Steve Barrett on PR - Note to Trump: “Enjoy your night mate”

President Trump’s response this week to the prospect of losing the election may have been authentic and on brand, but it was unbefitting of the office and not what the country needs right now.

A despondent President Trump leaves the WH press room after claiming the election had been stolen from him. (Pic: Getty Images.)
A despondent President Trump leaves the WH press room after claiming the election had been stolen from him. (Pic: Getty Images.)

There’s a great bit by Scottish comedian Kevin Bridges that talks about how Donald Trump got elected because his supporters admire the fact that he speaks his mind (parental advisory on the language on this video by the way).

As Bridges pointed out, pubs are full of “old guys who speak their mind” but “you don’t encourage them.”

“You just let them speak for a few minutes, and then you put your hand on their shoulder and you say, ‘Enjoy your night mate’.”

Well, when the president came out in public on Thursday for the first time since his 2:30am rant about voter fraud on election night to repeat his contention that his campaign had won the “legal” election and was preparing multiple lawsuits to challenge irregularities, many of the networks effectively said “enjoy your night mate” and cut away from the fresh disinformation spewing from the White House press room.

MSNBC gave it just 12 seconds before shutting it off; ABC lasted a few minutes; NBC followed shortly after; as did CBS. Only Fox and CNN ran the whole statement about so-called election fraud in its entirety.

Fox had drawn significant ire from the Trump campaign on election night when it called Arizona for Biden at around 11:20pm, way ahead of the other networks, most of which have still not called it two and a half days later.

It produced the surreal image of Fox showing Biden just six electoral votes away from securing the 270 required to claim the presidency for days, while the other channels were still showing him needing 17 votes.

On Friday morning, CNN was reporting that Fox had sent around a memo to its top talent telling them not to refer to Biden as president-elect even if the Democrats breach the 270 vote threshold. So, suggestions that the Arizona lobbying had gone to the highest levels with Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner reaching out directly to Fox owner Rupert Murdoch in an unsuccessful bid to get the network to reverse its call may have had some effect after all.

It’s an incredibly close race in some of the high-profile states remaining. A recount has already been called in Georgia and Pennsylvania will likely follow. There will be legal challenges. Like counting every valid vote that is submitted, no matter how long it takes, that’s the essence of democracy.

But, as the election drifts into Friday without a final result yet called, the momentum is very much in challenger Joe Biden's favor, with Georgia and Pennsylvania turning around large deficits for the Democrats on the back of mail-in and early voting that was counted last in these states.

In states like Florida and Ohio, those votes were counted first and gave a flicker of temporary hope for the Democrats who drew ahead early due to them being more likely to vote early or mail in their ballots. Those hopes were dashed by the avalanche of Republican in-person voting on election day in those states.

Indeed, at around 11:00pm on election night the mood of the CNN anchors was somber and there was an air of celebration prevailing over at Fox, as it seemed President Trump was trending toward a second term in office.

Even those who went to bed around 2:00am on Wednesday morning could have been forgiven for being surprised when they woke up to find the Democrats were not just still in the race, but were also rebounding powerfully, and they have never really lost that momentum as states such as Michigan and Wisconsin rolled in in their favor.

There are reports that the area around Biden’s home in Delaware has been designated as “national defense airspace” and a restricted area in anticipation of a Democratic win, so that’s also worth noting.

Biden’s public demeanor throughout the week has been respectful, empathetic, healing and, well… presidential. He prioritized messaging around bringing the country together and governing for all Americans, not just those who voted for his party.

He learned the lesson of the 2000 Bush/Gore post-election experience by getting on the front foot, acting in an assumptive fashion about the possibility of winning - without being boorish and arrogant - and driving the narrative by playing offense and leaving the Trump team playing catchup and always in response mode.

The suggestion is that entreaties to the president to not go all in on the voter fraud and fake election messaging were ignored, as we have seen. But that is brand Trump and that is what he does. (“Enjoy your night mate.”)

Speaking his mind on John McCain did not help his chances in Arizona, where the long-time senator is beloved, and many followed his widow Cindy's example in eschewing their Republican heritage and switching to Biden.

Speaking his mind in Erie, PA about why he was only stumping there because his campaign wasn't doing as well as he hoped did not help his chances in this super-close commonwealth race.

Speaking his mind at a rally in Michigan and telling women he was "getting their husbands back to work" did not help his chances with female voters across the whole country.

On the credit side, speaking his mind and touting propaganda about socialism and the Biden ticket did persuade many Cuban-Americans to vote Republican and contributed to an impressive win in the Sunshine State.

That M.O. means he was, and is, never likely to emulate the gracious examples of his predecessors George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush or John McCain that were trending as memes on social media Thursday night.

And let’s not forget that, while Biden has achieved a historical record number of votes for any candidate ever in a U.S. election (73.6 million), Trump stands at number two on that list with his 69.7 million 2020 tally (and counting).

There is still significant support for the Trump agenda and, if Biden is indeed installed as the 46th president of the United States, the process of bringing the country together, healing, and getting to grips with an increasingly out of control coronavirus pandemic will by no means be easy.

He will also have to deal with the competing agendas in his own party that were all put on hold as Democrats set aside their differences for the purposes of defeating Trump. They will now reemerge.

But as daily COVID-19 national infection rates hit their highest levels so far, there has to be a concerted and joined-up effort to attack the pandemic and construct a proper strategy to deal with its impact. He will work in partnership with the likes of PRWeek's Health Influencer No. 1 Dr. Anthony Fauci and other health experts, rather than undermining their messaging like Trump has been doing.

Having been in office during the Obama administration, Biden knows exactly how the system works and will have his team in place and ready to hit the ground running as soon as the election result is called.

Precision’s Jen O’Malley Dillon has drawn plaudits as Biden’s campaign manager and her colleague Stephanie Cutter ran an effective virtual convention.

Will corporations consider hiring the likes of Hope Hicks and Kayleigh McEnany from the Republican team? They will presumably always have the option of regular media slots at Fox to take up otherwise.

Like Team Biden, many businesses and brands will have already been preparing for whatever the next administration throws at them, with distinct strategies for advocacy and engagement in both the time leading up to the inauguration in January 2021 and also the four years thereafter.

There will be plenty of strategic consultancy work for in-house communications teams and their PR agency partners.

Both parties will also now turn their attention next to the outstanding Senate votes that will decide who controls the house moving forward, with two potentially crucial runoffs in Georgia an, admittedly unlikely, path to victory for the Democrats.

But the 2020 elections have already showed that anything is possible and it’s been a remarkable week on many fronts.

Two Republicans who subscribe to the conspiracy theories of crank cult QAnon have won seats in Congress. And a North Dakotan who died a month ago from coronavirus won a race to the House of Representatives.

It’s been a close and tough fight, but it seems the American people have eschewed the old guy in the bar who speaks his mind for the guy who sits quietly in the corner minding his own business who you send over a drink to and only pipes up when his opinion is sought.

“Enjoy your night mate.”

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