Today we talk brilliant political messaging, y’all.
Big Red Car here on a brilliant, sunny Sunday morning. Ahh, on Earth as it is in Texas — Austin By God Texas, y’all.
So, the President gave a cold shoulder to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner last night, electing instead to fly out to Washington County, Michigan and give a campaign style speech about the accomplishments of his administration and the upcoming mid-term elections.
For those keeping score at home, President Obama carried Washington County twice, while President Trump won it by 11%. One might say that that transformation was symptomatic of President Trump’s victory. He flipped a county which twice elected Barack Obama.
For a few minutes, jettison your own “NeverTrump or “TrumpisGod sentiments and step back. Abandon your biases. Let’s discuss messaging, political messaging, in particular.
OK, it’s a long speech and I don’t expect you to listen to the whole damn thing. Just get the flavor of it. It’s a red meat speech.
White House Correspondents’ Dinner
The White House Correspondents’ Association was formed in 1914 and, generally, is populated by journalists who cover the White House and the President. It serves an administrative function in that it handles the credentialing process, the press pool who follows the President when he travels, and oversees the White House press briefing rooms.
The current President of the WHCA is Margaret Talev of Bloomberg News.
The WHCA began the tradition of the annual dinner in 1921. Until 1962, it was women only until legendary reporter Helen Thomas got President John F Kennedy to demur about attending unless women journalists were allowed to attend.
It has always been held at the Washington Hilton, the same location whereat President Ronald Reagan was shot.
In its early days, the dinner was purely entertainment with singing between dinner courses, homemade movies, and a show provided by world class entertainers. [Pro tip: Uhh, WHCA, might want to think about a retro format?]
Since 1983, the dinner has pivoted to a roast of the president and his administration headlined by a comedian.
The attendance has, formerly, featured a lot of glitz with Hollywood stars and celebrities in attendance. This year, the stars and celebrities did not attend. The affair is formal.
The purpose of the dinner is to fund scholarships for college students studying journalism, a noble cause.
President Talev said, “My goal in putting together last night’s dinner was to unify the room and the country around journalism and the First Amendment. . . ”
What happened, Big Red Car?
The featured comedian was Michelle Wolf – an otherwise unknown comedian – who delivered a tasteless performance, stunning in its crudeness and cruelty. She managed to work an entire repertoire of profanity into her shtick as well as several mentions of pussies and a joke about abortion. Very graceless and inelegant reflecting poorly on the professionalism of the journalistic community and the White House Correspondents’ Association. Dare I say, “Not funny?”
Here is a transcript of Wolf’s performance.
Even Talev was taken aback, “Some of [her jokes] made me uncomfortable and did not embody the spirit of the night.” That would be the understatement of the evening.
NYT White House reporter Peter Baker tweeted: “Unfortunately, I don’t think we advanced the cause of journalism tonight.”
Meg Kinnard, an AP reporter, said it like this: “If the #WHCD did anything tonight, it made the chasm between journalists and those who don’t trust us, even wider.”
Well played, Wolfie!
President Trump passes on the WHCD
Why is this important, Big Red Car? Why?
Because President Donald Trump had decided not to attend for the simplest of reasons. He did not want to support an organization which he alleges fails to meet their own standards of journalism — fake news, y’all. Neither did he intend to subject himself to exactly what happened — a wholesale, mean-spirited tirade against all things Trump.
Let’s note something important — Trump is a kid from Queens. If you step on his toes, he is going to fight back. It was already a food fight and he would have made it infinitely worse, so he bowed out. Smart play.
Let’s remember that President Trump graciously attended the recent white-tie Gridiron Dinner, which offers a more genteel and private bit of folly. He enjoyed it fully. The Gridiron Dinner is not televised.
President Trump is a good enough sport to take some ribbing at the Gridiron Dinner, but he is not going to be the WHCD pinata.
The President sent some of his administration to attend so the flavor of White House presence would not be fully diluted. I am sure many regret their attendance.
His instincts to pass on attending the WHCD were validated by the nature of the Wolf monologue.
So, what happened, Big Red Car?
So, what happened, dear reader, is that President Trump made himself the center of the entire journalistic world (again) and focused the country’s attention on his long speech in Michigan. He stole the oxygen.
Observers who watched the WHCD said, “Hell, Trump was right. Again. The whole evening was nothing but dumping on Trump.”
He made himself the victim. And, wow, America loves a victim.
Once again, he reflected the energy of his opponents onto himself. Picking one’s enemies is easily as important as picking one’s friends. Bravo, Trump!
Brilliant Political Messaging
Uhh, Big Red Car, what about the brilliant political messaging? Huh?
President Trump, who was elected in 2016 in a revolt against the establishment and the elites, left the District of Columbia and went out amongst the deplorables in Michigan who gave him the actual victory. He left the elites and the media seething at their dinner. He was gone, but all they talked about was him.
Then the White House Correspondents’ Dinner provided the proof of Trump’s wisdom — they acted like elites, mocking Trump and members of his administration. The comments aimed at Sarah Huckabee Sanders were personal and vicious. People do not miss this hate. The elites think it’s funny. The deplorables do not. Advantage Trump.
Most importantly, the people who hate him – the White House press corp – provided the fuel, the ammunition, the energy. Trump just focused it.
The political message in Michigan was very clear — in DC the elites are meeting to make fun of me and, vicariously, of YOU. I am here in Michigan with you because me and my administration are here to serve you.
Suspend your biases
Dear reader, I started this blog post by asking you to park your biases. I argue not for the politics of the situation, but rather for the brilliance of the messaging.
President Trump forced the country to see a real time example of his political focus and that of the elites and the establishment. He forced this comparison in real time, on the airwaves, in the print media, on the Internet. He did this.
Note that all of the media carried his entire hour and a half long speech.
In the visuals, we saw the elites in their formal wear — gowns and tuxedos — looking like elites, juxtaposed against the real world in Michigan in its jeans and tee shirts (OK, maybe the tee shirts is a stretch, but you get the idea).
Trump spoke about real world issues, real world achievements, real world plans, celebrated the victory of the voiceless deplorables while the elites and establishment, in their finery, mocked the instrument which delivered these achievements to the hinterlands. The elites made cruel, callous, hateful “jokes” about women like Kellyanne Conway, Sarah Huckabee Sanders whose only sin was they worked for Trump.
Nobody left the White House Correspondents’ Dinner thinking that President Talev’s objective of “unifying the room and the country around journalism and the First Amendment” had been accomplished. Nobody who saw that spectacle thought, “Wow, what a noble undertaking journalism is. These guys and gals are just first rate.”
No, they were left thinking, “Who is Michelle Wolf? Why is she so mean? Why did the WHCA select such a person? Who cares about the White House Correspondents’ Dinner? Isn’t this a little like NASCAR?”
They said, “Trump was right, again.”
And, that, dear reader, is brilliant political messaging. Made even more brilliant by Trump using the power of his enemies to prove his point – jiu jitsu. Brilliant political messaging is what re-elects politicians.