But two fascinating pieces about presidential campaign communications that ran this weekend in The Washington Post make the case that whether you’re battling it out on TV or TikTok, in prime time or by dank meme, any successful campaign has to reach people where they are.
That means adapting to the era’s most influential media, and letting go of yesterday’s “it” way of mobilizing Americans if “it” just doesn’t work anymore. (Advertising against a TV show that viewers record, enabling them to skip the ads, is a suboptimal way to reach voters.)
One note: The president people most closely associate with a technology is rarely the one who first embraced it. John F. Kennedy is generally regarded as the first television president. But Dwight D. Eisenhower not only held the first televised news conference but even won an Emmy in 1956.
President Barack Obama was the first on Twitter, but there’s no way people associate him more with the bird site than they do President Donald Trump. President Warren G. Harding was the first to use radio, even if we remember FDR’s “fireside chats” as the groundbreaking wireless tactic.
Nixon’s living-room luster
Let’s talk about Nixon first, and his “living-room campaign.”
My colleague Brian Murphy wrote the obituary for Frank Shakespeare, a former CBS executive who anchored Nixon’s 1968 campaign on television with “a blitz of montage-style ads and on-air events.”
Brian’s piece is read-the-whole-thing great. But look at this passage in particular:
“Mr. Shakespeare and [Nixon media adviser Roger] Ailes also stage-managed televised town hall-style events in which pre-vetted people posed questions to Nixon. Mr. Shakespeare said at the time that audience applause and reactions helped keep viewers engaged in ways ‘a quiet interview does not.’”
“The crowd, he said, ‘adds luster.’”
Brian noted Ailes bragging they were launching “a whole new concept” and declaring “[t]his is the way they’ll be elected forevermore. The next guys up will have to be performers.”
“At a time when the Vietnam battles were known as the ‘living-room war’ with nightly reports from the field, Nixon’s 1968 race against his main rival, Democratic vice president Hubert Humphrey, became known as the ‘living-room campaign.’”
“‘We wanted a program concept of what Richard M. Nixon is in a way in which the public could make its own judgment,’ Mr. Shakespeare told the New York Times in 1968. ‘We wanted to try to create electronically what would happen if five or six people sat in a living room with him and got to know him.’”
Retail politics is great. But you can’t shake tens of millions of hands at the firehouse. So you try to duplicate the feeling via (very controlled) media.
Biden’s (coming) digital blitz
My colleague Michael Scherer has this well-worth-the-detour preview of Team Biden’s efforts to rule the digital space in 2024, notably by getting supporters to share political content with friends and followers, and on digital platforms that ban political ads, like TikTok and WhatsApp.
(And, yeah, it’s awkward that they’re planning to use TikTok amid growing bipartisan concerns about the platform, which is owned by China’s ByteDance. One Biden adviser accesses it “through a personal iPod Touch that is disconnected from any of his government accounts,” Michael reported.)
One challenge Democrats have identified: “[G}roups of voters who are increasingly spending time consuming information in private digital environments, mostly through their phones, or on public platforms where paid political advertising is not available, including chat threads and other smaller communities built around nonpolitical interests, such as fitness.”
- Thus the idea to enlist volunteers who will share content within those spaces.
- Over the past two years, Democrats have “mobilized and trained about 1,000 supporters to share and distribute content.”
- They’re drawing on elections like the Georgia runoff and Sen.-elect John Fetterman’s (D-Pa.) campaign. Of note: Fetterman’s team “provided supporters with an app, called Rally, that allowed them to connect their friend group to the campaign’s voter file.”
(Private groups? Sharing content with friends? This all feels Facebookish.)
In effect, like Nixon’s endeavors, this is also meeting voters where they are, and also trying to make large-scale politicking feel personal and intimate. Politicians may be trading the television in the living room for the phone in the pocket or purse. Word of mouth? Meet word-of-thumbs.
Jan. 6 committee to vote on referring Trump for criminal charges
“The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol is set to vote to refer criminal charges against a former president to the Justice Department for the first time in American history on Monday, concluding an 18-month examination of the insurrection that shook the country’s free and fair election system,” Jacqueline Alemany and Josh Dawsey report.
Follow along here for live updates
Jury selection to begin in Proud Boys Jan. 6 sedition trial
“Jury selection will get underway Monday in the seditious conspiracy trial of former Proud Boys national chairman Enrique Tarrio and four other members of the extremist group accused of plotting to attack the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in a desperate bid to overturn President Joe Biden’s victory,” the Associated Press’s Michael Kunzelman and Alanna Durkin Richer report.
Russia attacks Kyiv overnight with swarm of self-detonating drones
“Russia attacked Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities in the early hours of Monday with a horde of self-detonating drones — once again bombing critical infrastructure but with a sinister tactical shift that seemed intended to deprive Ukrainians not only of heat, electricity, and water but also of sleep,” David L. Stern reports.
Lunchtime reads from The Post
Jan. 6 committee’s criminal referrals: What they mean for Justice Dept.
