Plays of 2015: Drafts, Darts and Dodges of The Donald

December 21, 2015

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In 2015, there’s little doubt that plays (aka, influence strategies) were run in the race for The White House. Here are this year’s awards for the best and worst in political playmaking:

Slide1PLAY OF THE YEAR: THE CLOSE CRUZ AWARD  Were it not for the audacious Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz would be our playmaker of the year. His crafty application of the seldom-used strategy, the draft, comes close to top honors. Most figured Cruz was just bear hugging The Donald when, early on, he refused to dismiss the billionaire’s bombast. But freezing plays are for also-rans and the junior senator is clearly playing to win. As in NASCAR, Cruz was first to save his gas and tailgate Trump, a decision that endeared him not only to the billionaire but revealed him to the billionaire’s lathered base. Now, as Trump fights broad fronts to cripple his candidacy, Cruz’s patience may offer him a chance to pass his frenemy.

Slide2MISPLAY OF THE YEAR: THE OOPS, I DID IT AGAIN AWARD  Fellow Texan, former governor Rick Perry, either lacked the discipline to counter Trump or figured he was his foe. Either way, Perry mounted a full assault to rid Republicans of the Trump menace. But the governor misjudged the thirst to drink The Donald’s kool aid. His treatise on modern conservatism and labels of trumpism were rational and bold, but tragically dismissed. And so was he. In 2012, Perry was bounced for going blank in a debate. In a way, he did it again. Oops.

Slide3PLAYMAKER OF THE YEAR: THE MAD HATER AWARD  So how did Donald do it? And what plays did he run to hijack the RNC contest? Trump exploited three stratagems of The Standard Table of Influence. To fuel what he knew was a bored and drama-hungry media, he ran all manner of peacocks. Think of his jet, his hair, his bombast, his supermodel wife. These, coupled, with pandering call outs were his passkeys to endless and lopsided coverage. Mexicans as rapists, politicians as stupid, China as sinister, and Islam as ISIS were popcorn to feed his rapt and radicalized base. Trump was also determined to counter-punch. Few if any attacks were ignored; in fact they were treated as made-for-media moments. When Rand Paul took shots from the far end of the debate line, the front-runner Trump was quick to dismiss his libertarian foe: You’re down there for a reason, Rand. His play was an obvious dodge, but too disarming and too true for Paul to overcome. When Jeb Bush mustered weak jabs, Trump deflated him instantly: Jeb’s a very nice person, but he’s so low-energy. What were in fact defensive deflects conveyed as entertaining labels. For his prowess in offensive playcalling, Trump is our playmaker of the year.

Slide4BURNING BUSH: THE LITTLEST BROTHER AWARD  Speaking of Jeb!, it’s clear now that what The Third Bush had in mind for strategy was to steal from the 2008 playbook of Hillary Clinton: Ride a wave of inevitability. But Jeb’s brotherly baggage, George, was too weighty, too easy to game, and he has no training or temperament for Trump’s knife fights. Bush’s plays of choice were to pass on Trump and push his problem-solving skills. In fact, what he needed to do was repudiate his brother’s dithering. It would be an act of betrayal to a few but a measure of his mettle to most. Through loyalty, weak laurels or a weak right cross, Jeb proved he’s the littlest brother.

Slide5CAMPAIGN BY FIAT: THE HIGH ROAD TO NOWHERE AWARD  Few parallels have been drawn between Gov. Jeb Bush and Vermont senator Bernie Sanders. But what they both share is a tragic refusal to recognize the competition. Sanders has steadfastly refused to go negative on his rivals, notably Hillary. He has only pinged his disapproval of Clinton’s Wall Street ties, her straddling of conflicting interests, and her evasions of so many scandals. Of course Bernie hasn’t been subtle about his causes – income inequality, corporate greed, climate change – but these are not his competitors, not yet. Like Bush, he has mistaken his foe. Daily declarations of principles and injustices have aroused a grassroots base, but these are based merely on a play we call the fiat, a pressing strategy that declares more than differentiates. It’s the favorite of high road players and, as ever, a prescription for failure when the game is to engage.

Slide6GET OUT OF JAIL: THE KEVIN MCCARTHY AWARD  Strategy is good, but luck is better. Despite her chronic trust issues, Hillary Clinton played an almost diametrically different game with passes, pauses, deflects, peacocks and, when necessary, crowds, to keep a rising Bernie Sanders in check. Outside Sanders, Clinton’s only real threat was Benghazi and servergate. Each she has weathered, thanks largely to the galactic gaffe of House Speaker candidate, Kevin McCarthy, who in late September tacitly acknowledged with 50 ill-considered words that the Benghazi hearings are a witch hunt. It was political gold for the suffering former Secretary of State, Mrs. Clinton, and confirmation of the long-lived meme that she has and still faces a vast right wing conspiracy.

Baiting TrumpCONNECT THE DOTS: ENCOURAGING THE DONALD AWARD Ron Paul deserves a nod for his shrewd reflections on Donald Trump’s stated intentions to co-opt the Internet in search of terrorists and to bully or even kill the families of those he’d root out. But, that would require the U.S.’s withdrawal from the Geneva convention, quipped Paul in the final GOP debate, and also the suspension of, ahem, the first amendment. Encouraging Trump, Paul has realized, is the highest-risk but highest-reward strategy for diverting the Trump meteor. Paul will peter out soon, but others may continue his connect-the-dots dialog.

Slide7JOE & LIZ: THE BIG TEASE AWARD All these plays might never have happened if Sen. Elizabeth Warren and VP Joe Biden thought to challenge Hillary and Bernie. Their cat-and-mouse game, aided by strategic pauses and pings, was played well enough to keep Warren in the wings for 2020 or 2024 and Biden in the news with his working man’s views.

Post by Alan Kelly

Graphics courtesy of Playmaker Systems, LLC with content from candidate Facebook accounts