— By Linda Peek Schacht, leader-in-residence and veteran political communicator in White House, the Congress and presidential campaigns
Three More Things That Challenged Norms in This Election
Whether shattering glass ceilings or breaking with precedent, this election challenged norms in ways that will shape the country, for better or worse, as the next President takes office.
The first five in my last post were 1) Hillary Clinton’s historic nomination as the first woman nominee of a major party; 2) the historically high negatives of both candidates; 3) challenges to American democracy’s tenets of peaceful transfer of power and the integrity of the voting process through allegations of widespread voter fraud and a rigged election and evidence of voter suppression; 4) a foreign power attempts to influence a US election; and 5) the R-rated sometimes X-rated campaign.
Here are the next three:
6. The Influence of a Politicized FBI:
No matter who wins the election, a big loser in this campaign has been the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which until now has been one of the few US institutions that Americans found trustworthy.
If Donald Trump wins this election, he can thank FBI Director James Comey, who stopped Clinton’s momentum and energized the Trump campaign with an opaque and vague letter to Congress 11 days before the election.
The letter broke with longstanding protocol that the FBI did not comment on investigations that might affect an election, usually interpreted as within 60 days of an election. It brought severe criticism from Republican and Democratic Justice Department veterans. In it, he indicated a new batch of emails found in an “unrelated investigation” might or might not have “significance” to the inquiry into Clinton’s private server. This left the door open for wild speculation and the Trump campaign made the most of it.
Nine days later on the Sunday before the election, Comey sent a second letter basically saying never mind, false alarm, none of these emails change the July conclusions not to prosecute Hillary Clinton.
The second letter came after nine days of innuendo and leaks from the FBI. As Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s campaign manager said, it did not matter if Donald Trump’s exaggeration of the first letter saying it “found egregious criminal conduct” in the emails was true, because it had gotten into the minds of the American people.
The first Comey letter seemed to do what no one else could do: turn Donald Trump into a better candidate, off Twitter and on message, no small advantage in the last days of a campaign. We won’t know if the damage to Clinton was lasting until the votes are in.
7. The Deepening Divide between Demographics Remaking the Electoral Map
This election promises, based on early voting, to show a deepening divide between demographics in this country. Demographer William Frey of Brookings argues that there are not enough white working class voters (primarily Trump voters) to balance the increasing and energized Latino vote and the African American vote (both primarily Clinton voters) -- and the result of the gender gap that has grown more pronounced in this election.
Frey ‘s numbers don’t look at the Electoral College or the make-up of both traditional and new battleground states. Some are predicting a hidden Trump vote, based on the surprise success of Brexit in the UK, fueled by a rural vs. metropolitan divide similar to what we will likely see on Election Day.
One other demographic to watch as a harbinger for future campaigns: millennials. Last week we learned that millennial numbers have surpassed baby boomers in the population. In a race with the two oldest candidates for the presidency, this may be the last time we see boomers as nominees.
No matter who wins, this deep divide means the concession speech becomes more important than the next President’s first words to the nation. The loser of the election must not fuel a desire to delegitimize the next President. There was a time when all of us honored the office of the Presidency with our respect. Given the tone and language of this campaign, that may be wishful thinking. But as we try to tackle the issues so little discussed in this race, we look to the candidate that comes up short to bring supporters together to help our nation and the next President.
8. Whither the Fourth Estate?
The media failed in the early days to figure out how to handle Trump, who manipulated the need to feed the beast of 24-hour news with a barrage of newsworthy comments at entertaining rallies and a constant Twitter feed.
He was a master marketer who knew how to keep his brand front and center, from his descent on the escalator for the announcement he was running, to his plane as the backdrop of his campaign stops. As CNN president Jeff Zucker said, “I don’t know if he is good for America, but he is good for CNN.”
But as Trump found out in an election with such high negatives on both sides, keeping the other person in the news was much better for his polls. He seems to have finally figured that out in the last ten days of the campaign.
The power of newspaper (and in this campaign, magazine) endorsements will be tested in this election. No major party candidate has received more endorsements than Hillary Clinton, and no major party candidate has received fewer than Donald Trump, who at last count had three.
Will it matter that traditionally Republican newspapers endorsed Clinton-newspapers that have never endorsed a Democrat in over a hundred years of publication (with at least one receiving death threats for doing so.)? Will it matter that newspapers and magazines take the unusual step of writing editorials specifically against Trump?
Endorsements do not have the power to reach citizens that investigative reporting or in-person interviews do, and in this area, journalists and their media outlets have a lot to answer for. Anchors appeared at a loss on how to respond to fact free answers and investigative reporting into both candidates, but especially into Trump because he was new to the scene, began in earnest only after the conventions.
This campaign will be analyzed for its lack of investigative reporting and the dominance of a marketer whose 140 character tweets set the media agenda for much of the campaign.
My final two norm-shattering things about this campaign will be in my next post:
9. Trump’s hostile takeover of the GOP and 10. The unprecedented role of technology in every aspect of the campaign. I’ll also suggest what we should look for on election night, when this long, divisive campaign will be over—or will it?