Tuesday, May 5, 2015

How Ben Carson Blew His Campaign Launch - A Cautionary Tale

 I like Ben Carson.  I think he's got sound, pragmatic conservative principles, and I think he's incredibly powerful on the speaker's platform.  I worry that he's had no experience in governing - or in being CEO of a major corporation, non-profit foundation or any other organization that would give him executive leadership experience.  After eight years under a President who'd never run any organization (and proved incapable of running USA, Inc.), I'm not sure we need another President who'll need OJT (On-the-Job-Training).

Still, I've been willing to give him a fair hearing, and have visualized myself voting for him, and living in a country led by a man of his intellect and principles.

But now, not so much.  


I think he blew his campaign launch.

Worse, I think he did so in a way to suggest to me that, when it comes to politics, he's either tone-deaf or he's listening to a "Junior Varsity" campaign manager or consultant.  Since a President can't be politically tone-deaf, nor can he afford to listen to second-rate advisers.

In his first post-launch email to potential supporters, Dr. Carson made several vital mistakes, but one in particular stands out.  I'm going to republish that first post-announcement campaign email, then I'm going to ask you if you see what he did wrong. 

Then I'll tell you what I think he did wrong.


Dear American, I've got a big announcement that I'd like to share with you.

I am running for President of the United States, and I ask for your support.

If this great nation is to survive the challenges of the modern world, we need to heal, we need to be inspired, and we need to revive the exceptional spirit that built America.

Working with you and all of our fellow citizens, I want to lead that revival.

I am not a politician, nor am I politically correct.

But I believe my values, my life experience, and my willingness to speak the truth and seek solutions prepares me well to lead our nation toward more prosperity, security, and freedom for every American.

So I ask for your commitment, right now, to this campaign. If you will be among the first to make a secure contribution to Carson America, I will be forever grateful.

Never before have we been so closely connected to each other, but more divided as a country.

Our political class has failed us, and as a nation we must work to reestablish what Abraham Lincoln once called a government of, by and for the people.

While I know it won't be easy, I truly look forward to the journey ahead, and I hope that you will join me.

Thank you, and God Bless America.


Ben Carson
Ben Carson


OK - there's his message.  Think a minute - what did he do wrong (or, what could he have done better - even a lot better)?  Don't rush to judgment, just read it again.  BTW - there are several problems with this email, but there is only one really big problem, one sure to set his campaign off to a faltering start.


I'm going to start with some of the smaller problems, then work my way up to the campaign-killing whopper of a blunder.

1.  The email is addressed to " Dear American."  Not "Dear Fellow American."  Not "Dear Patriotic American."  Just ...  "Dear American."  

This is a problem for two reasons. First, the technology to allow a mass email to be personalized has been around for going on two decades.  An impersonal email is not necessary, and it is certainly not welcoming.  Next, by not qualifying what kind of American, the salutation falls flat on its face.  It does nothing to motivate.

2.  His campaign slogan is "HEAL  INSPIRE   REVIVE" ... and in general, that makes sense. However, in this letter, he affirms that he wants heal, inspire and revive America in one throw-away line, but he never says what we must heal from, in what way we need to be inspired, or why (or how) we should revive our country.  Without substance, those are empty words, no more meaningful than Obama's "hope and change" campaign slogan from 2008.  

If Dr. Carson wants to lead his party and our country, he's going to have to do better than an empty slogan.  At the very least, he should have spent a short paragraph on each one (heal, inspire, revive) saying what he means, and more important, why he's the only (or best) candidate to heal, inspire and revive America.  At best, this is a lost opportunity.  At worst, the sheer banality of the words might lead some to consider him yet one more cookie-cutter candidate.

3. He included a very provocative sentence - "Never have we been more closely connected to each other, but more divided as a country."  Not only is that a poorly constructed sentence (hey, I used to be an editor), but without explaining what he means, it seems false on its face.  Consider:

"Never have we been so closely connected ..."   What does that mean?  For myself, I feel America (and Americans) have never been so isolated, one from the other.  I do not feel connected, and many people I know have expressed to me the same isolated lack of connectedness.  Perhaps he means the mindless drivel that substitutes for real connectivity on Facebook and Twitter - but if so, he should say that.

Now consider:  "but more divided as a country."  I guess he can be excused for overlooking the American Civil War, but I really can't believe a man - especially a black man - who's on the far side of 60 could say that with a straight face.  After all, he lived through the anti-war and civil-rights movements of the 60s and early 70s.  I remember the marches (Selma, Washington), the riots (Watts, Detroit), the police crack-down (Chicago '68), and he does, too.  In that seminal ten-year period, America was divided in a way she hadn't been since our Civil War, a full century before, That tumultuous ten years of riots and marches, draft-card burning and brutal police crack-downs, certainly reflected an America that is far more divided than it is today.  

Dr. Carson should know better. He graduated in '69 at the peak of those movements, and would have been in his first year at college when the Kent State shooting, the riots and marches, and follow-up massive college closings all took place.  How could he have forgotten that?  All of which suggests that this line, too, is just a "thow-away" line with no substance beyond the fact that maybe it sounds good.

 4.  I'm not going to nit-pick here, except to say that "and God Bless America" is really tired, hackneyed and trite.  Dr. Carson, if you want God's blessing on America, don't use the same line that the two Clintons - and even Obama - repeat every time they say anything more than "good-morning."

OK, those are the small, but easily-avoidable mistakes that were made in this email.  Now let's get to the big one, what I'm calling the "campaign killer."  Sure, one email won't kill a campaign, but if the pattern follows through to other emails, it will surely make Dr. Carson look irrelevant, at least to potential supporters.

What is this campaign killer?

Before he did anything to win prospective voters to his side - before he gave any meaningful reason why Republicans and conservatives should support his candidacy - he asks for money.  He has four links embedded in that email, and all four lead to the same fund-raising page.  There is not - neither in the email nor on that fund-raising page - any link to Dr. Carson's positions on issues.  It is those positions that have the potential to attract or repel potential voters - but just try to find them. I dare you.

This makes him look grasping, and perhaps a little desperate. Worse, it sends a clear message to potential voters:  "all you're good for is cash - just "trust me" and send me lots of money and everything will be fine."

That may have once worked (though I doubt it), but with conservatives being deluged daily by appeals from candidates, and from causes, and from independent special-issue advocacy groups, one more blatant dollar appeal, made without any justification as to how effective he might be as president isn't going to work.  Worse, it's going to drive thinking voters who want information, not superficial sloganeering, away from the campaign.

Really bad initial email.  You should have given me a reason to support you electorally before you put the arm on me for bucks.  Right now, I’m like, “why should I support Ben Carson?  What does a neurosurgeon know about running the country?   After eight years of a guy learning how to run our country "on the job," don’t we need experience?"

I’m sure you can answer all of these, Dr. Carson – I imagine that I if you’d tried, you’d have easily won me over. But instead, you lunged for my wallet – and frankly, I resent that.  Worse, that dollar-grab has gone a long way toward making me even more convinced that a candidate that doesn’t understand this basic bit of politics is probably not the best one to run my country.

Nice try – grade, C- (and that’s charitable).

Well, that's the "campaign killer" that inspired this blog.  Ben Carson might be a good President, and he most assuredly is a superb neurosurgeon, but he apparently has no idea why people might choose to support him - or why he needs to win their intellectual and emotional support before they'll open their wallets to him.  A man that "tone deaf" toward his supporters does not strike me as the best man to lead our country.  

Sure, he's got time to turn this around, and I hope he reads this blog and takes it to heart - but I'm not holding my breath.

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