Forget the "DNC Leaks" or "Hillary Leaks" scandal. Forget that the decision to add Senator Tim Kaine to the Democratic ticket seems to be adding no real value to the Clinton campaign. Nope, Hillary Clinton's biggest problem is all about something else. But before naming that one thing, let's set the stage by looking at some shocking historic election facts:
In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson and the Democratic ticket won more than 61% of the popular vote, about 16 million more votes than Republican opponent Barry Goldwater, and a whopping 486 electoral votes in all.
Four years later in a stunning turnaround, Republican Richard Nixon was president.
In 1984, Republican President Ronald Reagan won nearly 59% of the popular vote and a stunning 525 electoral votes. Just eight years later, Democrat Bill Clinton was president.
Those are just two examples of short-term election turnarounds where the conventional wisdom was that more than just a candidate were crushed. After 1964 and 1984, all the political experts told us entire parties and ideologies had been destroyed forever. They told us American political allegiances based on economic, demographic, and ideological lines were irrevocably changed. Except they weren't. How else could Nixon erase his party's 16 MILLION vote deficit in four years? How else could Bill Clinton overcome his party's 49 state deficit in just eight? The answer lies in another question:
So tell me, are our politics and elections in America about facts, news events, policies, political parties, ideological partisanship, demographics... or are they about the art of persuasion? Okay, enough rhetorical questions. Here's the answer: in every election in America, the better persuader wins. Always. Psychiatrists and other scientists have known for decades that our emotional responses to a candidate's appearance, cadence, use of trigger words, and tone matter much more than policies, data, or demographic mumbo jumbo. And the superior persuader in any election is the one who uses these emotional factors better than his or her opponent. So how did Nixon erase that 16 million vote gap in 1968? Easy, he was just more persuasive than the two guys, (Hubert Humphrey and George Wallace), he was running against. That's the same way Bill Clinton overcame his party's supposedly unbridgeable chasms with the voters; he was a better persuader than President George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot. As in the old joke about the two campers running away from the bear, one camper tells the other camper: "I don't have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun YOU."
Now tell me, which of the two remaining candidates is the better persuader? When you answer that question honestly, you'll realize who will win this election. In the matchup between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, who will succeed in simply having to out-persuade the other? The answer is obvious: Donald Trump.
Before I explain that conclusion further, let's give credit where credit is due, "Dilbert" creator Scott Adams has been pounding the persuasion issue in this election for a long time and he concluded about a year ago that Trump had a big advantage in this election due to his superior persuasion skills. And ever since, Adams has been grading all the candidates on the persuasive value of their messages. But did you really need Adams to tell you that a guy who's talked his way past so many financial hurdles in the past, and all under intense media scrutiny, is a better communicator than Clinton? We know Trump's message still fails to persuade so many people, but again... he doesn't have to outrun that bear, he just has to outrun Clinton. And he is. But for her, it gets worse.
Since the persuasion game in politics is so much about relative comparisons, the Clinton folks have another big problem: Barack Obama. Just 24 hours after expert persuader President Obama addresses the convention, Clinton will have to do the same and somehow wow the crowd in contrast. Good luck with that. To continue the analogy, that's like forcing our intrepid camper to outrun not just a bear, but a tiger.
Why is Clinton the weaker persuader? There are a number of reasons for that, but we can get some answers if we just focus on the number one persuasion platform in the world right now: social media. Trump has almost double the followers on Facebook than Clinton does, and his lead in Twitter followers has been rising steadily every day to a current lead of about 2.5 million. Comparing their Twitter feeds provides a clear reason why. Clinton's Twitter feed is highly produced with dozens of catchy videos, graphics, and well-parsed language in Tweet after Tweet. Trump's feed looks like it really is the free flowing ramblings of the man himself. Sure, plenty of those ramblings and re-Tweets have gotten him into trouble. But in politics authenticity, or the appearance of authenticity, is pure gold for a candidate. Love him or hate him, Trump comes off as "real" on his social media feeds. Clinton does not, not by a long shot. And the same is true in her live speeches and interviews and always has been. Sounding and looking scripted and too polished is not persuasive. Shooting from the hip, as derided as that practice is by the so-called experts, is much more persuasive and effective.
With that in mind, ask yourself: do you really think Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server as Secretary of State is really hurting her in the polls? Or is it that she lacked and still lacks the persuasive acumen to make people forget all about it? Do you really think these "DNC Leaks" are the reason for Trump's new surge in the polls? Or is it that Hillary Clinton does not have the persuasive skills to make voters believe she's not involved and should still be trusted to run her administration efficiently? Is Trump really right about rising crime and violence in this country? Or is Hillary Clinton unable to match his persuasive skills when she insists things are not as bad as Trump is painting them? All of these issues are real issues, but they're only resonating with the public because one candidate is persuading them to find them more important than a thousand other possible issues out there. That's how elections are won: you hone the central issues and sell the public on your take on those issues.
Most of the political experts are starting to come around to the realization that Trump can actually win. A few of the non-partisan experts among them are probably starting to realize he will win. But no matter what you read in the coming days about why Clinton has fallen and/or why Trump is on the rise, remember that it's the candidate who can sell you better with his or her physical, verbal, and emotional weapons that always wins. And if you remember that, I think you know what's going to happen in November.