A clash in styles between Clinton, Trump comms teams

Clinton has a team of experienced political hands on board, while Trump has a smaller campaign apparatus with many faces new to a national campaign. Expect their messages to contrast just as much.

Image via Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons; Used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license
Image via Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons; Used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license

With Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton having all but locked up their respective parties’ nominations, the two presidential hopefuls are transitioning to the general election campaign.

Experts don’t believe Clinton will bring on additional advisers, as she has already surrounded herself with a large team of experienced strategists and communicators, many of whom have worked with the Clinton family for years. They include campaign manager Robby Mook, a key player behind Clinton’s 2008 presidential effort and her "secret weapon," according to Vice.

Other notables on the Hillary for America team are long-time Glover Park Group MD Christina Reynolds, who is serving as communications adviser and director of rapid response – a role she held for then-Sen. Barack Obama in 2008 – as well as former Google executive Stephanie Hannon, who is Clinton’s chief technology officer. Jennifer Palmeiri, a veteran of the Obama White House, is the campaign’s communications director, and Brian Fallon, formerly of the Justice Department and Sen. Charles Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) office, has emerged as her foremost spokesperson.

Public affairs pros also note the Clinton camp is looking for elected officials in Pennsylvania, Florida, and Ohio – swing states where she is running neck-in-neck with Trump – to be more visible in their support.

On the Republican side, Trump has a very tight circle of advisers led by convention manager Paul Manafort, a veteran lobbyist who led Ronald Reagan’s convention delegate operation in 1976. Media reports have indicated there’s a power struggle at the top of the campaign between Manafort and campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.

Public affairs professionals say the billionaire businessman will likely add to his team. To that end, he appointed New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who gave up his own White House bid in February, to lead his transition team. Though Team Trump doesn’t have a communications director, social media director Daniel Scavino, described as a confidant to the candidate, has taken a prominent role in Trump’s Twitter-driven campaign. Hope Hicks is the campaign’s press secretary, and Katrina Pierson is its foremost spokesperson on television.

"Christie was a very interesting choice, and really a coup for Trump because he delivers more of what I would call the ‘blue Republican group.’ He also been very successful as a Republican in New Jersey, which is a hard state to do that," says Keith Strubhar, SVP at MSLGroup. The firm is maintaining a free digital tool that tracks and graphically displays each candidate’s spheres of influence.

Strubhar adds that Trump is likely to add staffers who can help him reach out to minority communities, demographics in which he is polling far below Clinton.

"I think we’ll see influencers who had been advising on minority outreach for other candidates like Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz go over to Trump, now that he is the presumptive nominee and has to round out his message," explains Strubhar.

This week, Trump met with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan in an effort to win the endorsement of the nation’s top elected Republican official. Still, Ryan did not provide an endorsement, although some expect him to eventually come on-board.

Following the meeting, the men issued a joint statement that said in part, "We had a great conversation this morning. While we were honest about our few differences, we recognize that there are also many important areas of common ground."

Yet Trump’s team is less reliant on getting the blessing of Republican leaders for his White House bid, notes Howard Opinsky, corporate and risk practice leader for Hill+Knowlton Strategies and a former aide to Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).

"I don’t think the Trump camp is all that concerned about having a lot of elected office holders visibly supporting them because that is not what their message is about. Instead he has been very vocal in saying how respected and admired he is in the business community," he says. "He has used people such as Carl Icahn to draw a distinction from his competitors in terms of the capabilities of business leaders versus politicians in running a country."

However, Trump probably isn’t having as much success as he’d like getting the backing of prominent business people.  

"I think he would like to see more high-profile businesspeople giving their endorsement and develop them into surrogates, but at least so far they haven’t wanted to be out front and active," notes Opinsky. To date, iconic hedge fund manager Carl Icahn and billionaire Facebook investor Peter Thiel, who is listed on the California ballot as a Trump delegate, are among those who have publicly voiced their support for Trump.

He adds that small business leaders could lend credibility to Trump’s stance that trade deals such as NAFTA and the White House’s immigration policies have resulted in manufacturing job losses for Americans, giving the issue momentum before November.

"Historically, Americans haven’t paid a great deal of attention to foreign policy or trade in an election campaign, but Trump is framing it through the window of jobs and the economy," Opinsky notes. "I think he’ll also give it a lot of play as well just given Clinton’s previous position as secretary of state."  

Clinton’s key messages
Public affairs pros say in a general election match-up with Trump, Clinton, who holds steady national leads in many polls, will resist being bated into the gutter with personal attacks and defend herself against his accusations. Instead, she will set her own agenda and stick to it, says Dan Rene, SVP at Levick.

"Her campaign can’t become about stopping Trump, versus why people should vote for her," he says. "She can’t go out there and tell people what she’s not or defending herself, but instead needs to use comms as an offensive weapon. She has to have her own positive story to tell, and be able to tell that story over and over again."

He adds that she will need to win the votes of more blue-collar workers.

"She has to figure out how to win over the people who make up the difference between winning and losing," he says. "But she has always had problems building up the perception of authenticity, something that her husband was able to do very well. I think she needs to better identify with Main Street USA issues. We saw for instance right before the West Virginia primary that she talked about putting coal miners out of business, which was not the right thing to say."

Doug Thornell, MD at SKDKnickerbocker who has led communications for a number of top Democrats including as traveling press secretary for Howard Dean’s 2004 campaign, says Clinton will position herself as the responsible and pragmatic choice.

"Democrats are going to make the argument that we need to keep moving the country forward, in terms of creating jobs, reducing the deficit, keeping America safe, growing the middle class, protecting women’s health, and fighting for civil rights for all," he says. "I think that will be contrasted with billionaire Donald Trump’s dangerous vision, which is basically taking us backwards by getting rid of healthcare for millions of Americans, fewer jobs, squeezing the middle class, catering to right wing extremists, and a reckless and irresponsible approach to protecting Americans."

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