Rogue CNN Chapter 10: Communication Strategies
Wolf: Welcome to the show. Within 5 days of each other we have had the chance to see two White House Communications Plans by two different White House staff. The Mooch distributed internally in the White House on the 30th of July (republished at the end of this blog) and now today Michael Strauss’s. Let’s get the views of our panel here today. David Gergen who has been an adviser to four different Presidents what is your view of the new White House Communications Plan?
Gergen: Well the first thing I would like to say is I can’t remember a time when ANY White House Communication Plan has been seen by the media before. So, another 1st for the Trump Presidency. What I would say is - what a difference - between the Mooch and Strauss. The Mooch is a sycophantic plan that shows his lack of any understanding of the role of a Communications Director with a couple of exceptions which the Strauss plan has picked up on. I’d just like to quote Strauss’s Priority 1 which would be an amazing step if he was able to get the President to agree to. It should be titled 'We could USE a holiday'. I am just worried we have fallen into a kind of GroundhogDAY world.
Priority #1 – Be quiet for a while
I have told the President that we need to just be Quiet for a while and his numbers will start to go back up.
Let’s have a summer break – the staff need it – I need it and feeding the media monster every day isn’t productive.
On Tweets, we need a system that any tweet automatically goes to the Chief of Staff and only when he clicks send does it appear. This breaker in the system should take 50% of the problems away.
Wolf: Joining us for the first time this year is one of the architects of Bill Clinton’s 1992 win James Carville. What are your thoughts.
In other words he's pointing to the obvious contradiction between Trump claiming he's going to help working people and then targeting the overwhelming share of the tax relief and income growth towards the wealthiest individuals and large corporations. At some point his loyal followers are going to pop out if their stupor and realize they've been conned.
And then there goes your base.
Many critics have commented on this, but Strauss is now telling it to Trump directly. I'd love to sit in that room to hear how he takes it.
Wolf: Well we know Strauss has no problem saying unpleasant things to people he thinks should hear them. He also seems to not really care if tomorrow he doesn't have a job.
Gergen: From what I've heard, it sounds like Strauss might actually welcome it at this point.
Carville: We won with Bill Clinton in 1992 against a President who had had the best ever approval ratings after the first Iraqi War but the economy was in a bad state. What I would say is it’s not just the economy that wins elections. If we look at Al Gore in 2000 for example he was looking at a surplus in the economy for the first time in decades and still didn’t win. People at the moment according to the opinion polls give the President some of the worst opinion poll numbers since they have been collected. So, a strong economy isn’t resulting in popular support for the President. Strauss’s Plan I have to say could have a big impact if the President could be persuaded to stay on message.
Priority #2 It’s the Trump Economy Stupid
This I have to agree with The Mooch on. Our core message should be the Economy. It worked for Bill Clinton and it will work for us. Former CofS Reince Priebus having a different issue every week was not effective. It blurred our message.
Wolf: Thanks David and James we now have Mary Katharine Ham what do is your take of Strauss’s suggestion to take infrastructure next.
Priority #3 Building bridges
Forget tax reform this year it can’t be delivered. Aim to get an infrastructure bill through.
The republicans cannot deliver on an Infrastructure bill alone so we need to work across the aisle. This is now going to happen on health care we need to extend it to infrastructure.
The democrats support a bill on infrastructure – maybe not sexy but it would show the President working across the aisles. The democrats will want a different infrastructure bill than the republicans but there are a lot of common elements and the President could be seen here as sealing the deal. It would also be a jobs bill and offer chances for the President to be seen opening projects in different States over the coming years – great photo opportunities. It also will be difficult for representatives to vote against improving roads and bridges in their state.
Ham: I’d also like to say though I disagree with him on the gasoline tax he is right it would offer money for a tax relief bill in 2018 which might help the Republicans in the mid-terms. He is also right to say if the Democrats win the House then a public option for health care might be on the table and as the President is a populist not a republican and he has supported a single payer scheme before Strauss is again right.
