Watching Michelle Obama’s transcendent speech on the opening night of the Democratic National Convention, I thought about the First Lady’s recent appearance on the “Late Late Show,” where she killed it with host James Corden in Carpool Karaoke. It turned out that singing along to Stevie Wonder, Beyoncé and Missy Elliott was a pitch-perfect prelude to her lending a priceless (and necessary) authenticity at the political proceedings, helping to unify the party behind Hillary Clinton.
Let’s face it, Hillary badly needed to bask in the digital charm offensive FLOTUS put out there.
I was, of course, watching the First Lady’s speech on TV, as my demo tends to do. I hollered downstairs to my daughter—a big Michelle O fan, who had turned me on to the Carpool Karaoke segment—to come watch the speech. She informed me that she was already watching, streaming via Periscope on her perpetual companion: her iPhone. Silly me. Obviously, that was her medium of choice.
Both Democrats and Republican have a keen awareness that the winner in this fall’s White House sweepstakes will be the candidate with the savviest digital strategy. The campaigns are using every platform at their command to go straight to voters, and do their best to end-run the media.
While this is a time-honored tradition, the difference is, it’s become astronomically easier to do so. As the Clinton campaign’s chief digital strategist Teddy Goff told The New York Times, his strategy is predicated on the idea that, since 2014, more people are spending more time looking at their phone screens then their TVs.
The Democrats are well aware that they have a mighty tough fight on their hands. This is, if nothing else, the “branded content” White House race. If Donald Trump did not have a kind of evil-genius savvy about the media ecosystem, he would still be looking to license his brand to casinos, steaks, golf course and hotels.
The Donald has long banked on a strategy of quantity over quality (his supporters would, of course, say he is the ultimate master of both). With so many platforms at the man’s disposal, and so much noise out there, it has become all about the tonnage. Out with the old concept of targeting your audience with surgical precision. The Trumpian formula dares to overwhelm: with information and insults, and with no concern that voters will tire of hearing fear- and hate-mongering messages delivered from a gaping yap below an orange whip-head. It’s a media strategy that so far has taken his candidacy to a once-unfathomable place in the race.
The Hillary campaign stresses the glass ceiling of gender, but really, what kind of glass ceiling is Donald Trump breaking? It is, in a flummoxing way, no less significant.
That leads to a particular point: Will some kind of fatigue ever set in? Monday night’s ratings for the Democratic confab in Philadelphia were significantly higher than for the GOP’s first night in Cleveland. Across three cable networks, three broadcasters and PBS, an estimated total 28.4 million viewers tuned in. That's up more than 5 million viewers from the ratings for the first night of last week's Republican National Convention, when the GOP lured 23 million.
My guess is that the gap will grow when people who watched Monday's events on various social media platforms are added to the mix. And why? Is it simply because the people who’d heard Melania Trump’s cribbed speech were more interested in seeing what the source sounded like?
I do in fact think a lot of that gap is driven by the First Lady’s personal popularity. Perhaps she was Kryptonite to Donald Trump’s Super-Race tweets. Michelle Obama did indeed throw serious shade on The Donald when she said fitness for office can’t be “boiled down to what you say in 140 characters.”
Interestingly, FLOTUS was the only speaker of the night that rendered Trump Twitterless. Maybe he was busy coaching Melania in the finer points of Carpool Karaoke. My guess is if she appears, she’ll will be looking at doing some Stevie Wonder, Beyoncé and Missy Elliott. Melania knows a good role model when she sees one.