The future lies ahead, but which candidate will embrace it? I want to share some analysis laid out this week at The New England Council. That venerable business organization has, with bipartisan support, lobbied for years for practical solutions to bedrock issues like energy, transportation and infrastructure. Its year-long relationship with consulting firm Purple Strategies is a logical one. Ideological purity of the right or left is not going to achieve success in Washington today. Principals Alex Castellanos, a high-powered Republican consultant, and long-time Democratic player Steve McMahon understand that but are not optimistic their hue will be embraced soon. People are in a foul mood and hate both parties. Even when picking favorite candidates, they’re not fully committed.
Yet candidate and party brands, like corporate brands, are not static. They’re either in the ascendancy or declining. Hence, Bush tanking, and Hillary, after a terrible summer, on the upswing. According to the Purple Strategies folks, here’s what matters. First, is the candidates’ positions on issues. Second, do we trust them. The clincher is, do they have a vision for the future that is better than today? FDR offered a New Deal. JFK offered a New Frontier. Ronald Reagan called for a Rendezvous with Destiny. Even Bill Clinton got it, marrying his campaign to Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow.”
It’s pretty clear that the American people have lost confidence (about job creation, retirement security, health care and more) and no longer think their children’s future will be better than their own. During this election, they will be looking for the candidate who says we don’t have to settle for today’s problems and uncertainties. According to their analysis, we’re just looking for the candidate whom we trust enough to give the keys to the car. In other words, the election will not be about who we are but who we can become.
How do they know that? For one thing, they look at people’s buying behaviors. They prefer to purchase products that take them to something new, that “awesome future stuff.” That frontier spirit is still in our DNA, they assert, notwithstanding the anger and resentment out there. Obama won in 2008 on the promise of “hope and change.” Deval Patrick became governor on the slogan “Yes, we can.”
In that light, one might infer that Donald Trump’s “make America great again” (by returning to the way things used to be) promises to take us to the past, which could limit his success when people actually start voting. That, plus he has no policy positions, only self-promotional superlatives. Low-key Ben Carson, a favorite of the evangelicals, has moved within striking distance of Trump, but Carson himself is probably just”a temporary port on the way to our ultimate destination.” I think the stupidity of his statements is just beginning to catch up with him.
The bottom line: we want a President who is as big as (or bigger than) our fears. We want someone to whom we can trust our future. Small wonder that Hillary has started saying the “Democrats are in the future business.” And Marco Rubio said, “Yesterday is over, and we are never going back.”
Slogans aside, with one year to go until the election, it is still unclear which candidate will authentically inspire confidence and create a sense of optimism about what lies ahead.
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