Priority #4 Health Care
The President wants a bill that makes him look like a caring one. The republican’s one clearly did not do that. We should be open to a single mandate approach – the President likes the Canadian approach and a single mandate will bring down the cost of health care. The problem is getting enough Republicans to support it. This might need to wait until after the 2018 elections when the Democrats might control the House and that would enable enough moderate republicans in the House and Senate to peel away. This also means tax relief is probably off the table. The other choice is a gasoline tax as advocated by Ivanka. This would enable us to meet the Paris Climate Agreement and do some tax reform.
Wolf: Great to have Van Jones back with us. ((for those not aware in Rogue CNN Van Jones combusted in episode 2 and was replaced by a clone in Rogue CNN 4...which may or may not have been built by the Russians)) Van what is your take on the Russia advice by Strauss?
Van: I think the President is a great fan of Putin and Russia?
Wolf: No, I’m asking what do you think about Strauss’s suggestions on letting the House, Senate and Muller complete their investigations and stop interfering.
Wolf: hmmm seems like we still have a problem with the regrown Van Jones he seems to have revert back to original programming by Kaspersky Lab’s.
Gergen: can I come in here we have just witnessed the Russians response to the new sanctions with Russian Prime Minister Medvedev comments: "Trump's administration has demonstrated total impotence by surrendering its executive authority to Congress in the most humiliating way," This will enrage the President’s ego as it did with the Marco Rubio comments about his ‘little hands’.
Expect explosions on this though who knows against who. On the investigations - Strauss is right to let them go on there is nothing the President can do. I would remind us of the comments by Carl Berstein that we should follow the money. The Special Prosecutor is now looking though the list of shell companies and buyers of Trump-branded real estate properties and review the roster of tenants at Trump Tower reaching back more than a half-dozen year. What they will look for is those Russian business associates connected to Trump.
We know the President doesn’t want them to look there he indicated in a New York Times interview that was a red line.
Priority #5 Russia
The administration must stop interfering in the Russia investigation and just see where the chips fall. We should issue a standard response that we have full trust in the Senate, House committees and the investigation by Robert Muller. Take ourselves out of the daily conversation.
This will be a job for the new CoS Kelly to control.
Wolf: I would like to welcome to CNN out new panelist The Mooch himself.
The Mooch: I don’t know why people are being so cruel to me and Kimberly.
Wolf: That may be because you were in post for the shortest time ever for a White House Communications Director. But more importantly it was the 'colorful language' you said things to New Yorker's Washington correspondent Ryan Lizzasuch: ‘I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own xxxx'. And I could go on and on and on.
The Mooch: But haven’t you seen how good my makeup and hair is? I look like a younger version of the President!!! Maybe I can be President one day too?…. Ivanka loves me…..not as much as Kimberly but have I talked about my hair and good looks?
Wolf: can we focus on the Strauss Communications Plan?
The Mooch: ((Starts to cry))
Wolf: Well it seems that those members of the panel that have something to say are giving the Strauss plan a thumbs up but have no belief that the President will take this advice. I’d just like to say I add my positive comments on the plan ((The Mooch still crying in the background)) On his priority 6 on the media he has a good grasp of how to rebuild a coalition for the President. What he has left out is what to do with the White House Press Room. Most journalists there have a positive view of how he has approached the media in being upfront about everything.
Priority #6 Media
The media will be the media and they don’t like this administration but if we focus on core messages then they will have to report this.
We need to expand out of the conservative media into.
State level papers – tv and radio – this is how Bill Clinton won the 1996 election he ignored the west and east coast media and focused down on adverts and media in the key statesNew media – this is growing all the time – we need to be on top of this – the President has conquered twitter and we need to continue this. Lets move some of the ‘Presidential conversations’ to twitter and facebook’ and have events there for the general public to meet the President.
We need a ‘one government’ approach to communications. I will be bringing together the media teams from all the Cabinet Secretaries once a week to coordinate media outreach.
