12 Keys for Thought-Leadership Effectiveness

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAedAAAAJGQzYTM4NmI3LTkyZTctNDYwMC1hNGU1LThhZDUyNjUwYWU5NwThought leadership is a communications and marketing strategy (and tactic, for that matter) that companies, organizations and individuals have utilized to varying degrees of success for decades. Our nation’s founding fathers, in particular, even used an 18th century delivery system – the pamphlet – to extol ideas (and, in some cases, to engage in character assassination).

The strategy also is one of those concepts that everyone in an organization typically believes he or she understands completely and can easily “bang out” without much planning or, interestingly enough, actual “thought.” That belief, of course, sits right at the top of the list of most-common mistakes made when putting a though-leadership program together.

Setting that one aside for now, here are 12 other keys to ensuring your thought-leadership program is interesting, on the mark and effective.

  • Start curious/inspire curiosity. We want to expand the conversation, correct? We do that by expanding the conversation – and the thinking – right at the beginning of the process. Don’t begin “topic-mining” by assuming you already know everything about a particular subject. If you begin curious in developing your points of view you will inspire your readers to be curious as well. Elevate.  Make them think, encourage them to learn.
  • “I” comes before “M.” OK, OK. Sometimes it’s just alphabetical. Thought leadership is about ideas. It’s not about marketing. Present the way you think, how you view situations, how you go about creating solutions. Don’t try to directly sell business. The business will accrue to you if your ideas leave the desired impression.
  • Answer questions. Don’t know where to start? Think you don’t really have any unique ideas or points of view. The following will kick start your creative thinking: What are the questions your clients have been asking? What are the questions you wish they would ask because you have some great ideas? What are the questions you are scared to death they will ask and you don’t have answers? What are the questions they are answering for you because you haven’t been timely in getting your message out?
  • Focus on narrow/narrow your focus. There is nothing inherently wrong about having an interesting take on a single topic or issue. Start there. And, even after you start putting your thoughts together on what you perceived as narrow in the first place, go ahead and try to trim some fat. You’ll be able to narrow your focus and make your article even more poignant. Remember: the reader won’t remember if your article was too short, but he or she will remember if it strayed off topic.
  • Right-size and know targets. You can always zero in on your audience better than you know them right now. High likelihood: Whatever category you put them in today, there is a smaller subset that provides a clearer, more-informed perspective. Go small to go big – the tighter the size of your group, the more upside for positive results.
  • Align succinct messages. First, understand that your themes need to be business-oriented. Because you are not selling products but instead positioning thinking, your messaging needs to make the business case … tightly, clearly and on the mark.
  • Back up. Don’t retreat. Back up your points of view. You have several methods – facts, research, best practices … all of the above. OK, you have gone to the trouble to develop a point of view or protocol or observation. And you have developed tight messaging that conveys exactly what you want to say. Don’t leave it hanging out there without any support. Reinforce it to drive it home.
  • Timeliness/Relevancy. So, your POV is really very interesting to you, but will it be to potential targets? Timeliness and relevancy at least give it a fighting chance. And by timeliness, current and future are far more compelling than hearing about how you solved something in the past. As for relevancy: we’ve already tightened up your audience focus, right? Is the subject matter spot-on for that very specific group
  • Patterns/Trends/Commonalities. If you don’t find yourself using one of these words – or a reasonable synonym – in the first two paragraphs of your article, you probably should close the file, call timeout and rethink what you are doing. One-offs aren’t the stuff.
  • Restraint.  Seems like we shouldn’t have to include this one, but … control yourself – stay away from what you don’t know. Do you really have experience with the area you are discussing? Or, are you stretching? (If you find your article is filling up with Hamburger Helper, your answer to the second question probably is “yes.”)
  • Sticky links. Granted, you aren’t running a commercial or an ad. However, there does need to be a stickiness or linkage – or, better yet, a “sticky linkage” – between what you do, how you do it and the solutions your clients will need in the future.
  • C-Squared. Deliver consistently and consistency. When effective, thought-leadership pieces are issued on a regular basis and readers look for them on at least an ad hoc schedule. Likewise, when effective, the quality level – irrespective of author or topic – remains at the same high mark that comes to be associated with the campaign.

