Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign upended much of the settled order in the political consulting industry, but the campaign's lasting legacy remains in question.
While many practitioners criticized the president during his campaign for his demagogic appeals based on race and religion, and some even actively campaigned against him, there are those who think the strategic approach will leave a lasting impact.
That’s according to GOP consultant Holly Turner. She noted that Trump effectively held his consulting team’s “feet to the fire” and demanded an unprecedented level of accountability from his vendors.
The Trump campaign's legacy and the state of the political consulting industry was the topic Friday at C&E's annual Reed Awards Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Part of the reason for Trump’s penny pinching may have been personal, Turner noted. “In the beginning, it was all his money that he was spending.”
But it was effective and other candidates could copy the model, she argued.
“They saw him bringing in people from outside of politics. [Trump digital media director] Brad Parscale didn’t have a day of political experience in his life, but he did a phenomenal job and was loyal to the Trump family to make sure they got a return on every dollar they spent,” said Turner. “I think it’s good for the industry and candidates are going to benefit.”
She continued: “Candidates and committees and donors are going to be much more savvy about where their dollars are spent. They’re tired of being taken advantage of. The technology is getting to the point where we can demand that accountability from consultants and campaigns.”
Meanwhile, Turner contrasted Trump’s campaign operation with GOP media consultant Mike Murphy making multi-million dollar commissions off a Jeb Bush-allied Super PAC’s $100 million spend during the 2016 primaries.
“Those days are over,” she said.
Ray Zaborney, of Red Maverick Media, agreed with Turner. “The biggest accountability thing is going to be general consultants and candidates saying, ‘Show me why I want to do this,’” he said.
Longtime Democratic consultant Rick Ridder, of RBI Strategies & Research, pointed to the simplicity of the Republican’s message that may be copied by other candidates.
“It was limited to five and seven words at a time. He’s keeping his message short and repeating it constantly,” Ridder said. “You don’t need 80 words if you only want to communicate in five to seven.”
Looking past the next cycle, Ridder predicted that candidates could face their own accountability issues from the electorate after they get elected. He noted that candidates are increasingly delivering different messages to different slices of the electorate.
“The elected official in office has to balance the desires and needs and promises of all those people he’s communicated to,” Ridder said. “He’s created a certain degree of disfunction.”