In this series we’ve been talking about ways to crawl out of a hole when running for office. Using a debate to change the narrative, becoming a more disciplined candidate, and in the case of Ronald Reagan, offering a compelling message. Today we turn to yet another way to crawl out of a hole. Assassinating the character of your opponen
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That tactic is as old as the Republic, and began when Adams and Hamilton viciously attacked each other more than 200 years ago. More recently, George Bush 41 and President Obama won difficult races by assassinating the character and values of Michal Dukakis and Mitt Romney.
And we are seeing that this year in the contest between Mrs. Clinton and Donald Trump.
No, it’s not pretty, but when all else fails it is a strategy that many have employed with success. The term for it is “winning ugly”.
When do candidates use it? When the only way to win is to drive their opponent’s negatives into the stratosphere, and make them worse than their own.
What makes it work?
- There must be an element of truth to the attacks. The charge of prevarication sticks to Mrs. Clinton because she has trouble with the truth. And Mr. Trump has provided ample proof of his boorish behavior.
- The attacks must be validated by credible third parties. Even the New York Times admits that Mrs. Clinton doesn’t always tell the truth. Even conservative media outlets have criticized Mr. Trump.
- There must be hard evidence to support the attack. Video footage of a candidate stepping in doo-doo with their own words is the best evidence of all.
If you are running for office, or may run for office in the future, character assassination will always be a potential tool in your arsenal.
One note of caution, however. It is not an uplifting path to victory. It does not inspire anyone. And if you win merely by being less objectionable than your opponent, you’ll have no mandate to do anything great or grand. Candidates who win it ugly usually don’t accomplish much during their time in office.
Next week, we’ll talk about ways to frame an election, and why those who determine the campaign agenda are usually the ones who win.
Have questions? Hit the comment button. Or email me at [email protected]. My phone number is 845-458-1210.
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Political consultant Jay Townsend works with smart, passionate candidates who want to run for office, win elections and make a difference. He has successfully helped candidates learn how to run for the U.S. Senate, how to run for Congress, how to run for Mayor and develop a winning campaign marketing strategy.
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