EDITORIAL: Who's running this thing? Our favorite 2016 presidential campaigns and what we would’ve done differently
In the current jungle of debates, campaign appearances, speeches and PR pandering, Marco Rubio is playing a balancing game. He walks the line between appealing towards establishment Republicans, while attempting to reignite hope in those disenchanted by the insular politics that have had a stronghold on Congress for decades. He competes with a common theme of the 2016 presidential election: challenging the status quo. We can look towards the remarkable campaigns of Bernie Sanders, Carly Fiorina, Donald Trump and Ben Carson to find a common thread: astounding stories, backgrounds, and political philosophies that challenge what is commonly thought to qualify someone to run for President of the United States. Yet in the midst of a flurry to challenge the norm, Rubio is unique in the sense that he markets himself as “just an average guy,” someone you'd want to sit down a get a beer with: a litmus test held in high esteem as an important indicator of the likeability of a presidential candidate. And, at the same time that he fits the status quo of an “average guy,” Rubio also challenges the status quo. He is a young, Hispanic (Cuban-American) Republican, who is one of the very few Republican candidates to not only discuss issues such as student debt, poverty, and immigration issues, but to also personally experience the burdens of each at some point in his life. Not to mention his personal gravitation towards and love of gangster rap and multiple attempts to court the vote of the gay Republican community. Even further, Tea Party support at various points in his career has greatly bolstered his capacity to capture the enduring core of the conservative voting base.
In a presidential election cycle that began as more of a coronation than an actual competition, Hillary Clinton has found herself in fierce competition with the ultra liberal wing represented by Sanders for the Democratic nomination. However revered the policies are of the Senator in theory, Clinton is the candidate that makes the most sense. With an impressive pedigree ranging from Congress to Secretary of State, Clinton has both the requisite experience to lead and an inspired platform that focuses on real solutions to America’s most pressing problems. While her center-left ideology has proved a hindrance in the primary competition, as we move to the general election and the difficulties of governing, this moderate ideology will allow for compromise and real accomplishments. While Clinton remains a divisive character in American politics, hated and revered in equal measure, one must respect her strength and poise in dealing with interrogations and decades in a male dominated field. In short, Clinton has the strength, smarts, and experience needed to be an effective president and commander-in-chief, qualities that will lead to her carrying the general election—especially against the considerably weaker Republican field.
Despite all the campaign attributes currently in their favor, various points in both Rubio and Clinton’s campaigns have undoubtedly left voters asking “who is running this campaign?” Out-of-place policy endorsements, PR blunders, and misguided efforts to target different demographic voting populations undoubtedly call into question the competence of their campaign managers, in the minds of political science academics, students, and members of the uninformed electorate alike.
What we would’ve done differently: a critique of Rubio and Clinton’s campaigns thus far.
When looking strictly at his campaign videos and social media content, Rubio has a stronghold on the likeability factor. Various campaign videos feature talk of sports (catching a football), fashion (high heel Cuban boots) and youth (millennials). Each video gives an impression of a candidate that is in touch with average Americans and their interests, humours and priorities. Yet Rubio has neglected to create a straightforward campaign media message like that of Bernie Sanders, whose use of infographics (although at times overly simplistic) does a phenomenal job at conveying direct policy preferences. When delving into various public statements made over the past five years, Rubio’s non-opposition to medical marijuana, coupled with his strong pro-life stance should be a surprise to most voters. Especially because this out-of-place policy endorsement cannot be found anywhere in official campaign messages, except for during an interview with Meet the Press in August. In 2013, Rubio again played his policy cards in an unusual order, noting during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) that he believes “in historical marriage, but that he was “uncomfortable with a federal constitutional amendment on anything, particularly that (gay marriage), because it steps on the rights of states to define marriage.”
