pointing begin. Because nobody wanted the most memorable, unscripted moment of the convention to be Mayor Villaraigosa saying “Let me try that again…”

Jack: Well, nobody in the Democratic party, at least. Here’s the bus.

Jack and Bob are fictional characters from my novel Spin Doctor, which is about politics (not this election). It is economical and convenient to send fictional correspondents to cover news events. The information in this story is fiction, except for the parts that you couldn’t make up.

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Filed under 2012 Election, campaign tactics, Spin Doctor, White House

Convention Red White and Blues: Bob: “Get me out of here. I see Zombies.”

Jack found Bob at the Hub over on Franklin Street.  It was dark inside, but he could see him in his lime green polo shirt and jeans. His head was on the bar. Not leaning on his elbow, but actually on the edge of the bar.

Jack eased toward him quietly from behind and was surprised to see his eyes open, trained on the small tv set  hanging from the corner of the bar.  “Jeez Bob, I thought you were asleep. Are you okay?”

Bob sat up. No hello. “Of course.” He drew his drink close and looked at it fondly.

“Why aren’t you at the Forum?” Jack looked up at the tv. “They aren’t even showing the convention.”

“Duh.” Bob took a sip. “I couldn’t take it anymore. I know M. C. sent us down here to cover the convention, but. . . ” he shook his head, unable to go on.

“Are you crazy? Haven’t you heard the speeches? Even if you don’t agree with everything, I mean, I thought you were a professional.”

Bob squinted at Jack. “You just got here, right?” He took another gulp. “I went down there the first day, I was hanging around, you know, where they were doing those cable shows. I tried to watch. I was there an hour or two. I swear to God, Jack, they were interviewing corpses. Zombie politicals. And they all said the same thing. Over and over. I watched the producers. They came towards me. They started grabbing up people in the bar, making them talk on camera. I had to get out of there.”

The bartender came over and Jack got an iced tea.

“Bob, do you think maybe you got a hold of some bad fire water?”

“No way. But wait. It got worse. I went to the convention Tuesday night. I know a guy who got me some credentials. . .”

“Really—that’s great. Why didn’t you write something about it for the blog?”

“Maybe I will, when I recover.”

“What happened?  Did somebody hit you or something?

“Almost. There was a sea of red, white and blue.  And I couldn’t find the bar. Then, more zombies saying the same thing, more or less.  The great state of something or other casts most of their votes. Bla Bla . . . Some of them had on red cowboy hats.”

“Come on, is this your first convention? That’s what they always do.”

The bartender came back and asked if I wanted to order breakfast. Not sure what he meant by that, so I said no.

“No, it’s not my first convention. But you know how we block out certain things. Like you remember what it’s like to go over to Rehoboth and swim in the ocean. You remember the hot sun and the cool water lapping against you as you walk out to the surf. But you forget completely how the waves crash down on you, knock you over, spin cycle you with sand and grit and small shells and get up your nose. I went home and burned every red, white and blue article of clothing. This shirt is all I have left.”

“No you didn’t. You can’t burn things in a hotel room.”

“Okay, true, but I got rid of it.”

“So you didn’t watch any of the speeches? Seriously?”

“I thought you were going to write that part.”

“Great. I thought maybe, since you were here, that you were. What happened to your cell phone, anyway?”

“Good question. How did you find me, by the way?”

“Easy. Asked the concierge for a list of dives. This was the first one he mentioned.”

Bob waved at the bartender  and pointed to his glass. “By the way, I started a tab.”

The bartender slid his drink in front of him. “Here you go, Jack. Is that Abbott with one t or two?”

Obviously a complete waste of money to fly these characters to Tampa. Please help us by voting in the poll, so we have some kind of convention coverage.

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Latest from Jack: Guard the Sand Castles: Here come the Democrats!

Just got an email from Jack Abbott*, who can’t resist offering a few thoughts on the news of the day:

“On my way to Tampa to meet Bob. Can’t wait to get there to watch the fray. Question is, will the Democrats be able to stomp all over the sand castle of momentum the GOP is building in Tampa?

The carefully planned week of GOP rock stars is dominating the news. Even with a hurricane in the Gulf, barring unforeseen circumstances, devastating gaffes or tragedies, the Romney campaign should be able to pile up some support this week.

You already know the Obama campaign isn’t standing aside. They planned to send Biden down to kick up some sand earlier in the week, although that gambit was scuttled by Isaac.

But they still aren’t  on the sidelines watching, waiting for the castle turrets to be formed: The muscle men of the Democratic party are heading to Tampa right now to wedge themselves into the GOP convention news with a press conference on Bain Capital:  Los  Angeles Mayor AntonioVillaraigosa  and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley will join Robert Gibbs for a presser today, and the Obama campaign is setting up a “war room” a few blocks away from the convention according to Politico.  I think we know the answer to the question of whether their press conference will be covered. But,  how will it look to step on the big night for Ann Romney?

The Democratic Convention is only a few days away. Mitt Romney’s speech Thursday night becomes that much more important as he tries to make a connection with voters that can’t be washed away by the Democratic tide when it comes in next week. So many voters focus on the election for the first time during the conventions. If he can make the right impression it might carry him through the effort by the Obama Campaign to drive up his negatives.

When the Democrats convene in Charlotte, they’ll want to build their own momentum, of course. You have to assume, even if they don’t use those columns this time, they will probably get some kind of bump, too.

So is the Romney campaign all over this? Do they have a killer week planned, with events to upstage the Democrats in Charlotte? Or are they going to play nice, follow the precedents of the past? I’ll see what I can find out.

There are no lifeguards on this beach. Swim at your own risk and watch out for bullies.

I’ll let you know when I find Bob.”

*Jack and Bob are characters from my novel Spin Doctor, a fast-paced, original political thriller you might enjoy if you like politics.

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Filed under 2012 Election, Biden, campaign tactics, Spin Doctor, Vice President, White House