Presidential campaigns must be acutely aware of what their candidate says and tweets, as well as how surrogates act on the campaign trail. Optics, how an event or action looks and feels to the public, as opposed to the actual intention, can have serious effects on a candidate’s marketing operation.
Both the Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton campaigns have found themselves marred in controversy after blaring reactions to a meeting, for Clinton, and to a Donald Trump tweet.
Former President Bill Clinton and U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch met on the AG’s plane at an airport in Phoenix last week. Considering the oversight AG Lynch has for the FBI investigation into the Democratic nominee’s use of a private email server while Secretary of State, GOP leaders have understandably responded with outrage.
This meeting raises questions, once again, about President Clinton’s liability on the campaign trail, and the ability of the Clinton campaign to keep tabs on the popular former president.
David Axelrod, Obama’s campaign manager in 2008, senior strategist in 2012, weighed in on the meeting in a tweet: “I take @LorettaLynch & @billclinton at their word that their convo in Phoenix didn’t touch on probe. But foolish to create such optics.”
Donald Trump’s tweet showing a complete lack of understanding around optics was even more incendiary. He tweeted a photo of Hillary Clinton with a background of $100 bills and the phrase “The most corrupt candidate ever!” contained within a Star of David.
Trump quickly tweeted the same image with a circle instead of a star; eventually, he deleted the initial tweet. The damage, however, was done. Again, it is hard to believe that a presidential campaign would use such anti-Semitic imagery in a tweet visible to the world.
The Trump campaign seems to have very little understanding of optics; he took a while to de-legitimize the endorsement of David Duke, a renowned white supremacist and has often incited violence at his campaign rallies.
The Clinton campaign will probably try to reign in the former president, to whatever extent it can, to avoid a repeat of Phoenix.
Conversely, Trump seems set in his ways. He will continue to tweet relentlessly -- that medium is clearly his preferred means of engaging with his supporters.