Listen to the audio version of this post here.
Entertainment value is valuable.
There’s a lesson for all of us in the early presidential campaign machinations.
You might not be paying much attention yet to who wants to be president and what they’re doing as they try to make it happen. For me, maybe it’s a remnant of my days in the news business; I’m still fascinated by the way candidates campaign … and especially the way they communicate.
So, I was struck by the assessment from The Daily Beast’s Matt Lewis that Chris Christie is running the best campaign against Donald Trump. Really. Chris Christie. The guy with a tiny percentage of support in the polls so far.
No, it’s not the positions the former New Jersey governor is taking, or the promises he’s making. It’s really about his style.
Christie is combative, blunt, and most important, entertaining.
I think Lewis is on to something. It’s true, we’re not electing a late-night TV host when we choose the next leader of the free world. And maybe it’s a poor reflection on the voters that entertaining us matters more than deep thoughts on public policy. Still, matter it does.
And Christie is the only person in the race, other than Trump himself, who engages his audience that way. Entertainment value has been Trump’s strong suit from the beginning.
Lewis points to a column in the Financial Times: “‘…Anthropologists from the University of Colorado Boulder and University of Texas at Austin argued it was the fact that Trump was so entertaining, above all else, that won him the Republican nomination’ in 2016.”
“Jemima Kelly, the FT columnist, goes on to note that ‘If there’s one thing the former president does have, it’s personality. It’s not that he’s likeable. No, Trump has a much rarer gift: he’s funny.’”
Lewis may be right when he says Trump’s entertainment value has been a “wildly underrated political attribute.” I wasn’t doing that underrating, though.
Back in 2016, you read here about Trump’s communication style and why it worked. I also pointed out that those of us in business instead of politics could learn from it.
You won’t be surprised to hear I took some heat from readers who thought I was supporting Trump. I wasn’t. I was observing the same phenomenon Matt Lewis points to now.
Communication style matters. A lot.
Consider this. When did people get more enthusiastic about President Biden? It was after the State of the Union Address, when he sparred with Republican hecklers and pushed them to agree with him that cuts in Social Security and Medicare should be off the table. You might remember that he did that with a sense of humor and a spirit of fun.
Voters are drawn to a candidate who’s engaging, interesting, even charismatic. We’re much less enthusiastic about the empty suits spewing the same old political palaver we’ve been hearing year after year after year.
Does that make us shallow?
Maybe. I’d say it mostly makes us human.
It also suggests that anyone who wants to depose Donald Trump as de facto leader of the GOP needs to step up their game. A guy as stiff as Mike Pence is going to have a tough time against a talker like Trump.
Democrats too would do well to pay attention to what’s going on across the aisle, so to speak. If they want to attract a real following, most of them need to be looser, more natural, and much more engaging when they’re speaking and when they’re being interviewed.
What about the rest of us?
As I suggested all those years ago, when we’re talking about our work, it helps to ditch the data dump, use plain English, and keep it conversational. Bonus points if you can be funny in the process.
Looking forward to your assessment of the candidates’ communication … or your own.