As I watched the primary debates with interest, I noticed a few interesting trends. I recognized rules for business that were playing out in politics. Here are my observations:
1. Expectations Color Results.
In last night’s debate, this was true for Donald Trump and Mike Huckabee in different ways. Because Mike Huckabee is old news, having run as far back as 2008, the media didn’t seem to be interested. They expected low performance, but Frank Luntz’s focus group found that a lot of voters who weren’t paying attention to Huckabee before the debate were now interested in Huckabee because of his performance.
For Donald Trump, the pundits attacked him both ways. On the one hand, they would say is too high in the polls; certainly, he will lose his lead to others. On the other hand, they talked about how he lacks political skill and he will be outclassed by the professional politicians.
In fairness, it wasn’t Trump’s best performance. In a “gotcha” moment, he maintained that he would not take a pledge not to run against another candidate if he lost the primary. Nevertheless, Trump had some of the best lines of the debate. For example, when the moderator question on his position on immigration, Trump was masterful:
WALLACE: Mr. Trump, it has not escaped anybody’s notice that you say that the Mexican government, the Mexican government is sending criminals — rapists, drug dealers, across the border.
Governor Bush has called those remarks, quote, “extraordinarily ugly.”
I’d like you — you’re right next to him — tell us — talk to him directly and say how you respond to that and — and you have repeatedly said that you have evidence that the Mexican government is doing this, but you have evidence you have refused or declined to share.
Why not use this first Republican presidential debate to share your proof with the American people?
TRUMP: So, if it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t even be talking about illegal immigration, Chris. You wouldn’t even be talking about it.
Trump waked away bloodied but unbowed.
Huckabee had a number of great lines, but his best came at the end of the night. The way he set up his closing statement had Trump looking nervous. The room fell silent when Huckabee began his closing statement.
BAIER: Governor Mike Huckabee, closing statement.
HUCKABEE: It seems like this election has been a whole lot about a person who’s very high in the polls, that doesn’t have a clue about how to govern.
A person who has been filled with scandals, and who could not lead, and, of course, I’m talking about Hillary Clinton.
2. If You Are Desperate, You Take Chances That Could Hurt You.
Everyone knows that it’s best to negotiate position of strength than from a position of weakness. A number of the candidates came to the debate knowing that they had to prove themselves, but this observation goes out to Rand Paul.
Just before the debate, Bill O’Reilly predicted that Paul would be salivating for an opportunity to take on Trump in order to improve his own position. He did, but Trump got the better of the exchange:
BAIER: And that experts say an independent run would almost certainly hand the race over to Democrats and likely another Clinton.
You can’t say tonight that you can make that pledge?
TRUMP: I cannot say. I have to respect the person that, if it’s not me, the person that wins, if I do win, and I’m leading by quite a bit, that’s what I want to do. I can totally make that pledge. If I’m the nominee, I will pledge I will not run as an independent. But — and I am discussing it with everybody, but I’m, you know, talking about a lot of leverage. We want to win, and we will win. But I want to win as the Republican. I want to run as the Republican nominee.
BAIER: So tonight, you can’t say if another one of these…
PAUL: This is what’s wrong!
PAUL: I mean, this is what’s wrong. He buys and sells politicians of all stripes, he’s already…
BAIER: Dr. Paul.
PAUL: Hey, look, look! He’s already hedging his bet on the Clintons, OK? So if he doesn’t run as a Republican, maybe he supports Clinton, or maybe he runs as an independent…
PAUL: …but I’d say that he’s already hedging his bets because he’s used to buying politicians.
TRUMP: Well, I’ve given him plenty of money [Pointing to Rand Paul].
3. When You Get into a Fight, Expect to Get Bloodied.
This goes out to both Rand Paul and Chris Christy. Both candidates had something to prove, and both candidates left the exchange with bloody noses. When Megyn Kelly asked Chris Christie about his comments on Rand Paul, sparks began to fly:
KELLY: Alright, gentlemen, we’re gonna switch topics now and talk a bit about terror and national security.
Governor Christie…. do you really believe you can assign blame to Senator Paul just for opposing the bulk collection of people’s phone records in the event of a terrorist attack?
CHRISTIE: Yes, I do. And I’ll tell you why: because I’m the only person on this stage who’s actually filed applications under the Patriot Act, who has gone before the federal — the Foreign Intelligence Service court, who has prosecuted and investigated and jailed terrorists in this country after September 11th.