Wolf: Finally, we have John Kirby one of our national security commentators. What do you think of the number of Generals now in key places in the Trump administration?
Kirby: We have seen National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster this last week get rid of one of the last of Michael Flynn’s appointments on the National Security Council. This means the NSC is close to being secure again. We have Defense Secretary United States Marine Corps general James Mattis with a control of the military so that the President cannot do anything stupid. Finally, in the ring of three we have general Kelly as Chief of Staff. He has some control of the White House and so you might say our Democracy is safely in the hands of the Generals and Congress is starting to take powers away from the President so he cannot do damage. It may see the breakout of even more INTER-PARTY or BIPARTISAN cross party cooperation.
Carville: If the President tries to sack Sessions or Muller and the Republican leadership in the Senate doesn't do anything I could imagine that there would be a break away of 5 or 6 Republican Senators to form a new party - The Real Republicans. This would hand the Senate over to the Democrats. It might cause some of the moderate Democrats to join the party - led by McCain?
Wolf: Very interesting lets discuss this in a future programme.
The Mooch’s original
Priority 1: Improve the Culture
This is the key—everything is possible with a good culture, nothing is possible without it
a) meet with media members (MSM, conservative media, and new media), where possible, on their home turf to build bridges and foster better working relationships. WH should leave old grudges behind, but never forget.
b) meet with WH and cabinet communication staff to seek constructive input and convey that good ideas are welcomed regardless of the source. This should be an ongoing modus operandi, not an isolated initiative.
c) Implement a series of professionalizing initiatives immediately. For example, no WH communication staffer goes home without returning all calls, emails, and texts. People may not like our answers—but they should always be treated professionally and respectfully (obviously, this starts with the new Director of Communications)
d) Recognize good work in a consistent and formal way. Establish a meritocracy where real contributions to Comms are recognized. Make it clear that horn tooting and denigrating colleagues is unacceptable
e) No more threats about leaking and internal game playing - anyone who takes actions that do not serve the President will be dismissed - period. We will eliminate the bad eggs and send a powerful message to the remaining staff that well-intentioned mistakes are acceptable, but misconduct is not.
f) Upgrade talent incrementally - prioritize culture. New communication staffers must make others better/more effective. We need to be a great team, not a collection of talented individuals with their own agendas.
g) Reach out and collaborate with Cabinet, Congress, the RNC, and surrogates and validators throughout the country. People want to help POTUS succeed, but they need to feel welcomed, appreciated and empowered. Comms, justifiably or not, has a reputation as fiefdom that is difficult to work with. We need to improve the quality and quantity of interactions between Comms and its various constituents.
Priority #2 - Comms is a Customer Service Operation—POTUS is the Number One Customer
-before undertaking new and creative initiatives, Comms must more effectively handle the daily/weekly blocking and tackling of a WH Comms shop
a) Comms needs to be structurally re-organized to serve its various customers
-a group dedicated to serving as a PR department for POTUS and his family members. Comms need to humanize POTUS and burnish his image. For example, POTUS is the best golfer to serve as President. Perhaps, we embrace it with a national online lottery to play a round of golf with him….or a charity auction. POTUS has a funny and irreverent side which was shared with the electorate during the campaign
-a rapid response group dedicated to handling hot issues/crises to insure more effective responses while enabling Comms to stay on point/message and conduct normal operations (i.e. the Clinton White House Lewinsky model).
-a strategy group to work cooperatively with colleagues throughout the WH to develop communication strategies and specific executable plans that are coordinated with Cabinet officials and the Hill for a select group of important issues/initiatives
-Responsibilities need to be clearly defined for certain important roles—managing relationships with the Hill, Cabinet comms, and surrogates/validators. Clear structure will provide better performance and accountability.
b) The media is an important Comms customer
- POTUS can choose to fight with the media, but Comms can not.
-Comms should seek to de-escalate tensions with the media.