If your thought-leading program is heading in the right direction, most of these keys take care of themselves. But, it’s always worth running through the list. Your want to deliver an effective program and the right approach can get you the desired results.

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A New Use for “The No Asshole Rule”

nbc-fires-donald-trump-after-he-calls-mexicans-rapists-and-drug-runnersNine years ago, Bob Sutton, a professor at Stanford University, published a book, The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t.  The premise was pretty straightforward: don’t hire/surround yourself with assholes but, if you do, here’s how to survive.

As we move into the general election season, it’s a read that is well worth revisiting.  While his observations go to corporate and organization settings, it doesn’t take much effort on the part of the concerned reader to apply them to the 2016 presidential election.

So, without any additional setup, let’s revisit his work …

Sutton starts with a given: assholes typically are bad for other employees who work for and with them, and for the company or organization that enables them to exist.  Yep.  What makes him great, however, is his position that yeah, sure, sometimes assholes even are successful – but life is too valuable and too short to put up with them.

(By the way, Sutton has written several other books and his blog, which makes for a fun and informative read, is at bobsutton.typepad.com/…)

Sutton also puts forth two tests to determine if that person in question is an asshole:

•     Do people feel oppressed, humiliated, de-energized, or belittled by the person in question? In particular, does he make them feel worse about themselves?

•     Does the person aim his or her venom at people who are less powerful and not at those who are more powerful?

Now, to be sure, Sutton recognizes that everyone acts in these ways from time to time.  But he asserts that “certified assholes” have a different pattern.

“A person needs to display a persistent pattern, to have a history of episodes that end with one ‘target’ after another feeling belittled, put down, humiliated, disrespected, oppressed, de-energized, and generally worse about themselves,” he writes.  “Psychologists make the distinction between states (fleeting feelings, thoughts, and actions) and traits (enduring personality characteristics) by looking for consistency across places and times – if someone consistently takes actions that leave a trail of victims in their wake, they deserve to be branded as certified assholes.”

Or, perhaps, in this presidential year, as a “branded” asshole.

Sutton also says there are a dozen everyday actions that assholes utilize.  A few of them are worth citing.

  • Personal insults
  • Invading one’s “personal territory”
  • Threats and intimidation, both verbal and nonverbal
  • “Sarcastic jokes” and “teasing” used as insult delivery systems
  • Withering e-mail flames
  • Status slaps intended to humiliate their victims
  • Public shaming or “status degradation” rituals
  • Rude interruptions
  • Dirty looks
  • Treating people as if they are invisible

Sounds like we just revisited the primary season.  But don’t despair.  Although Sutton doesn’t believe assholes always are avoidable, or can be eradicated, he does offer a survival guide of sorts to help us cope.  A couple of his tips follow.

  • Reframing: Change How You See Things.  “Learning when and how to simply not give a damn isn’t the kind of advice you hear in most business books, but it can help you make the most of a lousy situation,” he writes.
  • Develop Indifference and Emotional Detachment.  Sutton writes: “Passion is an overrated virtue …, and indifference is an underrated virtue.  As Walt Whitman said, ‘Detach whatever insults your soul.’  I think this is a lovely, compact summary or the virtues of developing indifference to demeaning jerks in the workplace, or anywhere else for that matter.”
  • Look for Small Wins.  “If you can’t win the big war against the creeps, start looking for small battles that you can win, as the sense of control you gain will sustain your spirit,” Sutton advises.  “And if one minor victory after another begins to pile up, who knows – you might start a movement … where the pro asshole rule is slowly but surely replaced by the no asshole rule.”