Beyond a lack of clarity, Rubio has also struggled to defend policy decisions he made during his membership of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight”, where his presence as the “backstop” or “vetoer” was meant to defend the conservative policy preference. During negotiations for a comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2012, he shockingly made an enormous concession to the Democratic members of the immigration commission, allowing immigrants who had already been deported to return to the United States and begin a path to citizenship. Four years later, that contentious decision has reinforced an impression on conservative voters that he may not stand up for conservative policy preferences, even despite having a sufficient amount of leverage to fight back.
If Marco Rubio's campaign has any hope of mitigating these sentiments, it is essential to emphasize clarity of policy and conviction of ideology.
Much like copious amounts of MSG hiding in delicious Chinese food, a rather dramatic and thorny component of Rubio’s character that has been curiously underplayed by the media can be identified by his rather precarious personal financial decisions that have, at times, bled into his professional financial decisions. A leaked report of statements from Republican Party of Florida credit cards that were in Rubio’s possession and strictly for business purposes only, revealed that over the four-year life of the card, Rubio charged about $22,000 in personal items out of about $182,000.
According to the Miami Herald:
“Rubio spent $227 at Family Bookstores, a Christian bookseller. He charged $557 in five visits to Barnes & Noble in South Miami. There’s $1,064 at a Tallahassee Best Buy in March 2005 and $4,390.04 at a Miami CompUSA in August 2006. He made four online payments ranging from $84 to $173 to Sprint over three months.”
Although Rubio did eventually repay the charges to the RPOF American Express card, it doesn’t erase the impression of fiscal irresponsibility on the minds of voters, who have already been primed to the issue of trust when considering the actions of Hillary Clinton in her position as Secretary of State.
Voters have already tasted the Chinese food, and likewise suffered the bloating and puffiness the next morning. They have seen the ramifications from untrustworthy people in positions of power, and they have witnessed the consequences.
Given these public financial troubles, Rubio’s campaign severely missed a PR opportunity to remedy his image with respect to financial responsibility. The Jan. 14 $1.1 trillion catch-all spending bill was without impediment from Cruz or Rubio, two likely and legitimate obstacles to its passage. Their decision to stay on the campaign trail forfeited their presence to hear the bill, and left an opportunity to garner much needed additional support of the Republican establishment out of reach. The gravity of this mistake is further amplified when we look towards the demographics of Rubio's current support base.
Voter base demographics:
Primarily male, younger voters, Rubio supporters are comprised of over two times the number of college educated voters than non-college-educated voters.
And as Scott Walker has recently suggested, fiscal policy preferences are at times prioritized far greater than social policy preferences. This is especially true for college educated voters, who may tend to prioritize fiscal responsibility at a higher rate than non-college-educated voters. Therefore, since Rubio’s largest demographic category of support comes from college educated voters, the state of his personal and professional finances should be immaculate.
Despite solid campaign support across a handful of demographics, what the Rubio campaign should be doing in the coming months is tapping into those demographic categories that are running a close second place to his top supporters. This means broadening his message to not only maintain his hold on males and Catholics, but also females and Protestants/Evangelicals, who maintain three to four-point deficits on their parallel category value.
The election this year has been defined by an alarming amount of political polarization. On the Republican side, ultra-conservative Ted Cruz and Ben Carson have gained a surprising amount of notoriety, while on the left ultra-liberal Bernie Sanders actually leads Clinton in some key races. All of this is happening while only 19 percent of the American public polled stated that they faith in government. So how should Clinton work around hyperpartisanship and a fed up electorate? Run on the simple concept that she can actually get things done.
A major theme of the election this year has been the economy. While both the Republican and Democratic discussions of the economy have been incredibly different, any president would have to find a middle ground to get anything done. Clinton’s current platform emphasizes this pragmatic, center-left approach, with sections emphasizing “strong growth,” “fair growth,” and “long-term growth.” In a recent NPR interview, Clinton echoed the sentiment of working together instead of partisan bickering, stating that "I'm interested in us solving problems together..."I'm interested in finding good ideas whether they're from Republicans or Democrats, getting people around the table, and trying to make progress on behalf of our country." While this strategy will likely invite criticism from both the far right and far left, it will also resonate with the average American.
