Harsh Your Mellow Monday: Orphans of Failure Edition
There’s a famous saying, often attributed in America to JFK — though like most of his best writing it was used long before him — “Victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan.” So for today’s edition of Harsh Your Mellow Monday let us talk about some of those orphans of failure.
Tempest in a Tulsa Teacup
Well, that kept the pundits busy over the weekend…
President Donald Trump is “furious” at the “underwhelming” crowd at his rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Saturday evening, a major disappointment for what had been expected to be a raucous return to the campaign trail after three months off because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to multiple people close to the White House.
The president was fuming at his top political aides Saturday even before the rally began after his campaign revealed that six members of the advance team on the ground in Tulsa had tested positive for COVID-19, including Secret Service personnel, a person familiar with the discussions said.
Trump asked those around him why the information was exposed and expressed annoyance that the coverage ahead of his mega-rally was dominated by the revelation.
While the Trump re-election effort boasted that it would fill BOK Center, which seats more than 19,000 people, only 6,200 supporters ultimately occupied the general admission sections, the Tulsa fire marshal told NBC News.
The campaign was so confident about a high turnout that it set up an overflow area, which it had expected to attract thousands. But the plan was scrapped at the last minute when only dozens gathered at the time the vice president and the president were set to address the crowd inside.
“It’s politics 101: You under-promise and overdeliver,” a Trump ally said, conceding the missteps the Trump 2020 team took in the lead-up to the event by saying nearly 1 million people had responded to requests for admission.
Much of the blame is falling on campaign manager Brad Parscale, who in the days leading up the event aggressively touted the number of registrations, but those close to him stress that his job is safe, for now.
Last month, after dismal polling revealed that the president is trailing the presumptive Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, in key battleground states that Trump won in 2016, Parscale was reprimanded and a deputy was brought in to help steer the ship.
The interwebs have had their fun with it, ranging from the childish glee and blaring headlines about KPop and TikTok to the usual CYA of the Trump campaign people laying out excuses. In the long run, those things and the empty seats won’t matter all that much. But the way the campaign to get President Trump four more years is going about their business is starting to reveal some things that will matter a great deal. Starting with the aforementioned Brad Parscale:
Let’s back up though, and review how then-digital director Brad Parscale made his name and bones delivering for Trump 2016, which led to him being named campaign manager for Trump 2020.
“If you don’t know what you’re talking about, you think he’s a 21st-century Steve Jobs,” says a Republican consultant who knows Parscale. “He’s not an asshole. He’s kind of a huckster. But he’s smart enough to realize he’s a huckster.”
Parscale’s true gift wasn’t deploying new, cutting-edge uses for technology. It was skillful management: cobbling together and empowering a fast-moving, opportunistic digital team staffed by experts from the RNC, commercial ad placement firms and social media companies, which flew about a dozen employees into San Antonio to work alongside Parscale’s team. At Parscale’s direction, the digital operation carried out an unprecedented tilt toward social media, for which the Trump campaign spent nearly half its media budget.
arscale’s all-in approach toward Facebook was perfectly suited to his unique candidate. “The key to digital success is bottling lightning, and with Donald Trump, the lightning strikes every five minutes,” says Wesley Donehue, CEO of Push Digital, who worked on Marco Rubio’s failed bid for the 2016 presidential nomination. “You will never be able to replicate any digital strategy you had for Donald Trump for any other candidate or any corporation because there is no other Donald Trump.”
Academics and political strategists say digital ads don’t do much to persuade voters to switch candidates. They’re aimed primarily at raising money, firing up the base and suppressing turnout among opposition voters — which perfectly matched Trump’s needs.
In large part, Parscale’s approach was a matter of necessity. In 2016, Trump was anathema to the GOP’s traditional wealthy donors. But small-dollar contributors — “the Army of Trump,” Parscale would later call them — loved him. Trump’s supporters were uniquely responsive to donation appeals on social media; his celebrity and gut-level appeal commanded eyeballs. “The hardest thing in digital advertising is getting people’s attention,” says Coby. “You got a cheat code with Trump.”
You can read the rest of that, and plenty of other reporting, on the rise of Brad Parscale both in positioning and monetarily. Parscale greatly resembles his boss in many ways, throwing a political switch and going all in on the business opportunity of President Trump’s rise to the White House. Parscale has not been subtle on social media and elsewhere about enjoying his new-found wealth and status, touting it as part of the success story that comes with aligning with all things Donald Trump. Which makes sense, since Donald Trump’s primary business in the decade leading up to his 2016 campaign was marketing and monetizing Donald Trump as much as any real estate deal. Success IS the Trump brand.
