The Long Slog Starts

Aug 23, 2016

With the conventions now history, Currents commentators Alan Novak and T.J. Rooney look at what’s next for the Trump and Clinton campaigns.

Novak: Neither convention unified the country. Both conventions accentuated the differences we have. That’s going to be the political reality going into the fall. While I think the public is basically going to need a break from politics in the coming weeks, that’s not going to make Donald Trump stop doing what Trump does or make Hillary Clinton stop campaigning.

Rooney: Democrats came out of our convention far more unified than Republicans. That will work to our benefit, especially because the most profound statement of impact will be on the down-ballot races. This is about the band playing together.

In Pennsylvania, Democrats are going to be working to avoid duplication and coordinate their efforts with U.S. Senate candidate Katie McGinty and the other congressional candidates. Now is when you go about putting all the pieces of the puzzle together, and that’s where Clinton and the Democrats have the advantage.

Novak: I am not entirely sure the Democrats come out of the convention more unified than the Republicans. The polls will show that about 30 percent of each party’s base is not enthused about their presidential candidate. For Trump that’s a gain from where he was, but that’s not great news for Clinton.

I am watching what Sen. Pat Toomey and the congressional candidates do. Their campaigns are more important to them than the presidential campaign. So how do Congressmen Ryan Costello [Pennsylvania’s Sixth District], Charlie Dent [15th District], and Pat Meehan [Seventh] get the focus onto their efforts? They have to be very active in August and September. As T.J. said, that’s where the teams come together to motivate voters.

Rooney: Now begins the long, hard slog to November. All of the things the candidates have done before are now put to bed. What’s left are the guts of the campaign, which is the message coming out of the respective conventions, taking it on the road and selling it to the American people.

With the Olympics and vacations in August, politics might tone down for about two weeks, but the party people will be going to work in their neighborhoods knocking on doors, and the principals will be raising money.

Novak: The grassroots are paramount up through debate season. In the meantime, Trump will run the play that has been working for him – dominating news cycles. He will try to keep the public from forgetting about the presidential campaign. If WikiLeaks does something else, or overriding interruptions like terrorism, civil strife, and police-related incidents occur, those events will pull the election back into the public’s consciousness.

Rooney: Alan is not alone in Republican circles in describing how Trump wins the election by going to what could be. Clinton might get indicted. The world might blow up. Or we all might get run over by a bus! I empathize with those thoughtful Republicans because you’ve got to come up with a plausible conventional way to win this election. But it no longer exists. Trump won’t allow it to exist. Like it or not, Trump’s maniacal behavior impacts Toomey, the congressional candidates, and even people running for the state House.

When you don’t have the resources to communicate with your voters, or the ability to be on television, and you further add to that an inability to have three sane days in a row, that really, really messes with the political lives of other candidates.

Novak: Right now, Clinton is ahead on organization, but how can the beachheads of the Democratic infrastructure resist the country’s strong desire for change? I don’t see how Clinton can sell herself as a change agent. Less than 20 percent of the people are satisfied with the direction of the country. That’s an incredible number and, in any other normal time, that number would spell doom for the incumbent party. Republicans are banking heavily on the country’s desire for change and the ability of national, state, and local parties to set up the structure for the grassroots work. Trump is so popular. His followers that aren’t regular party people will become volunteers. By October, Republicans will be at the same ground-level strength as Democrats.

Rooney: Obviously by the very nature of the definition of change we will experience it with a new president. And as much as Clinton and Barack Obama have in common, there are areas where they part company.

But there is a limitation on the kind of change that people will embrace. Crazy change is not what a lot of Americans are looking for. Trump advocating to pull out of NATO or encouraging the Russians to spy on Americans is not acceptable. Forget about Democrats. Forget about independents. It’s not acceptable to Republicans! If Trump were able to keep his crazy in check there would be a better chance of him prevailing.

Novak: The likability factor is often the campaign tiebreaker for people sitting on the fence. If anybody could make themselves more likable between these two, Trump has a better chance because he’s entertaining. That’s what I am looking for. He had a moment in his convention. If he had just put on a Ronald Reagan smile, he would have had us. But he didn’t! A small tweak in likability between these two candidates will give one of them the edge.

Rooney: Funny thing about elections – tomorrow is the day that you plan for all the days behind you. It sounds ridiculous, but every day can become a political Super Bowl. A Super Bowl is rarely won on the last play in the fourth quarter. It’s won one play at a time, all season long, with discipline, organization, and structure. These next few weeks aren’t glamorous, but the campaigns will never get them back. So every day that passes, or anytime a campaign becomes fixated or distracted, that’s a day they don’t raise $5 million or hire 15 more people in Iowa.

I like where Democrats are right now. I’d rather be in our shoes than theirs any day.

Alan Novak and T.J. Rooney are principals of RooneyNovak Group Bipartisan Solutions and appear together regularly to discuss political issues and debate policy. Contact them at alan@rooneynovak and tjrooney@rooneynovak.

Note: This column first appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Currents section on July 31, 2016.

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