2016 Archives

Convention Experts:

GOP hopes to avoid catastrophe in Cleveland
Democrats aim to keep Philadelphia focused on Trump

July 19, 2016

DALLAS (SMU)When the GOP meets in Cleveland July 18 and the Democrats gather seven days later in Philadelphia, SMU’s expert faculty will be available to discuss every aspect of the ongoing election battle from inside and outside these unconventional conventions. Several will be on site for both.

How do Millennials see the political landscape? SMU students also will attend also will attend the conventions in a variety of roles and are available for interview before and after their trips. (See the list of students at the Republican Convention and the Democratic Convention.)

What the Experts are Saying About the Republican Convention and the Democratic Convention:

Republican Party LogoAbout The Republicans

 

 

Jeffrey A. EngelJEFFREY ENGEL
jaengel@mail

REPUBLICANS HAVE AVOIDED GREATEST FEAR SO FAR

Day one for the Republican Convention had its fair share of “off-the-track” moments, but as Engel reminds us, it could have been worse.

“What the Republicans are trying to avoid has very little to do with the party itself,” Engel says. “What they’re trying to avoid is 1968 in Chicago, when anti-war protestors and police clashed openly in the streets and that clash in the streets made its way into the party convention, effectively. We saw screaming matches, tear gas, people being beaten in the streets and fist fights on the floor.”

So while the roll-call disruption and charges that Melania Trump plagiarized Michelle Obama’s 2008 convention speech have been great distractions, the good news is that nobody has been punched in the nose.

“What I’m concerned is that, given this is a tense period in police relations with the public, we could see protestors against or for Trump or for or against black lives matter or simply someone who is intent upon demonstrating their right to ‘open carry’ in Ohio causing a general melee,” Engel says. “What is difficult to fathom for the Republicans is they can’t control everything that goes on outside the walls of their convention, so their nightmare scenario is other chaotic convention like Chicago in 68’.”

Engel is director of the SMU Center for Presidential History. He can discuss:

  • comparisons to past presidential races
  • foreign policy
  • presidential rhetoric


Rita Kirk

RITA KIRK:
rkirk@smu.edu

GOP ATTEMPTS TO RECONCILE TRUMP SUPPORTERS WITH OLD GUARD AT CONVENTION

Kirk will be in Cleveland from July 15-22 for the Republican National Convention, where she will lead a team of SMU student interns conducting focus groups for CNN the evenings of July 20 & 21.

Donald Trump has told anyone willing to listen that he won his campaign by attracting new voters to the Republican Party. The convention will be the ultimate test to see if those newcomers and the GOP’s traditional stalwarts can get along and get in line behind Trump, says Kirk.

“He’s had a fairly divisive campaign until now so this is a real important moment for the party and for trump to coalesce the faithful,” Kirk says. “If you think about it, the union worker who is anti-NAFTA has more in common with Trump than Clinton, so there might be some realignment of party positions on both sides and we anticipate a lot of interesting crossovers.”

“I think we’ll see some pretty hot opinions expressed,” Kirk added. “Maybe after the Dallas shootings, there will be more civil disagreement, but I’m not confident about it.”

Kirk is SMU professor of communication studies and director of the Maguire Center for Ethics & Public Responsibility. She can discuss:

  • sound bite substance
  • undecided voters
  • presidential debates
  • the use of second screens and social media in politics
  • political communications


Stephanie Martin

STEPHANIE MARTIN:

samartin@mail.smu.edu

RESEARCHING WHETHER CONSERVATIVES HAVE TRULY WARMED TO TRUMP

Martin will be in Cleveland from July 15-22 for the Republican National Convention, where she will conduct research on conservative social movements and whether they are warming to Trump.

One of the largest lingering questions of the Republican primary is whether the party’s grassroots, conservative social movements have truly rallied around Donald Trump or not. Martin hopes to find answers when she attends the party’s national convention in Cleveland.