Which is why something like the Tulsa turnout gets amplified bigger than it usually would.
Parscale looks particularly foolish with his constant bragging on social media. His now infamous “Death Star” tweet was all over social media. The jokes write themselves, especially with the over-emphasis on the “Teens on TikTok” angle that folks such as AOC gleefully were touting. Over-reserving the tickets to make fools like Parscale think a million people where going to show up is a funny, and very well executed prank, but that isn’t what kept the seats empty in Tulsa. The lingering threat of Covid-19, the general unease over potential protests, and the campaign’s own touting of an oversized crowd all had a hand in the see of empty blue seats inside the arena. President Trump reportedly was not happy.
The more important thing is what does Trump 2020 do now. Since that bragging “Death Star” tweet, there has been little in coherent messaging from the President or his campaign staff. The ongoing crises of Covid-19, civic unrest, and an economy that — despite the rhetoric — can not be thrown back to “on” like a light switch has kept the president and his team reactionary and defensive. Trump has his opponent in Joe Biden set, but has not yet made much of a dent into his opponent who is leading in every national poll and threatening in nearly all the vital swing state polls. Failure might be an orphan, but Trump and company are going to be looking at Brad Parscale as the daddy of this debacle.
It’s Parscale’s own fault. He’s been writing checks with his mouth all over social media while cashing huge checks from Trump, the RNC, and other affiliated money streams into his Parscale Consulting business. You could call it hubris, and it is, but it reveals something about the Trump campaign as a whole that too few discuss, especially those inside the White House who have the ability to do something about it.
The folks who might know the least about how Trump won in 2016 might be the folks of Trump 2020.
Trump 2016 really was “lightning in a bottle” of a high-profile candidate with tons of name recognition, the explosion of social media fusing with news and information streams, incumbent fatigue that every two-term administration leaves in its wake, and most importantly the perfect opponent to direct it all at in Hillary Clinton. That last one is far and away the most important one, but least talked about. A uniquely unpopular candidate with a freight train’s worth of baggage, and not particularly warm and fuzzy on TV. “It’s me or Hillary” was a winning message for a vast amount of folks on the right before you ever filled in the name at the top of the ticket. All credit in the world to Trump 2016 on capitalizing on it and winning when almost no one, including themselves, thought they would. But that campaign operation is not Trump 2020.
Already there are movements and rumblings of Trump “putting the band back together” from 2016, recalling and reorganizing in May with key aides who focused on the Midwest and Florida in 2016. Parscale found himself getting a “deputy campaign manager” in Bill Stepien along with cliched “I will continue to support Brad Parscale as he leads the campaign, working with all of our partners in states across the country, and helping to coordinate all of our efforts to ensure the president is re-elected” soundbite to the New York Times from him on May 27th. Further complicating things is reports that Jared Kushner and Ivanka are angry with Parscale but outing him would also cut off the top of the money funnel that spins campaign related expenses to the Trump family.
But that is all secondary to the most important thing in the world of President Donald Trump: Don’t make Donald Trump look bad. The president spent over 15 minutes of his Tulsa speech pushing back on the mocking he has taken on social media over the West Point ramp video and him sipping water with two hands, stories that would have died by now had the president just left them alone. It is doubtful he will just let the spectacle of a two-thirds empty “comeback rally” go anytime soon.
This failure right here will be orphaned by the Trumps, and might soon be calling Parscale daddy at the insistence of Brad’s former Daddy Warbucks, who will then be in the market for a new campaign manager.
Beware Unicorns, Especially Ones with Mustaches
How many of these tell-all, inside the White House books are we going to cycle through? They make headlines, tell us little to nothing we didn’t already know, and chew up news cycles to no discernible effect until the next news cycle comes around.
So let us be adults about John Bolton’s book, shall we:
He isn’t writing anything we didn’t know, suspect, or assume about the White House.
His testifying in the impeachment would have made zero difference in the outcome.
He quite obviously worked the impeachment saga to what he thought would be the benefit of his book release.
He probably is telling the truth about many things in his book.
He is undoubtedly exaggerating his own importance in some things and notably uncritical of himself in it.
He is not the savior folks wanting to bring down Trump think he is.