However, Clinton should not take the same conciliatory approach in regards to the numerous social and political movements, such as Black Lives Matter, LGBTQIA, women’s rights, and the movement condemning student debt also shaping the election. For many of these issues, Clinton has seemed considerably weaker than Sanders. While Clinton has always been a strong advocate for women’s rights, and has made paid family leave and college affordability cornerstones of her platform, her efforts to tackle the other sociopolitical movements have been lackluster.
Notably, Clinton lacks a racial justice section of her platform. While she does discuss racial problems in her criminal justice section, she could do more to reach out to minority groups. Earlier this year, Clinton hosted Black Lives Matter activists for a frank discussion of the issues. More of these meetings need to take place for all movements, not just racial justice in reference to African-Americans. Even if Clinton does not agree with all of the policies brought up, simply bringing them to the table for discussion makes her stronger on social justice and equality.
Some people do not like Hillary Clinton. In other news, the sky is blue, water is wet, and Donald Trump is a xenophobe. Clinton has been subject to criticism by conservatives and liberals alike since Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign over 20 years ago. Since then, Hillary Clinton’s favorability has fluctuated almost constantly, from a high of 66 percent to her current rating of 49 percent. In order to bolster these scores, the Clinton campaign is striving for a softer image, flooding her social media with vintage photos of her as a child, a young lawyer, and her first term as first lady.
However, it is incredibly difficult to remake the narrative of someone who has been in politics as long as some voters have been alive. Instead of working against some of the preconceived notions many voters have about Clinton, why not play into them? The Clinton campaign is well aware of her storied affair with the media, and highlighting this relationship will also highlight some of Clinton’s more respected qualities, such as her strength and determination.
Take for example Clinton’s performance in the Benghazi hearings. A thorn in her side for most of the beginning of the campaign, Clinton performed remarkably well for the duration of the eleven-hour hearing, answering questions in a measured and thoughtful manner, making the Republicans on the committee look like they were grasping at straws. In fact, according to New York Daily News, “According to Clinton’s staff, the hour after the Benghazi Committee ended Thursday night was their strongest online fundraising stretch of her entire campaign, even though they didn’t send out any fundraising appeals during that period.”
That is the Clinton that the American public will elect as President of the United States. Instead of backing away from the narrative of her tenaciousness, the campaign should celebrate it, as strength is often a president’s greatest asset.
Voter base demographics:
The Democratic voter base is incredibly heterogeneous. According to a recent study entitled “A Deep Dive into Party ID” the most solidly Democratic groups are the Black, Asian, religiously unaffiliated, post-graduate women, Jewish, Hispanic, and the Millennial generation. This presents a unique problem for energizing the voter base not shared by the Republican party, whose voter base is overwhelmingly white and male. Instead of one demographic to target, the Democratic party must find a way to excite many incredibly different electoral groups, all without seeming like they are pandering to anyone.
Another problem facing the Democratic party is not only are these groups incredibly different, but they are also often unreliable voters. According to the Pew Research Center, “...in 2014, just 19.9 percent of 18 to 29-year-old citizens voted, a record low.”
As such, any voter targeting strategy from the Clinton campaign will hinge on keeping the base together and keeping them engaged, especially young voters. However, in this, the Clinton campaign is having a problem, as youth are overwhelmingly “Feeling the Bern”. According to a recent New York Times poll, Bernie Sanders has the support of 60 percent of Democratic voters under 45 while Clinton has only 31 percent.
While Sanders has the youth vote in the primary, the main challenge to the Clinton campaign is to make sure that they turn out to vote in the general election. With that, Clinton needs to play off of the anxiety caused by the Republican frontrunner. 61 percent of Americans polled stated that they would feel anxious about a President Trump. As callous as it sounds, an anti-Trump message could be just what’s needed to energize the base.