After what felt like a never-ending presidential campaign, the American people have spoken.
Well, sort of.
The split decision between the popular vote and electoral college illustrates just how politically divided the country is right now.
It’s easy to characterize this divide as a state of permanent inertia in a polarized electorate, but President-elect Trump has an opportunity to begin narrowing the gap.
We spent the days following the election analyzing how shrewd messaging and strong optics translated to victory for the Trump campaign, but now it’s time to look ahead to what happens next as President-elect Trump gets ready to govern.
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Let’s face it: no incoming politician welcomes mass protests the day after an election, but crisis breeds opportunity and the next 63 days leading up to Inauguration Day are no exception.
It’s in President-elect Trump’s best interest to shrink the political-ideological gap, but the process has to begin now and savvy public relations must factor heavily into the equation.
Here’s our prescription for the Trump transition team over the next 63 days.
Soften the rhetoric.
The raucous campaign rallies made for compelling TV, but governing effectively and winning broad support means compromising. The radical language needs to give way to pragmatism, and the policy positions should follow. We’ve already seen evidence that this pivot is in the works, as the President-elect began tempering several of his most controversial positions during his first post-election interview on 60 Minutes. Striking a reasonable tone will go a long way toward allaying the concerns of his sharpest critics.
Embrace President Obama.
The sitting president’s 55% approval rating is the highest it’s been in years – on par with President Reagan’s level of support as his second term ended. By scoring facetime with President Obama, the Trump campaign can begin repairing the damage done with his critics while sending a message to Washington that the new administration is ready to reach across the aisle. While they’re at it, they’d be wise to cozy up to the First Lady. She’s one of the nation’s most beloved figures and who knows, she may be on the other side of the debate stage in four years.
Lead with policy, not politics.
If there was one universal criticism of the campaign, it’s that style overshadowed substance. Here’s the Trump team’s chance to change course. There are eight weeks until inauguration day. The President-elect should seize the spotlight by laying out a series of eight issues, dedicating a full week to each one and engaging the American public on the ins and outs of policy specifics. That means setting up policy workshops with credible experts, scheduling issue-specific town hall meetings with the public, and delivering substantive policy speeches that send the message the President is prepared to get to work in January.
Quiet the naysayers state-by-state.
It’s easy to paint the country as a mosaic of red states and blue states, but those characterizations run contrary to President-elect Trump’s rejection of political labels. The transition team would be well-served by strategically dispatching the President-elect to blue states that didn’t vote for him, perhaps as part of the policy tour mentioned above. The symbolism of a divisive candidate stepping foot in a place that’s fallen off the battleground map in presidential politics – say, California or Massachusetts – would speak volumes about the change that’s coming while blunting the force of partisan opponents.
Build consensus around the terrorism threat.
National security can be a powerful unifier that transcends party lines. During the campaign, the President-elect spoken often about his confidential plan to defeat ISIS, but stopped short of offering specifics. The next 63 days would be an opportune time to begin informing the nation – and the world – about his vision. Outlining a specific set of campaign goals, even if it means stopping short of disclosing tactical plans, would calm the fears of skeptics and send the message that the President-elect is up to the task of Commander-In-Chief.
Let down your guard.
For a candidate accustomed to waging war on Twitter, the Trump campaign was often cloaked in a veil of secrecy. Press conferences were rare, media access was extremely limited, and unscripted moments were hard to come by. Now that the election is over, it’s time to ease up a bit. Post some behind-the-scenes video footage on Facebook, let the media know when you’re headed out for a steak dinner, grant a reporter access for a ‘day in the life’ profile of the President to-be, and setup a spontaneous date night with the future First Lady. Heck, send him to a football game sans his trademark jacket and tie, sleeves rolled up. He can even keep the red hat.