When something like this happens, it’s a jolt, to say the least. But, you have to deal with it head on to have any chance of getting back on track. Yet, Cain’s responses over the last two weeks have been textbook lessons in how not to conduct crisis communication. Even more stunning was his admission that he knew about the story 10 days before it broke; a former corporate CEO that didn’t have a plan about what to say or what to do.
The Cain Campaign isn’t the only political operation that started believing its own press releases. Ohio Governor John Kasich figured he had the momentum following the 2010 election to strip away collective bargaining rights from public employees. And, he was so sure he had the wind at his back that he tried to turn the public against teachers, police officers, firefighters and EMTs by calling them greedy. Ohio voted nearly two to one to kill Kasich’s idea. And in the process, Kasich and his anti-union agenda may have given a lot of Democrats and independents a preview of a Republican future as the 2012 presidential election gets closer to the actual voting stage. Oooops!
In Mississippi, anti-choice groups thought this would be the perfect time to deal Roe v. Wade a fatal blow by passing a “personhood” amendment to their state constitution and forcing the whole abortion issue before the U.S. Supreme Court. However, nearly 60% of the voters in Mississippi apparently agreed with medical science and common sense, and voted that life did not begin at the moment a man says, “Hi. Come here often?” Oooops!
Up in Maine, Republicans in the state legislature thought that momentum would surely propel their idea of curtailing voter registration. So they passed a law ending Maine’s 40-year old practice of allowing people to register to vote as late as Election Day. However, 60% of the voters decided that making it more convenient to register to vote wasn’t exactly an attack on the foundations of our democracy. Oooops!
In Phoenix, Arizona, voters recalled the author of the state’s really ugly immigration law that allowed police officers to ask for someone’s papers if they happened to be Brown. State Senator Russell Pearce, President of the State Senate was defeated in the first recall election in the state’s history. The senator’s belief that his legislation was an absolute masterstroke was fully supported by Arizona’s politically astute governor Jan Brewer. However, there’s been no announcement yet that she plans to follow him into his earlier-than-expected retirement. Oooops!
In addition to illustrating the ephemeral nature of political momentum and the dangers of hubris, these events should remind political leaders on both sides that self-righteous certainty about “what the American people want” can wind up biting you on the butt. The public’s frequent and frequently-changing dissatisfaction with Washington is not necessarily an undying endorsement of everything you want to do. Most of the time, it’s simply an expression of the public’s frequent and frequently-changing dissatisfaction with Washington.
Dave Helfert has been a political and governmental communicator for more than 30 years, writing speeches for elected officials and candidates, creating media in more than 200 political campaigns, working for six years as a Communications Director in the Clinton Administration and then nine years in the U.S. House.