And I’ll add a final one.  If you are writing about an asshole, don’t actually type out his name.

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Would a Timeout Work in This Election Season?

1-time-out-timer-stoolTime for a timeout?

Yes, the presidential candidates are not children getting cranky or refusing to share.  Yes, they are adults.  But recent actions and behavior in the long and uber-crazy primary season lead to only one conclusion.

Hill, Bernie, the Donnie, Teddy-Boy and John-John need to go sit in their respective quiet spots for a while and think about how they are behaving.

Hill’s playmate, New York Billy de Blasio, needs to find a corner, as well.

This past Sunday, Hill and New York Billy appeared at a political event and tried to impress the crowd by laughingly employing a scripted comedy sequence.

And why not?  These are funny people, right?

Noting that the mayor took a long time to give the former New York senator his endorsement, Hill said: “Thanks for the endorsement, Bill.  Took you long enough.”

Inexplicably, and with extreme tone deafness, New York Billy replied: “Sorry, Hillary, I was running on C.P. time.”

The audience reaction underlined the offensiveness of New York Billy’s remark, given that “C.P. time” not only is a racially insensitive abbreviation for “colored people’s time” but also is a remark that many had hoped had faded from use.

“The controversy couldn’t come at a more inauspicious time for Clinton,” writes Adam Howard on the NBC News website.  “… Bill Clinton has been in the hot seat this past week for public, racially charged clashes with Black Lives Matter protesters. Both Clintons have been increasingly under fire for the past vociferous support for a 1994 crime bill which has not been faulted for sky high incarceration rates, which has disproportionately impacted African-Americans.”

Timeout!

And then there’s Bernie, who was blasted last week by former Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren for his claim that Israel has killed more than 10,000 innocent Palestinians in Gaza.  On Sunday, when being interviewed on CNN, Bernie dismissed the criticism, but showed — surprisingly — that he didn’t know who Oren is.

“Who is Mr. Oren?” Mr. Sanders said after being asked about the criticism.

Oops.

Timeout!

This came atop their earlier “qualified/unqualified” squabble that was reminiscent of two kids screaming in the street.

Did so!  Did not!  Did so!  Did not!

They questioned each other’s bona fides to be president.  Bernie wondered about Hill’s integrity and Hill suggested that Bernie is not a “real Democrat.”

Timeout!

As for the Donnie: he is getting very cranky because he doesn’t like how others are playing.  He’s probably hungry or needs a nap.

“You saw what happened in Colorado,” he whined after his most recent defeat.  “It’s a fix. … It’s a rigged, disgusting, dirty system.”

And then there are the other kids with whom the Donnie hangs.  Noted Kirstan Conley in the New York Post: “Trump was introduced by Jennifer Crisafulli, who was fired on ‘The Apprentice’ and lost a job in real life after being criticized for comments about ‘two old Jewish fat ladies’ who she said were ‘jaded old bags.’”

Timeout!

Teddy-Boy, meanwhile, the self-described outsider with whom no one wanted to play, has become acceptable because … well, just because.  “If they gave out a report card for first-term senators, Cruz would get an F for ‘plays well with others’,” writes Jonah Goldberg in the Los Angeles Times in a column titled “Ted Cruz isn’t Donald Trump, so he’s good enough.”

Goldberg notes the irony that Teddy-Boy spent years building his reputation as the guy who wants to tear down the system, “and now it’s the system, not necessarily the voters, that may put him over the top.”

And now Teddy-Boy has accused the Donnie of threatening delegates; this was part of his response to the Donnie’s claims that Teddy-Boy used “gestapo” tactics to win in Colorado.

“That is a tactic of union thugs,” he said during the interview with Glenn Beck, reports ABC News.  “That is violence. It is oppressive. The idea that Donald is threatening delegates, we’re seeing that pattern over and over again. Donald needs to understand he’s not Michael Corleone, Donald needs to stop threatening the voters. He needs to stop threatening the delegates. He is not a mobster.”

