Like any good team, successful campaigns are adaptable, ready and able to change strategies as the game progresses. The biggest game of the 2016 election season has just started the fourth quarter, and it’s still a nail biter. There is a sense, however, that we’ve seen it all already. There will continue to be inflammatory Trump sound bites and arguments about Clinton’s email records. And though the most tense moments of the election are still to come, there is a sense that the big surprises have already come out. So, what’s left in the playbook?
For the big two, Clinton and Trump, the strategy is all about consistency and confidence. Most donors are not eager to symbolically throw away their money on an obvious loser, no matter how strong their convictions. Strong polling numbers, consistent public appearances and a “presidential” persona are the best formula for keeping the donations flowing until the winner is announced. Barring any major development or scandal, the end game is likely to be somewhere between a staring contest and a mud fight.
But there are two other candidates vying for those last-minute campaign dollars, and their strategies are very different. They aren’t quarterbacks like the Trumps and Clintons. They are third parties, the second-team defensive ends of politics, putting pressure on the playmakers and using all that fresh-to-the-game enthusiasm to try and intercept enough campaign dollars to impress their girlfriends, the American voters. Yes, this metaphor is thorough.
The strategy then for 2016 is a little different. Some voters, disheartened by their choices (or lack of choices) are making a symbolic gesture by contributing to or voting for a third-party candidate. This reaction is not uncommon. The scale of the upheaval, however, is something we haven’t seen in a long time. How voter emotions will play out in the end is anyone’s guess. But right now, the best strategy for winning the game is convincing the crowd that you were never a fan.