He is not the end of the Republic through his treacherous treason like some other folks opine.
That book was scrubbed by the government before publishing so skip all the noise about what was/wasn’t classified. Simon & Schuster have been doing this a long time and weren’t going to put out something that got them shutdown and/or imprisoned.
Very few people will actually read this book.
It will be forgotten by the end of the month.
Having angered everybody on all sides, this is the end of John Bolton, public figure, and begins John Bolton, “former Trump official who wrote a book”. Hope he enjoys the new career.
You do not, in any way, have to “hand it to” John Bolton.
That about cover it? Good. Onward.
Two Steps Behind, Not the Def Leppard SongMeanwhile, elsewhere on the interwebs:
Facebook and Twitter said Friday that a post shared by President Trump about a “racist baby” has been removed from the platforms following a copyright complaint from one of the children’s parents.
Officials at both social media companies confirmed to NPR that the president’s video was deleted from the platforms following a request from the rights holder.
The action comes after Twitter on Thursday added a label to the tweet warning that the content contained manipulated media intended to deceive viewers.
The tweet included deceptively doctored footage of two toddlers, one black, one white, running down a sidewalk with the fake CNN headline: “Terrified toddler runs from racist baby,” as suspenseful music plays.
“Racist baby probably a Trump voter,” the fabricated headline then says.
Then the video shows viral footage from last year of the two babies sprinting toward each other and hugging, falsely suggesting that CNN had manipulated what happened to create a fake news story. That never happened.
Now, when viewers try to play the video shared by the president, a message appears saying the media has been disabled.
Trump did not immediately respond to Facebook and Twitter removing the footage.
In fact, CNN covered the full version of the viral video in 2019. The toddlers and their fathers also appeared on the “The Van Jones Show” on CNN.
Twitter labeled the video Trump tweeted as “manipulated media” shortly after he tweeted it Thursday night.
“This Tweet has been labeled per our synthetic and manipulated media policy to give people more context,” a Twitter spokesperson said.
Facebook also has a manipulated media policy. The company declined to comment on whether the video violated that policy. Facebook took no action until a copyright claim was filed.
A spokesperson for CNN responded to Trump’s tweet Thursday night, “CNN did cover this story – but exactly as it happened. Just as CNN has reported your positions on race (and your poll numbers). We’ll continue working with facts and invite you to do the same, rather than tweeting fake videos that exploit innocent children. Be better.”
Asked about the video Friday, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said she thought it was funny.
“I think the President was making a satirical point that was quite funny if you go and actually watch the video,” McEnany said during a press briefing.
Jim Acosta, CNN’s chief White House correspondent, pointed out, “It seems as though he’s exploiting children to make some sort of crass political point.”
McEnany responded by claiming that Trump was “making a point about CNN specifically. He was making a point that CNN has regularly taken him out of context.”
The video Trump tweeted included a credit to @CarpeDonktum, who regularly publishes memes and parody videos supporting the President.
Anyone with a functioning frontal cortex knew that the video was manipulated; that was the joke. The parents having a problem with their minor children being in it is a perfectly legitimate reason for taking it down. The real lesson here is that the secret sauce to President Trump’s seemingly 24/7 media coverage is that it allows the media to cover their favorite topic: the media covering their favorite topic.
For all the noise and howling, cable news media and Donald Trump are now in a symbiotic, if hostile, relationship. They each need the other to fill ratings, egos, and air time. Both can spare us the self-righteousness: everyone is getting what they want from this circus daily. Better to spend our time and efforts protecting the first amendment of speech and a free press from both folks who use free speech as a license for terrible things and also from a press seemingly hellbent on losing all legitimacy because of the grudges they hold for a changing world. We need good press, in a country where they can say, report, and do what they want within the confines of the law, covering politicians and everyday Americans who should be free to do the same. Neither is worth destroying both over.
Long term, and long after Donald Trump has left office, the way he was covered both good and ill will be lingering. A nation that has increasing options for information consumption is taking note, and the news media business model might want to consider what it will do once its main attraction has left the stage.
They will hang whatever future failures the news business model has on all sorts of reasons, but the father of the coming media re-alignment may well be four years, or possibly eight, of relying on presidential tweets to do your work for you. Atrophy kills your ability slowly, but by the time you notice the decline, it is usually too late. The free press of America should start training now for a non-Donald Trump-centric world. Lest they are, like many of their newspaper brethren, left behind.