Timeout!

John-John, meanwhile, is getting punchy because he has been talking – and saying nice things – for months, but no one is listening.  So he’s decided to go in a new direction.

“The Ohio governor’s speech at the Women’s National Republican Club in New York had all the trappings of a presidential affair, with ‘Hail to the Chief’ piped into the room and American flags prominently placed behind him,” wrote Eliza Collins in Politico.

And John-John was very critical of his opponents … for the first time.  “Some who feed off of the fears and anger that is felt by some of us and exploit it feed their own insatiable desire for fame or attention,” he said.  “That could drive America down into a ditch, not make us great again.”

He also said the other kids (ah, adults) are not playing nice and suggesting “disturbing” solutions and behavior, including religious tests for immigration, targeted neighborhood surveillance, draconian tariffs, and a dramatic rethink of NATO.

“I have stood on a stage and watched with amazement as candidates wallowed in the mud, viciously attacked one another, called each other liars and disparaged each other’s character,” he said.  “Those who continuously push that type of behavior are not worthy of the office they are seeking.”

Timeout!

But wait, the experts aren’t certain about the value of timeouts.

“Next time the need for discipline arises, parents might consider a ‘time-in’: forging a loving connection, such as sitting with the child and talking or comforting,” write Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., and Tina Payne, Bryson, Ph.D., in Time magazine.  “Some time to calm down can be extremely valuable for children, teaching them how to pause and reflect on their behavior.”

Talking and comforting?  Maybe we can work that into the upcoming debates.

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Sharing the Observations of My Mentors

x10593035A recent invitation to address senior public relations majors at Pepperdine University provided an interesting opportunity to review multiple nuggets of advice I had been told over the years from various mentors.  With more than four decades in the communications business – as a journalist, internal communications executive, external consultant, university instructor and in-house marketing professional — the review was pretty extensive.

And it brought back some fond memories of those who graciously shared their experiences with me.

In no particular order, these are the ones I discussed with the students.

Courage. Campaigns – presenting them, executing then, staying loyal to them – require courage.  Don’t hide from your advice.  Don’t devalue it.  Management consultants don’t … attorneys don’t … investment bankers don’t … but communications professionals sometimes do.  Too many offer their advice – written and verbal – wrapped in an apology.  Don’t do that.  Embrace it.  Defend it.

Honesty. Of course, being honest makes it that much easier.  Best piece of advice I ever heard given to a client:

At least once in your career, you will need to make a difficult decision because your prospective client — or your internal colleague – will not understand that he or she has a “problem” … and it isn’t a PR problem.  But he or she will want a PR solution.  You will need to tell this person or group of people the truth.

Another issue relating to honesty: Statement, truths, assertions, denials — all can have a short shelf life. So, consider carefully what you are saying today. Best practice? Stick with “real-time truths” that aren’t dependent upon gimmicks. Stay away from “snapshot true,” “de facto true,” or “aspirationally/ prospectively true.”

Elevate. Don’t dumb down your communications.  Instead, aim high.  Don’t confuse this advice with developing clear, easy-to-understand communications – I am not disputing that maxim.  But I am making the point that you need to give stakeholders – and your client or employer – the benefit of the doubt and provide them with you best effort.  And that means your best thinking.

And then you need to own it.  Every document you write, including early drafts, has your name on it. Your professional brand is being created or altered. An artist doesn’t sign a painting until it is as good as he or she believes it can be. You should apply the same standards to any piece of work that has your name on it.

Identify the Decision-Makers.  Who are you talking to?  Either in writing on in person?  Who are you pitching or presenting that campaign plan to: banker, CEO, marketing head, PR head, business-unit leader, another consultant?  Sometimes we know.  Often, we do not know.  And yet we need to hit the bull’s-eye.