-Comms will continue to challenge stories that are unfair/untrue, but also express appreciation for good and fair coverage. Comms can be strong without being combative.
-Comms should establish a constructive “complaint box” for the media to make complaints. Where possible, Comms will seek to make changes that make sense. Regardless, relations with the media will improve if their complaints are welcomed and considered
c) Cabinet members and their staff are customers too.
-Comms sets the message, but cabinet members will better serve POTUS if they are supported and treated like members of POTUS’s team.
-Comms talent throughout the administration has been underutilized. This can be remedied by sharing information freely, soliciting input, treating colleagues professionally, and coordinated empowerment
d) Surrogates/validators are important customers. They need to be serviced, supported, and coordinated better.
e) All Comms actions/decisions need to be evaluated through one and only one prism —does it help POTUS. To this end, I will lead by example and make sure that my overall conduct, tweets, internal and external comments meet this standard
Priority #3 Make the News—We Go First
a) Execution is everything!!! Diagnosing the problems is easy- fixing it will be hard work.
-Comms needs to be run like a news channel with producers, scripts, and narration
-there needs to be clear individual responsibilities, accountability, and a complete dedication to the team/excellence
-Comms needs better players at many positions. We will give existing staff the opportunity to raise their games, but expect to make changes in a considered, no/low drama way
-Comms should not fix things that aren’t broken; but should move quickly (without rushing) to fix things the numerous things that are
-Comms should assess and evaluate all work product and processes. “This is the way it is done” is not an acceptable explanation. Communications tactics and strategies should be evaluated based upon measurable metrics.
-Comms needs to act as a gatekeeper/air traffic controller over all external communications from the small (i.e. email blasts) to the large (i.e. cabinet member appearances on Sunday shows). To do this, Comms must be super responsive. For example, Cabinet members need to be well-informed, well-prepared, and fully supported in a timely manner (i.e. not on the morning of an appearance)
-Comms needs to do a much better job anticipating media follow-up and reaction. If we say X, they will ask Y. We need to be prepared for Y. Most Ys are predictable. It is Comms’ responsibility to be ready with a response and to have surrogates prepared for the inevitable Ys.
b) the refined Roger Ailes theory- we exercise influence over the news cycle because POTUS and the government make news—(i.e. do things on a daily basis that matter). An effective Comms shop will dictate the news of the day on most days.
c) Comms must control who gets on the air/talks to the press….always. We want our people talking to the press. We just want it to be coordinated and effective. Comms should arm and empower our people. Comms is a service operation (not the bad cop)- we want our people to look better/succeed.
d) Comms needs to better explain how POTUS’s actions are helping Americans. For example, deregulation is an abstract concept to most voters. We need to illustrate, with real life examples, how lifting burdensome regulations produces jobs
e) Comms needs to start earlier (chronologically). Tomorrow will be won today. Tomorrow morning is too late.
f) Every Comms message needs to have a nexus to Make America Great Again and jobs
g) Comms needs to equip POTUS with opportunities to make many more positive announcements The ratio of positive to negative is out of balance, and the responsibility to correct this lies with Comms. There are achievements/wins throughout the government that go unpublicized. Comms should help POTUS convey a Reaganesque “happy warrior” image by sourcing and packaging these wins. Comms should study the ratio of “good,” “neutral,” and “negative” communications from POTUS and help move the ratio towards the “good.”
h) Comms should use Kellyanne Conway more. She has consistently been the President’s most effective spokesperson, and she provides a direct link to the President’s historic electoral victory.
Priority #4 - Fill the Content Void
a) to quote Obama Director of Communications,Dan Pfieffer, “there is an insatiable appetite for content” and “traditional news outlets don’t have the resources to produce the amount of content that the internet requires on a 24/7 basis”
-in addition to written word production (i.e. speeches, talking points, and press releases), the WH should vastly increases the amount of visual, video, and graphical images that it produces to communicate our message(s).