“While Congress has investigatory and subpoena powers, the legislative body does not have the authority to prosecute anyone. So when Congress wants to charge someone, members make a referral to the Justice Department, urging prosecutors to allege specific criminal violations,” Perry Stein and Jacqueline Alemany report.
Officials of both parties warn U.S. is ill-prepared for lifting of border restrictions
“Republicans and Democrats are warning that there could soon be an unmanageable influx of migrants at the southern border of the United States with the expected end this week of Title 42, a Trump-era immigration policy that allowed border agents to expel migrants for public health reasons during the coronavirus pandemic,” Amy B Wang and Ariana Eunjung Cha report.
Musk’s Twitter poll says he should step down from social network’s helm
“The poll closed early Monday morning after 12 hours of voting, with 57.5 percent of more than 17 million responses calling Musk to step down. He later added, ‘As the saying goes, be careful what you wish, as you might get it,’” Faiz Siddiqui, Cat Zakrzewski and Rachel Lerman report.
Who is Rep.-elect George Santos? His résumé may be largely fiction.
“Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, the marquee Wall Street firms on Mr. Santos’s campaign biography, told The Times they had no record of his ever working there. Officials at Baruch College, which Mr. Santos has said he graduated from in 2010, could find no record of anyone matching his name and date of birth graduating that year,” the New York Times’s Grace Ashford and Michael Gold report.
“There was also little evidence that his animal rescue group, Friends of Pets United, was, as Mr. Santos claimed, a tax-exempt organization: The Internal Revenue Service could locate no record of a registered charity with that name.”
U.S. Catholic priests are increasingly conservative as faithful grow more liberal
“Research on Catholic clergy by the Austin Institute has found that younger Catholic priests and priests ordained in more recent years tend to be noticeably more conservative than older priests on a host of issues, including politics, theology and moral teaching. The Survey of American Catholic Priests has found that since the 1980s, successive cohorts of priests have grown more conservative, according to a 2021 summary report,” the Wall Street Journal’s Francis X. Rocca reports.
Biden aims to cut homelessness 25% by 2025
“The 100-plus-page plan, which officials said includes input from communities around the country and feedback from hundreds of unhoused people, comes as homelessness in the nation reaches crisis levels. New York’s mayor last week announced plans to force unhoused mentally ill people into treatment, while the mayor of Los Angeles has declared a state of emergency,” Justin Wm. Moyer reports.
White House leans on Congress, rallies allies, to aid Ukraine through winter of war
“White House aides have privately admitted for months that, at a certain point, congressional funding for the war would slow as it drifts from the headlines. But there is a push by the administration to make sure Ukraine has the assistance it needs to make it through the winter, despite Russian attacks on the electrical grid that have plunged much of the nation into the darkness and left millions of war-weary residents without heat or light,” Politico’s Jonathan Lemire reports.
Biden to condemn rising antisemitism in U.S. at Hanukkah reception
“President Joe Biden is expected to issue a strong condemnation of emboldened antisemitism in the U.S. and around the world during a Hanukkah reception at the White House on Monday,” NBC News’s Summer Concepcion and Molly Roecker report.
“The president will deliver remarks at the event, which he is hosting with first lady Jill Biden, following blessing and a menorah lighting, a White House official said. In his remarks, Biden will forcefully argue that silence is complicity amid rising antisemitic attacks and emphasize that all forms of hate, antisemitism and violence have no place in America, the official said.”
Dog names for people and people names for dogs, visualized
“If you meet a Kevin, he’s probably a human. Bella, Luna or Max, though? Don’t be so sure,” Alyssa Fowers and Chris Alcantara report.
“Some names are used for people. Some names are used for dogs. And then there are the Jacks and Rileys and Angels of the world, who live in the magical place where people and dogs overlap.”
Sinema’s switch was months in the making. Now it’s a challenge for Democrats.
“The decision was months in the making, according to current and former aides and allies close to the senator from Arizona, and it reflected Sinema’s longtime dissatisfaction with the Democratic Party. Her consternation deepened in recent years, said these people, who, like others interviewed for this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations,” Yvonne Wingett Sanchez and Liz Goodwin report.
“The unhappiness has run in both directions and loomed over Sinema’s political future, prompting some critics to see a calculated ploy for survival in Sinema’s announcement.”
DeSantis reverses himself on coronavirus vaccines, moves to right of Trump
“This past week, DeSantis threw himself into misleadingly disparaging the vaccines, convening skeptics to buck guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and seeking to investigate vaccine makers for fraud,” Isaac Arnsdorf reports.
“A review of DeSantis’s public positions on the vaccines shows a full reversal that has unfolded gradually since 2021, seizing on the shots’ waning efficacy against new virus variants and portraying evolving scientific advice as deliberate deceit.”
At 1:30 p.m., Biden will meet with Ecuadoran President Guillermo Lasso at the White House
The Bidens will host a Hanukkah party at 7 p.m.
Antisemitism casts darkness amid Hanukkah lights
“As the first night of Hanukkah, known as the Festival of Lights, arrived Sunday, Jews across the region were also contending with darkness — a surge of antisemitic incidents that have left many feeling vulnerable and even frightened,” Laura Meckler, Michael Brice-Saddler and Allison Klein report.
Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.