With a written proposal: is your written voice the appropriate voice?  Are you hitting the right hot buttons for the decision-maker?  Are you hitting the right hot buttons for the implementer, who may in fact not be the decision-maker?  Do they even have the same hot buttons?  And, if this is an in-person presentation, how do you play the various persons in the various seats around the table?  How do you make eye contact?  When do you direct one section of your presentation to a particular person?

Understand Their Reality. Step inside their situation and circumstance to see the challenge or opportunity more clearly and accurately.  Don’t just apply “outside-in” thinking … take your thinking and apply it to their perspective. Walk in their shoes for a while so your campaign can become a blend of your expertise and their reality.

Make It Easy.  Look, you want to get hired, or you want your proposal to be selected.  Don’t make it more difficult than it needs to be.  You have the power to make their decision easier by drawing clear distinctions.  Remember: they don’t always review your proposals with an uncluttered mind … if they are going through your proposal in four unconnected readings, you better make sure that it isn’t War and Peace.

Alignment.  We are all communicators.  But we need to remember that our clients or employers have a commercial business they are trying to run.  Understand the business rationale.  Remember: the business can get ahead of communications from time to time, but communications can never get ahead of the business.  Understand the business/commercial objective … then develop a communication strategy that aligns with it.

Focus.  Communications planning can be complicated … but sometimes it can be simpleMany factors go into the funnel of the meat grinder.  Make sure far fewer come out the other end as recommendations.  Do a few things well, with impact and the ability to be measured.  And make sure they link together.

The Fork in the Road.  A communicators is not always a strategist.  And I underline the following: we don’t always want to be an implementer.  But, a lot of the time, we need to be both – to get hired, to get a campaign approved or to get the job doneThe balance is critical – there’s a push and pull.  And it’s never is the same from one client to another.  That’s why those who tell you this is a “template” business are all wrong.  Stay as far away from them as possible.

Visualize.  Your mind’s eye is a valuable tool in this business.  You can train it to be very helpful because you need to visualize just as much as you need your client to visualize.  Take the time to visualize execution and results.  You’ll be surprised how much you’ll be able to run a quality-assurance test on what you are recommending.  Oh, and if you are presenting, try to get your prospective client to visualize – or help the group along with a show-and-tell that demonstrates what results might look like.

What-Ifs.  In addition to visualizing strategy, approaches and outcomes, you should also scenario-plan how your recommendations will be received.  Prepare for the questions and inevitable push back.  Ask yourself how you would receive the recommendations you are making.  Biggest mistake: recommending something they already are doing or that has failed in the past.

Observations Without Implications.  You are going to write and present programs and campaigns filled with observations and conclusions.  If I am your boss or prospective client, I will not consider you for a moment if those observations don’t also include implications.  It doesn’t matter how you present them, as long as they are in there, are clear and are compelling.

Sequencing.  Linear thinking may help you analyze the situation and develop your program.  But linear thinking doesn’t always track when laying out a strategy to an executive with a short attention span or who is reading your proposal in fits and starts.  Readers, listeners and especially clients are impatient. A linear structure makes them wait. Don’t make them wait. Tell. Explain. And then tell again.  Remember that inverted pyramid you learned about years ago?  In addition to working in news stories and news releases, it’s helpful in your presentation structure as well.

Messaging.  Our business is built upon several cornerstones, including messages that connect, clarity of thought and connecting with audiences.  To me, messages are the most interesting aspect of what we do.  Messages.  Messages.  Messages. You won’t go wrong if that mantra repeatedly races through your head in your professional career.

And remember: Messages are not boilerplate phrases. They are not slogans. They are not bumper stickers. Instead, they are the key themes that enable you to touch your audiences in a way that resonates personally with them. Develop them carefully.  Employ them consistently.

Clarity.  Insist upon it—in your thinking, in your writing, in understanding your role.  Think in bullet points.  Talk in bullet points.  Write your bullet points first, even though they may belong in the middle of the document.  You can listen in bullet points, too. Teach yourself to translate the talk around the room into bullet points before your process it.