-for example, Comms could produce short (3-5 minute) videos with selected visitors to the WH
b) comms need to identify and engage a broader network of surrogates/validators to make TV appearances, write op-eds, etc. The traditional media has a significant (albeit finite) amount of tonnage. Either we fill it, or they will
c) POTUS should regularly provide op-ed pieces to major publications. The op-eds will (almost always) produce the story of the day, and POTUS will be setting the terms of the discussion. Op-eds provide a vehicle for him to articulate his policies and ideas in a well-reasoned, thoughtful and persuasive way. Most Presidents have used op-eds sparingly to maximize effect. But, the media world has changed, and POTUS should write frequent op-eds to advance his agenda (and use adversarial newspapers to his own advantage).
d) People are fascinated by the lives of their Presidents and the operation of the White House. POTUS is the greatest TV star in history. Comms should produce video content that constructively operates as “The President Donald J. Trump” show. Obama scratched the surface of this. POTUS should take it to the next level.
e) Rather than traditional press conferences, POTUS should take questions from real citizens via Facebook live and/or other social media platforms.
f) Comms should consider a range of ideas including a modernized fireside chats where POTUS sits with a Cabinet member (and/or senior government official) to discuss the relevant issues. Perhaps, Sarah or Kellyanne could act as a moderator. These videos should have running times of between 15-20 minutes.
g) text polling should be evaluated as a means to produce engagement. Obviously, the polling topics would need to be carefully considered.
h) find ways to connect POTUS with Presidential history to capture the importance, power, and grandeur of the office. Perhaps, Comms could produce “this day in Presidential history” videos.
-There is an inherent challenge in flooding the zone with content while broadcasting a focused message. However, the audience and mediums for each objective are quite different. For traditional media outlets, Comms needs to do a considerably better job at producing a focused daily message that is reinforced and coordinated throughout the day.
Priority #5 - Jobs, Jobs, Jobs
a) “it’s the economy stupid” should be “it’s the Trump economy.” The media (and the voters) will make POTUS own the economy (which is doing very well) if it goes the other way, so he should own it now. Comms needs to emphasis the economy early and often
b) The message should be that businesses are investing more and creating more jobs because they have confidence. The source of their confidence is the election of a successful businessman to the Presidency. Obama bred uncertainty amongst the business community. Trump breeds confidence. Confidence=more jobs. Would the stock market have galloped from election day to year end 2016 if HRC had won? Of course, not.
c) Comms will coordinate with Commerce, Treasury, State, etc to identify a steady stream of examples of the Trump administration providing support to small and medium size businesses. POTUS can take credit and publicize these wins (big and small) while complimenting the great work of people in various departments/agencies.
d) Every positive piece of economic data needs to echo throughout the Comms eco-system, and Comms needs to find ways to connect positive economic data to real people. The growth in new jobs is life changing for every day Americans. Comms needs to bring a spotlight to these people/stories
e) When the media or Democrats attack POTUS, Comms should pivot to the economy. For example, real Americans do not care about palace intrigue in the White House. POTUS is leading and fostering an economy that makes their lives better. That’s what real people care about.
Scaramucci To-Do List
-meet with General Kelly
-meet with Hope Hicks, Josh Raffel, Michael Anton, and Dina Powell and anyone else who you believe should be a top priority.
-meet with Steve Bannon (I want his insight and help. He presumably has an opinion on how Comms can operate more effectively)
-meet with heads of the various networks and leading journalists (like Maggie Haberman) to build a better relationship and solicit their input on how we can better work together
-meet with Directors of Communications from prior administrations (no need to re-invent the wheel on certain matters, particularly basic blocking and tackling stuff)
-meet with Ryan Lizza (not to litigate the past—to reset for moving forward)
-meet with leading Republicans who, whether for or against POTUS, have valuable insights to impart Newt Gingrich and Karl Rove are at the top of this list
-meet with Speaker Ryan, Leader McConnell and their respective Comms teams