Messaging Maxim #4: Feed the Narrative

MSNBC’s Ed Schultz solved a 2012 election mystery on Wednesday, by featuring the man who shot the infamous Willard Mitt Romney “47% video” in a one-on-one interview. What made the video by bartender Scott Prouty so devastating to Romney’s presidential campaign was that Romney’s controversial “47%” remarks, as well as other statements, such as those regarding a brutal Chinese sweatshop that Romney visited with the purpose of purchasing for Bain Capital, fed into a narrative that already existed about Romney as:

The Obama campaign was extremely clever in shaping this elitist Romney narrative very early on in the 2012 election season. But once the Obama team put the Romney narrative out there, in many cases, it was Romney (or his wife Ann, or his campaign staffers) who fed the narrative, doing the Democrats’ work for them.

A similar thing happened during the 1988 presidential campaign. George H.W. Bush‘s campaign attempted early on to define Bush’s opponent, Michael Dukakis, as weak on defense. So when Dukakis took that fateful ride in the army tank, grinning and looking like a kid wearing his older brother’s oversized football helmet, the Bush campaign and the media pounced on Dukakis, who never quite recovered.

Most of the time, you won’t be so lucky to have your opponents hand you such obvious gifts. However, American voters love a good, simple story or stereotype that defines a politician, political party or group. So make sure you help craft a true but negative story about your opponents’ ideas, actions or positions, and then look for statements or actions by them that you can point to as furthering that narrative.

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