Windows, Not Mirrors. An effective PR program communicates “through a window” — that’s where the audiences and stakeholders are, right?  In contrast, “mirror communications,” which is practiced far too frequently, means you are speaking to yourself. You might enjoy it, but it doesn’t work.

Keep a Key Point in Your Pocket.  This is especially true in face-to-face presentations.  Save something you can use at the right time.

  • The A to the tough Q
  • The killer anecdote
  • The name drop that will seal the deal
  • The instant win you can achieve

The Hairy Arm.  This legend began with art directors in advertising agencies before making its way over to public relations.  It can be helpful, both with your boss and your client because, in either case, they want to find at least one thing wrong with your idea, your document or your train of thought.  And you, of course, don’t want to see any of your ideas get killed.  So put in a “hairy arm” that can be called out and removed (or, in the PR rendition, a redundant or over-the-top concept that is 100% certain to gain the notice of your boss or client).  Both sides will end up happy and you won’t lose anything from your proposal.

That’s it.  Use at your own discretion.  Those who came before me will thank you.

They Are What We Thought They Are

Republican DebateIowa’s behind us. And the New Hampshire GOP primary is on the doorstep.

Some clarity is emerging. As are some confirmations of earlier thoughts. Throw in some random observations.

And here we are..

Donald Trump’s winner “record” is littered with quits and walkaways. Stay tuned! This guy could take his ball and bats and go home at any time.

His history defies what he says about himself. He penchant for saying “forget about it” remains a wildcard.  Writes Ben Schreckinger of Politico Magazine:

Like many successful businessmen, the real estate developer and GOP pack leader – who often espouses his disdain for “losers” — does not see every venture and contest through to the bitter end. Throughout his career, Trump has demonstrated wild enthusiasm at the start of big projects, and ruthlessly pursued a profit agenda that, in many cases, has led him to ditch the deal when the risks, whether financial or reputational, start to outweigh the prospective reward.

From a casino in French Lick, Indiana, to a dispute with condo owners in Panama and even in renewing “The Apprentice” reality show on NBC, Trump has time and again spotted the point of diminishing returns and quit.

Ted Cruz is a shameless chameleon.

In Sunday’s New York Times, Frank Bruni vividly tells us how Cruz easily shifts from one position to another. In particular, he cites Cruz “supporting” Carly Fiorina’s attempt to be included the GOP primary in that state.

Noting that New Hampshire has a female governor and two female senators and that it would be a safe bet that “women will play an especially consequential role” in Tuesday’s vote, Bruni writes:

In the end Fiorina failed in her bid, but Cruz succeeded in presenting a version of himself that I’d not yet had the pleasure of meeting: the knight in sliming armor.

Marco Rubio is Johnny Cale, the Ralph Macchio character from the The Outsiders.

Remember Johnny, smaller and slighter than the rest – always hustling to keep up? Always wanting to prove himself to the bigger guys? Here’s a portion of the character’s description from IMDb website.

If you can picture a little dark puppy that has been kicked too many times and is lost in a crowd of strangers, you’ll have Johnny. He is the youngest .. and the smallest. He has big black eyes in a dark tanned face. His hair is jet-black … He is the gang’s pet and everyone’s kid brother.

We thought Jeb Bush was a general-election candidate, not a primary candidate.  Now we know it.

It isn’t complicated. It didn’t work in his own party, which is interesting because you have to believe his centrality is made for a general. Patricia Murphy of Roll Call tries to explain what the end of the campaign looks like.

But the men and women going out to see Jeb in New Hampshire weren’t ready to say goodbye yet. They defended him the way you’d defend an old friend, calling him “honest,” “decent” and “a good man.” His no-frills approach could play well among New England independents on Tuesday and more pragmatic Republicans in South Carolina. Jeb promised that’s where he’s going next this time with his brother, George, along.

