One of my favorite people in all of Washington is a guy named Mike McCurry. Mike and I do three or four two-man shows around town a year: The Republican (me) and the Democrat (Mike) and we’ve gotten pretty good at it.
I raise Mike’s name today because he did something in 1998 that I believe might serve Republicans not named “Trump” running for offices not named “President.”
This story might not be perfect in all its facts, but it is correct in its thrust and effect. In January 1998 President Bill Clinton – for whom McCurry was Press Secretary – was accused of “having sexual relations with that woman, Monica Lewinsky” (to use Clinton’s own words).
It will not surprise you to learn that the press corps wanted to ask about nothing else during the daily mid-day briefings on behalf of their readers and viewers who wanted to talk about nothing else. The official Administration line was that the President was doing the work the American people had elected him to do and wasn’t spending all that much time on l’affaire Lewinsky.
That was nonsense, of course, but it was McCurry’s job to move the daily news cycle away from the scandal and toward whatever good works the Administration was doing.
He took this course: He said, in effect, “You can ask me about this for an hour a day, every day, and I won’t talk about it. If you need information you have to call Lanny Davis [if not Lanny, it should have been].” McCurry continued, “If you want to ask about the million other things this Administration is doing on daily basis, I will be happy to discuss any of those items.”
After about a week, the press corps realized McCurry was serious about not talking about Lewinsky and they stopped asking about it (mostly) during the daily briefings.
Years later Mike explained: “There are 100 different ways to be double-parked in the no comment zone.”
There are three ways to look at the Trump campaign as it affects yours. All require you understand your constituents well enough to know which applies to you. If you are in doubt, stop reading this right now and go to the supermarket, stand at the front doors, and ask the people going in and coming out.
Trump is helpful to your campaign. What this means is Trump is likely to win your city, county, district or state and you are perfectly happy to draft in his wake all the way to being sworn in next January. If this describes you, then buy a supply of “Make [insert city or state here] Great Again” baseball caps and have a good campaign.
Trump is harmful to your campaign. I strongly urge you to adopt variant of the McCurry Principle: “You want to talk about Trump, call New York. You want to talk about fixing [insert appropriate issue here] ask me.
You have to be serious about it. If you allow yourself to get drawn into a conversation about Trump on Monday about something he said over the weekend, you will not be permitted (by anyone worth the price of a reporter’s notebook) to slide off talking about him on Thursday.
You can’t pick and choose which of the latest rants to discuss. It’s all-in, or lay your cards down.
If you work hard at this, rather than crashing into Jupiter (the Trump campaign) next November, but you can use it like NASA has done many times, as a “gravity assist” maneuver. You use the Trump campaign to demonstrate that even as a Republican “I’m not him” and actually pick up speed (votes) as you zoom past Trump.
A third option is: I’m so good at this I can talk about Trump. I can agree with him when I do, and disagree with him when I don’t.”
You’re not and you can’t.
For the second time in a month, let me point you to the fate of the comet Shoemaker Levy-9. Rather than using Jupiter for a gravity assist, the comet crashed into the surface, made a big splash, but was never heard from again.