I’ve never seen a crazier mix of ill-suited and ill-qualified candidates running for government than the representatives of the class of 2010. We’re stuck with uncooperative Republicans, ossified Democrats and totally bizarre Tea Party candidates. And, the Queen of Hearts of Tea Party candidates (to mix a couple of Lewis Carroll metaphors) has to be Delaware’s Republican Senatorial candidate Christine O’Donnell.
I won’t waste any time repeating the litany of things she’s done wrong in the past, but I did want to share my POV on her latest campaign commercial.
I see the commercial as a text book example of what not to do. In one fell swoop, O.D. simultaneously sends the wrong message and alienates undecided.
Instead of deflecting (or better yet, ignoring) the videotaped comments she’d made a decade ago about dabbling in witchcraft, this Tea Party temptress instead tackles the issue head-on by announcing, “I am not a witch.”
Sadly, most voters (and, indeed, most Americans) have no institutional knowledge whatsoever. So, when I tell you O’Donnell’s comments evoked a Pavlovian response by echoing similar comments made by another politician 35 years ago, you’ll probably pause and mumble, “Say what?”
It’s true, though. In the midst of the Watergate controversy that would destroy his presidency and force him to resign, Richard Nixon appeared on national television and said, “I am not a crook.” As various journalism, political science and communications academics, pundits and PR types alike have since noted, “The message Nixon sent was not the message voters received.” Instead, by reinforcing the negative, Nixon instantly undermined his credibility. His ill-conceived comments alienated his core constituents, reinforced his opponents’ beliefs and, critically, planted a seed of doubt in the key, undecided voters’ minds.
O’Donnell has done the same thing with her terrible TV spot. First, she tells me she’s not a witch. Thanks for reminding me of that negative, Christine. Second, and even worse, she tells me, “I’m you.”
Here’s the problem with telling me “I’m you.” This clueless candidate doesn’t know who I am. Nor has she taken the time to get to know me. I can tell Ms. O’Donnell that she won’t find me practicing satanic worship in the middle of the woods at midnight. That’s not me. So there’s one immediate disconnect.
In addition to repeating Nixon’s mistake, O’Donnell is committing the same gaffe major advertisers such as Yahoo make when they place ads proclaiming, ‘It’s all about me.” Just like O’Donnell, Yahoo has absolutely no clue who I am. They’re blissfully ignorant of my likes, dislikes and hobbies. So, don’t insult my intelligence by telling me otherwise.
I believe that O’Donnell and her Tea Party cohorts are a one-time aberration, created by eight years of W’s rack and ruin followed two years of The One’s remote and inaccessible leadership. American voters are angry, so they’re listening to unqualified whack jobs like O’Donnell. I won’t conjecture on whether she’ll win or lose because, in the grand scheme of things, it really doesn’t matter. Washington is at a standstill, and more divisiveness will only increase the gridlock.
That said, there are two very important image and reputation lessons to be learned from O’Donnell:
1.) Never, ever, repeat a negative. O’Donnell shouldn’t begin her TV spots by reminding us she once practiced witchcraft.
2.) Never, ever, tell me you understand me, or are just like me, when you haven’t taken the time to get to know me first.
If the Tea Party is to have a lifespan longer than a May Fly, it needs to recruit candidates who understand fundamental communications strategies. And, speaking of flies, I wouldn’t trust Christine O’Donnell to manage a media training session with the fruit stand guy outside 470 Park Avenue South.
Tip o' RepMan's bike helmet to Catharine Cody for suggesting this post.