A Little Too Rowdy Of A Crowd

Political communicators work day and night to control everything about political events. The stagecraft. The music. The tempo. The supporting cast. The wardrobe. The make-up. The messaging. The media coverage.

But there is one thing that seems to be increasingly difficult for political handlers to control. The audience.

At this phase of the campaign cycle, the Republican frontrunners’ campaigns are doing their best to win partisan primary and caucus voters without spooking less partisan and zealous General Election voters watching TV coverage of events. It’s a tricky balancing act under any circumstances, and the audiences at Republicans events are making it much more difficult.

The boisterous zealots bellowing forth at nationally televised Republican events are diverting attention from the front-runners’ carefully focus group tested messaging, and instead making the candidates look bloodthirsty…


and heartless…

These candidates look extreme by association. These are not the warm and fuzzy images that the political handlers strive to create. Long after background flags are returned to the rental company, these Gladiator-esque reactions of the Republican crowd are what many of us remember about the moment.

A winning Republican formula in the past has been to run candidates with warm-feeling personalities to mask the harsh impact of the conservative policies they support. Reagan, Pawlenty, McCain and Romney are among those who played that game especially well. But the discordant chorus at Republican events is taking the sheen off the frontrunners’ carefully managed nice guy images.

This is not an insignificant issue for political communicators in the age of extreme political polarization. If I were a Republican spin savant, I’d be spending less time obsessing about the size of the candidates’ flag pin decal, and more time on crowd control.


6 thoughts on “A Little Too Rowdy Of A Crowd

    1. Joe Loveland says:

      That was a good example of a heckler — someone trying to DISRUPT the speaker(s). They’ve always been around.

      I’m talking about something quite different. I’m talking about misguided cheerleaders — folks trying SUPPORT the speaker, and inadvertantly damaging him or her with the manner or timing of the expression of support.

      Enemy fire and friendly fire both cause damage. But friendly fire is especially frustrating to handlers, because a) it usually causes more damage than hecklers and b) they feel like their own supporters should be controllable.

  1. Minnesotan says:

    Romney might be trying to create a “warm & fuzzy” persona, but Rick Perry doesn’t seem to want that label. Since it’s football season, I’d compare Romney to the quarterback – he wants to be friendly and charismatic enough that people like him no matter what kind of shenanigans he has going on off the field.

    Perry seems more like the middle linebacker – he’s tough and mean and makes no apologizes for being the baddest man on the field. The only reason he’d offer to help you up after a tackle is so he can hit you again on the next play.

    I think many republicans think there is so much anger with the fiscal path our country is on that voters want a guy that won’t apologize for not compromising on anything.

    1. Joe Loveland says:

      Good assessment, Minnesotan. At a time when swing voters are frustrated with constant conflict in Washington, the open question is whether swing voters in the General Election will want a badass linebacker as much as heavily partisan primary/caucus voters do. Tough balancing act for any candidate.

    2. Joe Loveland says:

      Polling data to illustrate the dilemma for Perry: According to a Fox poll, 17% of Independents and 18% of moderates view Perry, the Republican frontrunner, as “too extreme to be seriously considered.”

      That’s second only to Bachmann (19%) and three times higher than rival Romney (5%) and six times higher than Huntsman (3%). And in terms of policy, there isn’t much different between any of them. They all stimulative government spending during a time of high unemployment, they all hate Obamacare, they all adore tax cuts, they all are big on the war on terror, they all want to drill everywhere, they all want to extend the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy. It’s largely a difference of tone.

      Perry needs a strong majority of Independents to win in November, so at some point he needs to calm Independents’ fears about him. Spending the primary season looking like the leader of a lynch mob isn’t helping him do that.

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