The unknown is what makes political comms fun

We know some Democrats will run against Hillary Clinton. What we don't know is whether or not they will have the gall to attack or challenge her.

As college basketball’s March Madness approaches its conclusion early next month, a whole new type of madness begins – the presidential campaign of 2016. This week, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) was the first to "officially" announce his candidacy at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. In the coming weeks and months, more hats will be thrown in the ring, more harrowing personal stories will be told, and more than a few gaffes will be made.

But for as much noise as the candidates make, it is the analyzers, pundits, and editorial boards who will make the most ruckus during this campaign. In communications, it is always best to focus on what you know and what you don’t know. As the tides and seas of opinion change daily – maybe even hourly – in this race, that advice is even more poignant. And perhaps it is best summarized by a quote from – love him or hate him – one of the best spin-masters of the last 40 years, Donald Rumsfeld:

"There are known knowns, there are the things we know. We also know there are known unknowns, that is to say, we know there are some things that we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don't know we don't know."

The known knowns - the things we know:

  • Hillary Clinton is the biggest frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. Ever. Currently, she owns a 44.9 average advantage over her next Democratic challenger. In some ways, it’s great to not have a serious challenger, but it also creates a dynamic where she is running against herself and, even worse, the media. The email "scandal" making headlines will linger as an open wound – and investigation – that the GOP will exploit at every opportunity.
  • The Republican field will be crowded. The prospective GOP field could spill to more than a dozen candidates. For all intents and purposes, this will be a dogfight. These candidates must define themselves before someone else does. The Washington Post did a great job breaking the GOP candidates into constituencies or "lanes," but soon one will have to merge the support of multiple constituencies to win the nomination.

The known unknowns - the things we know we don’t know:

  • We know the election, but GOP nomination in particular, will require a ton of money. What we don’t know is which candidates big donors such as the Koch Brothers, Sheldon Adelson, and others will coalesce behind.
  • We know some Democrats will run against Clinton. What we don’t know is whether or not they will have the gall to attack or challenge her. Thus far, it’s been mostly a tap dance around her.

The unknown unknowns - the things we don’t know we don’t know:
That’s the beauty of politics and life. There is so much we don’t know we don’t know. So grab some popcorn and a comfy seat. It’s going to be a wild ride.

Sam Singer is president of Singer Associates in San Francisco. He can be reached at

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