Arthur walked through the door, dropped a four inch thick poll on the table with a thud, sat down, and said, If you don’t want to lose this election, you have to learn something new.
That was in December of 1983 when Jesse Helms was fighting for survival against Jim Hunt and Arthur – who’d polled in each of Jesse’s campaigns – went on to say there were two types of elections: Issues Elections, where people vote for a candidate based on his (or her) stands on issues; and Character Elections, where people vote for a candidate because they admire his honesty, intelligence, humility, kindness or strength.
Issue elections happen all the time but character elections are rare and more deadly: A voter might decide to vote for a candidate he doesn’t agree with on an issue but he won’t vote for a candidate he believes is a crook.
You, Arthur said looking across the table at Tom Ellis and me, Have been running issues campaigns for twelve years. You love issues campaigns. And you’ve run one against Jim Hunt for the last year – but it hasn’t worked.
He pointed to the poll (about an ad we’d run with Jesse saying, I’m Jesse Helms. I opposed the Panama Canal giveaway. Where do you stand, Jim?) and said the ad worked not because of the Panama Canal – but because of the ‘Where do you stand Jim?’ Which was about Jim Hunt’s character.
Watching the Presidential election I’m beginning to suspect it, too, is about character (at least for Republicans). It doesn’t matter where Donald Trump stands on abortion – voters look at Trump and see strength and that’s what they want: Strength.
Carly Fiorina showed steel in the last debate. And rose in the polls.
Jeb Bush showed weakness in the first debate. And dropped.
Marc Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul, in both debates, have spoken carefully modulated phrases about issues but, after months of campaigning, are still flat on their backs.
This phenomenon is so rare the pundits and gurus and candidates trying to stop Donald Trump are watching him, amazed, but the cure to their conundrum may be as simple as: If you want to win this election, you have to learn something new.