I was appointed U.S. attorney by President Bush on September 10th, 2001, and the world changed enormously the next day, and that happened in my state.
This is not theoretical to me. I went to the funerals. We lost friends of ours in the Trade Center that day. My own wife was two blocks from the Trade Center that day, at her office, having gone through it that morning.
When you actually have to be responsible for doing this, you can do it, and we did it, for seven years in my office, respecting civil liberties and protecting the homeland.
And I will make no apologies, ever, for protecting the lives and the safety of the American people. We have to give more tools to our folks to be able to do that, not fewer, and then trust those people and oversee them to do it the right way. As president, that is exactly what I’ll do.
PAUL: Megyn, may I respond?
PAUL: May I respond?
KELLY: Go ahead, sir.
PAUL: I want to collect more records from terrorists, but less records from innocent Americans. The Fourth Amendment was what we fought the Revolution over! John Adams said it was the spark that led to our war for independence, and I’m proud of standing for the Bill of Rights, and I will continue to stand for the Bill of Rights.
CHRISTIE: And — and, Megyn? Megyn, that’s a — that, you know, that’s a completely ridiculous answer. “I want to collect more records from terrorists, but less records from other people.” How are you supposed to know, Megyn?
PAUL: Use the Fourth Amendment!
CHRISTIE: What are you supposed to…
PAUL: Use the Fourth Amendment!
CHRISTIE: …how are you supposed to — no, I’ll tell you how you, look…
PAUL: Get a warrant!
CHRISTIE: Let me tell you something, you go…
PAUL: Get a judge to sign the warrant!
CHRISTIE: When you — you know, senator…
KELLY: Governor Christie, make your point.
CHRISTIE: Listen, senator, you know, when you’re sitting in a subcommittee, just blowing hot air about this, you can say things like that.
When you’re responsible for protecting the lives of the American people, then what you need to do is to make sure…
PAUL: See, here’s the problem. CHRISTIE: …is to make sure that you use the system (ph) the way it’s supposed to work.
PAUL: Here’s the problem, governor. Here’s the problem, governor. You fundamentally misunderstand the Bill of Rights.
Every time you did a case, you got a warrant from a judge. I’m talking about searches without warrants…
CHRISTIE: There is no…
PAUL: …indiscriminately, of all Americans’ records, and that’s what I fought to end.
I don’t trust President Obama with our records. I know you gave him a big hug, and if you want to give him a big hug again, go right ahead.
KELLY: Go ahead, governor.
CHRISTIE: And you know — you know, Senator Paul? Senator Paul, you know, the hugs that I remember are the hugs that I gave to the families who lost their people on September 11th.
Those are the hugs I remember, and those had nothing to do — and those had nothing to do with politics, unlike what you’re doing by cutting speeches on the floor of the Senate, then putting them on the Internet within half an hour to raise money for your campaign…
Ouch. Neither of these candidates came out smelling like roses (except to those who were already in their respective camps). When you fight, expect to get hit.
4. Sometimes, You Only Have to Prove You are Competent.
Other candidates to a different approach. They didn’t win the debate, but they demonstrated that they were competent, reliable, and plausible candidates. These included Marco Rubio (who is focused on Hillary and the future), Scott Walker (who stood on his record), and Ted Cruz (who masterfully handled the Constitution).
Rubio’s best line: [on immigration]
RUBIO: And let me tell you who never gets talked about in these debates. The people that call my office, who have been waiting for 15 years to come to the United States. And they’ve paid their fees, and they hired a lawyer, and they can’t get in. And they’re wondering, maybe they should come illegally.
Ted Cruz’s best line:
CRUZ: I would also note that the scripture tells us, “you shall know them by their fruit.” We see lots of “campaign conservatives.” But if we’re going to win in 2016, we need a consistent conservative, someone who has been a fiscal conservative, a social conservative, a national security conservative.
There are real differences among the candidates on issues like amnesty, like Obamacare, like religious liberty, like life and marriage. And I have been proud to fight and stand for religious liberty, to stand against Planned Parenthood, to defend life for my entire career.
Scott Walker’s best line:
BAIER: Governor Walker, as president, what would you do if Russian President Vladimir Putin started a campaign to destabilize NATO allies Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, mirroring the actions Putin took at the early days of Ukraine?