The key to studying conservative social movements and conservative voters is approaching from the standpoint of, not an intellectual who is high and mighty, but someone who goes in and tries to acknowledge the validity of what motivates them,” Martin says. “You walk them through telling you the reasons they’ve arrived where they’ve arrived, affirming their right to have a world view. Not affirming their world view, but affirming their right to have it.’

“People just want to be heard,” Martin adds. “If you’re willing to listen, they’ll talk.”

Martin expects the unexpected at the Republican National Convention:

“I’m anticipating the experience to be, probably more than any convention of the contemporary era since 1968, a convention that is a work in progress day-to-day, hour-to-hour, minute-to-minute,” Martin says. “What I’m expecting is a developing story that people will be struggling to get their arms around every single day and that will require the kind of the flexibility of political actors and media that hasn’t been seen in a long time.”

The potential off-the-cuff nature of the convention is a high-risk, high-reward proposition for the Republican nominee. While most 21st Century political conventions are largely ignored, there will likely be plenty of eyes on Cleveland.

“It will be great for Trump if he can pull off the convention he says he can – one that’s popular and that people want to see and hear,” Martin says. “But if he behaves like Donald Trump and says a lot of racist, misogynist and homophobic things, it could be a disaster.”

Martin is an SMU assistant professor of Communication Studies in the Meadows School of the Arts. She can disucss:

  • economic messages in political campaigns
  • presidential campaign strategy
  • religious voters and evangelical social movements


Matthew WilsonMATTHEW WILSON:
jmwilson@smu.edu
       

THE GOP CONVENTION: WHAT’S THE WORST THAT COULD GO WRONG?

Wilson says the best thing the Republican Convention has going for it is the meager bar of low expectations.

“Everybody is expecting an embarrassing clown show with floor fights, recriminations, walkouts, lots of people giving ‘what has become of my party?’ kinds of interviews and Trump spewing lots of racist, sexist and ignorant streams of conscious,” Wilson says. “This is, to be clear, a very possible and perhaps even likely outcome. But if the party – and especially Trump – can hold it together enough to surpass this low bar, they could win in the expectations game.”

And if they win, the pressure will be on the Democrats the following week, Wilson adds.

“A reasonably functional convention – at which Trump looks like a plausible president, the VP pick is well-received, and the focus stays on Hillary Clinton as a corrupt embodiment of the political status quo – would be a big win,” Wilson says.

Wilson is an SMU associate professor of Political Science. He can discuss:

  • religion and politics
  • political psychology
  • •voting behavior of religious voters
  • public opinion and politics


Ben VothBEN VOTH:
bvoth@smu.edu
       

FRAMING THE DEBATE: REPUBLICANS MUST RALLY WAGONS TO PREPARE FOR FALL

As the Republican Party meets for its national convention, the list of who’s not attending might garner more attention than the list of who’s there. With past presidents and candidates ominously absent, it will fall upon Donald Trump and his surrogates to fill the void with a message of unity, says Voth.

“There’s a lot of tension in the Republican Party and I think for Trump to reconcile his rivals, they have to through speakers and events to convince the average Republican voter that it’s okay to join this newer, distinct coalition,” Voth says. “So far, it doesn’t look like those efforts are working. The interview with Jeb Bush, the on-and-off with Paul Ryan and the quiet meeting with Ted Cruz that didn’t yield a press release – this is proof that Trump is having real problems harmonizing the Republican base.”

To frame the debate for the fall, Voth says the party will likely focus on two messages if it can find time to spare from party unification efforts.

“It’s obvious there will be big arguments about race relations in the U.S. this fall, and the Republicans will try to get out from behind the huge disadvantage they have on arguments of race with some kind of message at the convention,” Voth says. “There also will be some sort of simplifying of what is the repetitive message against Clinton. I’m sure they’ll try to set an argument that will be repeated now and again until November.”

