By Noelle Clemente Vice President @ BryantRow // S-3 Public Affairs
TIME: “Faith in public institutions has plummeted, and Clinton and Trump are among the least trusted presidential nominees in history.”
CNN: “The 2016 election is setting new lows for presidential transparency in the modern era.”
VOX: “This lack of affirmative consensus means the parties can only unify in the negative, in opposition to the other party. No wonder neither candidate has enthusiastic support.”
2016 has been discouragingly short on a lot of things: trust, transparency, enthusiasm. Once Americans get over the disappointment of our presidential choices and we actually cast ballots, it will already be time to start making a mark on the policy agenda.
Voters are choosing between the two least popular, oldest, and two of the least transparent candidates in American history. Aside from how troubling this is for our political parties, these two candidates bring change to the aspects of Washington, DC, that actually work today. Neither Clinton nor Trump has demonstrated that if they were to win the presidency they would respect the existing system.
For those of us in Washington who work tirelessly to respect the institutions and get things done that help the American people, this is what is most concerning about 2016. Strategic public affairs in Washington will now be more important than ever. The rules of politics have changed, but the need for convincing messaging and engaged and informed supporters has only intensified.
In other words: Even after the campaign is over, the working rules and manners of politics and government will remain a thing of the past but the emphasis on smart, clear, consistent and compelling messaging will heighten.
Scenario One: The Clintons are back at 1600 Penn
The Clintons to a certain degree are a known quantity. They know “the system” and many folks in DC were around when Bill occupied the White House. That said, quite a bit has changed since the 90s, including the cloud of sketchy coincidences surrounding Bill and Hillary themselves.
For example, Bloomberg recently reported, “Hillary Clinton may have to rely on executive actions to an unprecedented degree to secure major policy accomplishments if she’s elected president, and the Democratic Party’s left wing intends to hold her feet to the fire to make sure she does just that.” On top of that, Trump does not have any real working understanding of how government operates (you can argue this is a positive quality, but that’s a different topic for another day).
Public affairs professionals will have to simultaneously maintain an exceptional Capitol Hill strategy while also being sure the administration does not take advantage of its working knowledge of every skeleton and cobweb to use executive actions and force its agenda on the American people.
Scenario Two: The Trumps Paint the White House, Gold
Donald Trump is a total wild card. Nobody thought he would actually run. Nobody thought he would actually secure the nomination. But here we are. Trump just opened up shop on Pennsylvania Avenue and could move down the street in just a few months. What does this mean for Congress? Trump seems to have never been told no. That does not bode well for Congress. He surrounds himself with people who tell him yes and stand ready to make the boss’ requests realities. Being president requires much more finesse and discretion than Trump has ever shown.
Making things happen in Washington with a Trump (Gold) House will require incredibly creative and nimble team, able to navigate the constantly changing environment. Trump listens to his family and to Twitter. Aside from getting in with Ivanka or Donald Jr., targeted online campaigns will be essential. Messages will need to be straightforward and spoken not just by those in Washington, but by Americans who will actually be helped by policies.
No matter what happens in November, a few things are clear:
- The usual rules are out the window;
- Establishment parties need to carefully evaluate the state of their parties and what their members really stand for;
- Everyone in Washington may be intensely focused on November 8, 2016, but the real questions and work will begin the following day.
Get ready. We are.