WALKER: Well first off, for the cyber attack with Russia the other day, it’s sad to think right now, but probably the Russian and Chinese government know more about Hillary Clinton’s e-mail server than do the members of the United States Congress.
Different approaches, but each showed themselves to be competent.
5. Know Your Audience(s)
In, It Worked for Me, Colin Powell explained that when you give a speech or press conference, you are speaking to multiple audiences simultaneously.
- The Reporter asking the question.
- The American people.
- Political and military leaders in other countries.
- The enemy.
- The troops.
Let’s translate this to a political scenario. The debate was held in Cleveland, Ohio. John Kasich, the sitting governor of Ohio was one of the candidates. He received a warm welcome in the arena, but he might not have been able to see the cold shoulders he received after making a number of remarks that are out of step with the average Republican primary voter. The first is on expanding Medicaid and the second on gay marriage:
KELLY: Governor Kasich, You chose to expand Medicaid in your state, unlike several other governors on this stage tonight, and it is already over budget by some estimates costing taxpayers an additional $1.4 billion in just the first 18 months.
You defended your Medicaid expansion by invoking God, saying to skeptics that when they arrive in heaven, Saint Peter isn’t going to ask them how small they’ve kept government, but what they have done for the poor.
Why should Republican voters, who generally want to shrink government, believe that you won’t use your Saint Peter rationale to expand every government program?
KASICH: Well, first of all…
KASICH: — first of all, Megyn, you should know that — that President Reagan expanded Medicaid three or four times.
Secondly, I had an opportunity to bring resources back to Ohio to do what?
To treat the mentally ill. Ten thousand of them sit in our prisons. It costs $22,500 a year…
This was in direct opposition to Jindal’s remark in the earlier debate that we should never expand the growth of government because it creates a culture of dependency (which is why he turned down federal money).
Kasich also completely rolled over on the SCOTUS ruling on gay marriage. This is a bitter pill for the majority of conservatives (even if it is a trend within the country at large).
KELLY: The subject of gay marriage and religious liberty. Governor Kasich, if you had a son or daughter who was gay or lesbian, how would you explain to them your opposition to same-sex marriage?
KASICH: Well, look, I’m an old-fashioned person here, and I happen to believe in traditional marriage. But I’ve also said the court has ruled —
KELLY: How would you — how would you explain it to a child?
KASICH: Wait, Megyn, the court has ruled, and I said we’ll accept it. And guess what, I just went to a wedding of a friend of mine who happens to be gay. Because somebody doesn’t think the way I do, doesn’t mean that I can’t care about them or can’t love them. So if one of my daughters happened to be that, of course I would love them and I would accept them. Because you know what?
*Note: the applause was weak.
6. You Do Not Even have to be Seated at the Adult Table to Move Up.
Seven other candidates attended the 5:00 “Happy Hour” debate; it was also pejoratively known as “the kids table.” But excellence is excellence and Carly Fiorina shined while accomplished former governors and U.S. Senators reinforced the perception that they are simply boring.
Carly Fiorina got a great press bump by being the “Winner” at the JV debate. She may have helped her cause more than if she had been part of the main debate. Getting noticed is not dependent on luck or position.
7. Even if You are Not a Great Candidate, You Can Still Survive with a Lot of Money.
Donald Trump can campaign all he wants, bombastic as he is, because he can pay to play. Jeb Bush was positively boring last night, but he has millions in the bank. Those who are in danger (like Mike Huckabee and Lindsey Graham) are those who cannot generate the enthusiasm that translates into campaign donations.
What does all of this have to do with business? Let’s review the lessons:
- Expectations Color Results.
- If You Are Desperate, You Take Chances That Could Hurt You.
- When You Get into a Fight, Expect to Get Bloodied.
- Sometimes, You Only Have to Prove You are Competent.
- Know Your Audience(s)
- You Do Not Even have to be Seated at the Adult Table to Move Up.
- Even if You are Not a Great Candidate, You Can Still Survive with a Lot of Money.
Translate these lessons to your business. The principles are the same. What will you do with these business lessons?
Dr. Darin Gerdes is an Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Programs in the School of Business at Charleston Southern University. All ideas expressed on www.daringerdes.com are his own.
Note: Transcript taken directly from Time’s coverage at: http://time.com/3988276/republican-debate-primetime-transcript-full-text/