Voth is SMU’s director of Debate and an associate professor of Corporate Communications and Public Affairs. He can discuss:

  • debate prep
  • debate strategy
  • comparisons between this debate season and the 2012 election’s debate season

Students at the GOP Convention:

  • Allison Nichols of Lafayette, CA, a junior Public Relations major.
       
  • Emily Helft of San Diego, CA, a senior Journalism major.
       
  • Jacqueline Francis of Grosse Pointe, MI, a senior Journalism & Fashion Media major.
       
  • Kylie Madry of McKinney, TX, a junior Journalism & Political Science major.
       
  • Gabrielle Martinez of Eupora, MS, a senior Corporate Communications and Public Affairs, Fashion Media major.
       
  • Candi Bolden of Bellevue, TX, a senior Journalism major.

Democratic Party LogoAbout The Democrats

 

 

Jeffrey A. EngelJEFFREY ENGEL
jaengel@mail

DEMOCRATS BENEFIT FROM HOLDING CONVENTION AFTER GOP

It’s long been tradition that the two major political parties alternate the orders of their conventions, with the Democrats going first every eight years and the Republicans going first for the presidential elections in between.

This year, the Democrats will look to make the most of that positioning.

“As a general principal, going second is in your advantage and the reason is you get to rebut and retort everything your opponents say,” Engel says. “If we look back in recent conventions, particularly 1988, 1996 and 2008, each time the party that went first got a big bump in the polls, but then the party that went second cut into the lead and one of the reasons is obvious: When people hear a convincing case, they’re convinced, and when you hear one side of the argument without interruption, it’s very convincing.”

Engel admits, however, that the “without interruption” bit might become a relic of a bygone age this year.

“In previous years, parties were remarkably respectful of whoever goes first, the other party goes quiet, and whoever goes second, the first party goes quiet, and I don’t anticipate that in the least this summer,” Engel says. “I anticipate Donald Trump will be live-tweeting during the Democratic affair. The difference is now candidates can use social media to reach voters instantly without journalists between them. Before, the reason for a convention was all the cameras in the world faced you at once. Now, you don’t need the cameras. Now you can tweet.”

Engel is director of the SMU Center for Presidential History. He can discuss:

  • comparisons to past presidential races
  • foreign policy
  • presidential rhetoric


Rita Kirk

RITA KIRK:
rkirk@smu.edu

DEMOCRATS ANTICIPATE MOMENT OF UNITY CLINTON HAS BEEN LONGING FOR

Kirk will be in Cleveland from July 22-29 for the Democratic National Convention, where she will lead a team of SMU student interns in conducting focus groups for CNN the evenings of July 27 & 28.

Though Bernie Sanders offered his endorsement of Hillary Clinton July 12, some of his followers have been slow to follow suit. This means the Democratic Convention will need to focus on rallying the final Sanders supporters to Clinton’s cause and scoop up independent voters put in play by Trump, says Kirk.

“I see a broad tent message emerging there, as the Democrats reach out to Hispanics, Muslims, women and virtually everyone else Trump has offended,” Kirk says. “You’ll see a lot more unity than what the Republicans will display.”

Viewers also will see more organization, says Kirk.

“I hear folks talking about party operatives and campaign staff – Trump’s still not quite up to staffing levels of the Hillary campaign, which makes it difficult to onboard new people and stay on message,” Kirk says. “The Democrats will have more people managing their convention and they’ll likely have more success than the Republicans, as well.”

Kirk is SMU professor of communication studies and director of the Maguire Center for Ethics & Public Responsibility. She can discuss:

  • sound bite substance
  • undecided voters
  • presidential debates
  • the use of second screens and social media in politics
  • political communications


Stephanie MartinSTEPHANIE MARTIN:
samartin@mail.smu.edu

THE QUIET QUANDARY: WHAT WILL DEMOCRATS DO WITH BILL CLINTON?

