Tags: Lake | Jesmer | crisis | campaign

Campaign Crisis Managers Don't Cry About Crises

By    |   Thursday, 18 Sep 2014 08:07 AM

This campaign season has already produced its share of campaign crises, and thanks in part to the ability of the Internet to spread juicy rumors and news in real time, the 2014 and 2016 election seasons promise to be a fruitful source of campaign crises.

This writer remembers when the Monica Lewinsky affair broke 20 years ago and created some work for the Clinton team, perhaps the best and most practiced in history. This writer remembers hearing a radio interview with a Clinton crisis manager who, when asked what advice he would give President Clinton, said the most important thing to remember is that the American people are stupid and have short memories, therefore, the president should proceed with business as usual and he should go to a hockey game.

The radio interviewer asked the expert whether the audience wouldn't resent that he said the American people are stupid and have short memories, and the consultant responded, without hesitation, "No, because the American people are stupid, and they have short memories."

For professional crisis managers, a crisis can be a ka-ching moment. Two practitioners, Rob Jesmer, a partner at FP1 Strategies, a Republican consulting group, and Celinda Lake, president of Lake Research Partners, a Democratic consulting group, appeared on C-SPAN's Washington Journal recently to discuss their work, including cases, under the title Campaigning 101: "Crisis" Management, as part of a week-long series. They were interviewed by veteran host Steve Scully.

Scully defined a "crisis" as "one of those moments that can derail a candidacy" and asked Jesmer what a "reputation manager" does. Jesmer responded that a campaign generally has a general consultant, a media consultant and a pollster. The "trifecta" develops a "narrative" and a strategy for the campaign and tries to protect them as long as possible, while the opponent tries to disrupt the campaign.

Scully immediately brought up the plagiarism scandal involving Sen. John Walsh, D-Mont., an appointed senator who was running for election to a full term, and he asked Lake, who is from Montana, to explain the mistakes that ultimately derailed the campaign.

She observed that the plagiarism itself, which involved the thesis for his master's degree he received in 2007, would not have been fatal, because other candidates have survived such scandals (she could have mentioned Vice President Joe Biden, who has certainly prospered, even with a reputation as a source of endless gaffes). She credited Jesmer with identifying the ultimate mistake as a failure to respond "within the brand" and the candidate's personality. First the campaign said he didn't do it, then that he didn't know about it, then he invoked PTSD, whereas he should have gone straight to an apology that would have spoken to his military service and admitted that he failed to fulfill voters' expectations.

Jesmer, who is working for Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont., as he runs for Walsh's Senate seat, agreed with Lake that the response must not be "iterative," that there is only "one shot" to get it right. He added that with about 90 days left in the campaign, it left little time for Walsh to recover.

Scully then played a clip of the moment when then-Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., blew his campaign against incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who had been seen as vulnerable, with his "legitimate rape" comment. Jesmer, who headed the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee at the time, said he was "floored" and that the ultimate problem was that at the end of the day, Akin refused to acknowledge that he had done anything wrong, so it was impossible even to begin to respond.

He "holed up in another state," and Jesmer said that when Akin finally apologized, he didn't seem very sincere. The chain of Republican candidates had already asked Akin to quit the race.

Lake added that both parties have on occasion seen candidates try to put their own cultural norms ahead of those of the society, and "that's really hard to handle."

Viewers will get a chuckle out of the classic case of the Dukakis "tank" picture that caused his presidential campaign to tank in 1988.

(Archived video can be found here.)

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Robert-Feinberg
This campaign season has already produced its share of campaign crises, and thanks in part to the ability of the Internet to spread juicy rumors and news in real time, the 2014 and 2016 election seasons promise to be a fruitful source of campaign crises.
Lake, Jesmer, crisis, campaign
691
2014-07-18
Thursday, 18 Sep 2014 08:07 AM
Newsmax Inc.
 

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