The Communications Clinic
The Communications Clinic
June 29, 2020

Originally published in The Irish Examiner

DAY 89 

I have a bet on with several people. Fifty euro that we’ll have a vaccine by September. Maybe October. Autumn, certainly. Listen, what harm did gormless optimism ever do anyone?

DAY 90 

A consumer alert: Primula cheese tubes recall. This stuff is handy for cheat sauces, so I am well supplied. I find they expired eight months ago and would have killed me long before the new problem surfaced. That was a thing I was going to do in the lockdown: check the BBF dates on everything. Fail.

DAY 91

If Joe Biden becomes president of the United States later this year, it won’t be thanks to the Democrats, who have spent much of Trump’s time in the White House like halfwits throwing cotton wool balls at a dart board. Throwing cotton wool balls at a dart board requires a lot of effort. It harms nobody. But the chances of you winning the game of darts are between slim and none.

Yet all the international pages are now throwing up their hands in wonder at opinion polls showing Mr Biden, despite Mr Trump’s campaign mocking him for “hiding in the basement” during the pandemic, overtaking the president and then some.

The Democrats should not be allowed to believe that they achieved this. They didn’t. Even Joe Biden didn’t. They impeached Trump badly, kept attacking him for the things his voters like about him and communicated little other than sententious confirmations of pre-existing prejudices. They didn’t explore what might actually work to bring Trump down.

Mocking the president would have worked; they didn’t mock him. Making him ridiculous would have worked; they didn’t do that, either. Pointing out that almost everyone who works for him then writes a book saying he’s an innattentive gobshite — that would have worked. But that’s just another thing they didn’t do.

Then along came a bunch of people who did it for them. An entity which, in attacking Trump, did everything right. A fifth column within the Republicans called The Lincoln Project. The Lincoln Project is made up of smart Republicans who want Trump gone before he does any more damage to the GOP. People like George Conway, husband of Trump’s Kelly Conway. Just in case you’ve missed the marital phenomenon that is the Conways, the essentials are that he’s a lawyer with a sense of humour and she’s an advisor to Trump without one. Loyalty, yes. Logic and humour, no.

George Conway’s fellow travellers include political strategists, marketing experts, pollsters, and media consultants.

The Lincoln Project has produced a series of political TV advertisements attacking their own man that are as good as anything in that genre since the Democrat’s famous ad showing a child with a daisy, pulling the petals while counting, evoking the horror of a nuclear blast. That ad, from the sixties, aimed at knocking the hell out of Republican Barry Goldwater’s chances of the US presidency. It was hugely controversial at the time, infuriating as many people as it satisfied, provoking wild cries of “unfair” from Goldwater supporters and — as a direct result, dominating the news agenda and public conversation. Goldwater went down the tubes. Not just because of the ad, but the ad expedited his tube-travel.

The Lincoln Project people are doing the same to Trump, with the interesting difference that the “daisy” ad encapsulated the threat of possible future actions of a Goldwater presidency, whereas the Lincoln Project ads are more directly personal, portraying Trump as a lying fool who can’t walk or think straight. They show him as a president who does not care about Americans dying in their hundreds of thousands as a result of ridiculous faffing around on his part when it comes to containing Covid-19.

As political advertising goes in the United States, this series of ads has unusually high production values. Cleverly shot and edited, in other words, with onscreen words echoing what the voice over is saying. When you’ve seen one, you want to go back and watch again, lest you missed something. They must be confusing the hell out of the Democrats, because they are up close and personal, attacking, nasty and — in some cases — tasteless. But what’s important is that not only are they working, but they are presenting what might be called a positive constraint to the Dems: they cannot (or at least they should not) even consider making ads that are anything less viciously stylish. If they do it right, Trump can be caught between the Lincoln Project on the one hand and the Biden campaign on the other. The issuance of the commercials on social media will help create the headlines in mainstream media, because the president will not be able to control his reaction to seeing himself portrayed as a gutless, incompetent fool, and his tweets, together with the unfortunate spin doctors who have to go on TV shows to defend them, could be lethal to him.

It would be great if, having had the heavy lifting done for them by dissident — or, as they would see themselves — true Republicans, the Biden team did one simple thing: cut the waffly bits off the top of his speaking points.

DAY 92

Now, my son is a boundaries man. Invade my privacy, he does not. Nor ask personal questions. So I am surprised, as we talk with a window between us, when he asks me if I’m going to grow my hair long. This is because, even though I have thinning shears, I’ve left them alone and currently have medium big hair. I shrug. “I think you should,” he says. If I could be sure I didn’t end up looking like the witch who poisons Disney’s Snow White with the red apple, I just might.

DAY 93

Today, I mastered the posset. A pudding made of boiled cream mightn’t sound great, not to mention having enough calories to put the Covid-19 pounds on you in one serving, but my pandemic posset is to die for.

DAY 94 

Decades ago, when I was doing some research for IPHA, the pharmaceutical body, someone said I should talk to an up-and-coming Cork politician and his clever girlfriend, who would be helpful. I did. They were. I was bowled over, not least by his riotous mimicry, and came back telling everybody who’d listen that I had met a future Taoiseach. I should have gone to Paddy Power and put down a bet, while not being too predictive about how quickly it would happen.

DAY 95 

You may be reading this on a day when many restrictions have been lifted so, in theory, this isolation diary should stop right now. Except that if chief medical officer Tony Holohan is “beyond worried” about overseas holidaymakers bringing Covid-19 back with them, I figure on staying put except for essential trips. But also, I want to get it to 100 days. The numerical neatness would give me the illusion of control we’ve all lost in the last few months.