July 2015: The Worst Video Media Disaster

This blog’s monthly video media disasters piece usually contains video of a public figure committing a gaffe or saying something outrageous, followed by an explanation of what that person got wrong and how other communicators can avoid making the same mistake.

But there’s just no point in making sense of the madness this month.

Donald Trump crossed a line few politicians would dare when he mocked Senator John McCain for being captured as a POW.

“He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero, he’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured, okay?”

After his capture, McCain was given the opportunity to leave early. He refused, because the Code of Conduct required that POWs captured first should be released first. His refusal led to two years in solitary confinement, regular beatings, and broken bones.

Donald Trump received five deferments (four student and one medical) and didn’t serve in Vietnam.

Trump later tried to spin his way out of those comments, but fellow Republicans seized the opportunity to attack the GOP frontrunner. Fellow presidential candidate Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) called Trump a “cancer on conservatism.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), also vying for the nomination, called Trump a “jackass.” And conservative writer Stephen Hayes colorfully wrote that “fact-checking Donald Trump is like picking up after a dog with diarrhea; there’s just not much point.”

You might question whether scoffing at a captured pilot is truly a media disaster for Trump, given that his poll numbers are still solid (and, in some cases, growing). In the immediate term, maybe not.

But I’m not alone in believing that history will mark this as the moment—The New York Times referred to it as the “inflection point”—when the air started leaking out of Trump’s campaign. One proof point: although Trump still has strong favorable ratings, he also has the highest unfavorable rating among Republicans, according to a recent Economist/YouGov poll. A Quinnipiac University poll released today finds that “Trump has the worst favorability rating of any Republican or Democrat, a negative 27-59 percent among all voters.”

Donald Trump John McCain
His lead more than a year from Election Day means little. Just ask Rudy Giuliani, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, and Newt Gingrich, each of whom enjoyed brief polling leads in 2008 and 2012 until their boomlets rather predictably ended.

The recent history of the Republican Party shows that primary voters flirt with the right but vote for a candidate closer to the middle; witness the last five nominees: George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, George W. Bush, John McCain, and Mitt Romney. I’m skeptical Trump can break that pattern—or that Republican voters will ultimately deem him their best chance of defeating Hillary Clinton. One more proof point: the Quinnipiac University poll released this morning shows Hillary Clinton thumping Donald Trump 48 % – 36%. In contrast, Governors Jeb Bush and Scott Walker are effectively tied with Clinton.

Of course, all of this is probably beside the point. I can’t shake the feeling that Donald Trump will be the first person in the history of the “worst video media disaster” series who relishes—and is somehow strengthened by—earning the title.
The Media Training Bible, available in paperback, Kindle and iPad, will help you build a less divisive brand than Donald Trump’s.