Trump’s long shadow has hidden a number of issues Democrats might otherwise be nervous about exposing to light, but this one will likely come to a head at the party’s convention: What to do with former president Bill Clinton?

“If you look at 2012, Bill Clinton placed Barack Obama’s name into nomination and gave an amazing speech that a lot of people thought reset the campaign and made the case for Obama’s reelection,” Martin says. “But going into 2016 … It will be interesting to see what, if any, speech Bill Clinton gives and how it is received.”

The irony is that too much success could turn him into more of a liability than a benefit.

“If he hits a home run with the speech, that would help Hillary, but it would also raise questions about who is the real candidate and what’s the real deal,” Martin says “It could be a triumph or a disaster.”

Martin is an SMU assistant professor of Communication Studies in the Meadows School of the Arts. She can discuss:

  • economic messages in political campaigns
  • presidential campaign strategy
  • religious voters and evangelical social movements


Matthew WilsonMATTHEW WILSON:
jmwilson@smu.edu

LIBERALS SENSING ‘BLOOD IN THE WATER’ TO PUSH FOR PROGRESSIVE NATIONAL AGENDA

With Sanders now onboard with Clinton’s candidacy, Wilson predicts there’s not much that can go wrong at the Democratic Convention. But there is a question: How far left will the party lean?

“The ideological center of gravity in the Democratic Party has moved, over the last 15 years or so, very close to Bernie Sanders’ democratic socialism,” Wilson says. “Most of the delegates there will be very sympathetic to single-payer healthcare, a $15 (or higher) national minimum wage, “free” college for all, heavy regulation of banking and business, the Black Lives Matter movement, the Transgender agenda, strict gun control, the elimination of virtually all restrictions on abortion, and the marginalization of religion in public life.”

For the party to reposition itself as more centrist, it will have to keep its liberal forces in check, a task Wilson believes is easier said than done.

“The Democratic hard left does not want to be silenced—they smell blood in the water with the chaos on the Republican side, and think this is their moment to move America dramatically leftward, both economically and culturally,” Wilson says. “Given the fact that Trump is, in my view, ultimately unelectable nationally, they’re probably right.”

Wilson is an SMU associate professor of Political Science. He can discuss:

  • religion and politics
  • political psychology
  • •voting behavior of religious voters
  • public opinion and politics


Ben VothBEN VOTH:
bvoth@smu.edu   

FRAMING THE DEBATE: FOR DEMOCRATS, IT’S ALL ABOUT TRUMP

The typical national convention is dedicated to lionizing the party’s candidate, but this is no typical election, says Voth.

“Democrats probably do want to make it about Donald Trump and accentuate that he’s one of the most negatively rated candidates in history, because Hillary’s not very far behind Trump in negatives,” Voth says. “Look at Obama’s 2012 campaign against Mitt Romney, data suggests that negatively framing Romney was key to Obama’s victory.  Democrats have a ripe target in Trump and the opportunity to make folks vote against Trump more than they vote for Hillary Clinton.”

In terms of issues the Democrats might try to frame as central to the election, “Democrats want to minimize the FBI scandal issue and talk about other issues,” Voth says. “In terms of race relations, focusing on police and how to have better police forces will be a strategic way to touch lightly but firmly on the race issue and be effective in it.”

Voth is SMU’s director of debate and an associate professor of corporate communications and public affairs. He can discuss:

  • debate prep
  • debate strategy
  • comparisons between this debate season and the 2012 election’s debate season

Students at the Democratic Convention

  • William Hagens of Minneapolis, MN, a junior Political Communication and Political Science major.
       
  • Dorothy Oehmler of Memphis, TN, a junior Public Relations/Corporate Communication and Public Affairs major with a focus on Political Science.
       
  • Jane Jestus of Cookeville, TN, a senior Communications major.
       
  • Spencer Gutierrez of Wharton, TX, a junior, pre-law philosophy and political communication major.

 

 

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