Republican voters continue to miss the fact that John Kasich is, and continues to be, the adult in the GOP room.

The Ohio governor has bet the farm on his showing in New Hampshire, not unlike the other two governors (Bush and Chris Christie) who are trying to stake out the establishment lane – if one still exists — in the Republican Party.  Write Julie Pace and Thomas Beaumont of The Washington Post:

Kasich has prided himself on avoiding direct criticism of his rivals during the campaign, and kept up that strategy both in the debate and as he campaigned Sunday. “Wouldn’t it be great if we could win being positive?” Kasich said on Fox News.

Still, one has to ask: Does Kasich’s centrality and moderate tone make him a walking-talking anachronism? Mark Z. Barabak writes in the Los Angeles Times:

Win or lose, John Kasich will go down in New Hampshire as something of an anomaly in this most aggrieved political season.  The Ohio governor has campaigned for president on a message of relentless optimism, shunning the dark rhetoric, apocalyptic vision and slashing style of many fellow GOP hopefuls

Chris Christie’s really not a Jersey guy.

First of all, Jersey guys don’t tell you they are Jersey guys. Instead, they intentionally bump into going through the men’s room door or they stick their middle finger out the car window as they race by you. They also don’t root for the Dallas Cowboys instead of the Giants.

Jersey guys also don’t wait until this late in the campaign to chew up another candidate with attacks and sarcasm. A real Jersey guy would never have stood at that podium on the far side of the stage for this long.

Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight points out that Christie also didn’t take on Trump and allowed him, instead, to be the big dog. And that’s not Jersey.

But for Christie, whose yard signs boast of a candidate “telling it like it is,” the biggest problem of all might be Trump. Trump has usurped the Christie brand of being the unrepentantly loudmouthed alpha male who will tell you the truths that other candidates avoid.

Ben Carson … how in the world has he lasted this long?

What was interesting – and worthy of a few Google searches — in the beginning soon became bizarre and inexplicable.

David A. Graham in The Atlantic notes that Carson not only defied much of the conventional wisdom about how long his campaign would last, but that he also spent a lot of money doing so.

The surprise for Carson is perhaps not that he is fading as the race reaches the actual voting stage — it’s how it took so long. In a cycle when pundits’ many predictions have been proved wrong, it was actually fairly easy to guess that Carson, a first-time candidate with a great personal appeal but mixed-up policy positions, would end up near the back of the pack. The question is how he managed to rise and then fall back to earth.

Carly Fiorina is the GOP’s Martin O’Malley — and vice versa.

It’s all been an audition for either the vice presidential nod, or at least a role in a future Republican administration – or, much like Carson, to help promote a book. She’s already denied it, as Rebecca Leber of the New Republic wrote last year, but … c’mon!

Her latest book, Rising to the Challenge, came out the same week in May that she announced her candidacy. Many believe Fiorina is vying to be the vice presidential pick (she’s a long shot for that, too), which she denies.

So, at the end of the day, we are left quoting ex-Arizona Cardinals coach Dennis Green:

They are what we thought they are.

What Trump Might Say If He Loses Iowa

GTY_donald_trump_iowa_fair_2_jt_150815_16x9_992So, maybe the most intriguing thing isn’t whether Donald Trump will lose in Iowa.  To me, it’s what he might say to explain away a caucus loss.

He is, after all, the man who once told The Wall Street Journal that defeat is not an experience he has ever had.

“I’ve never lost in my life.”

That assertion, of course, is debatable (oops!), depending on how one views bankruptcies, failed football teams, defunct airlines, marriages and any number of other endeavors. However, if Iowa (or some other early decision state, for that matter) delivers a loss … well, it’s a safe bet we would hear a lot about “morons,” “losers” and “overrated” competitors, commentators, writers, systems – and who knows what else.

“Third-rate” might also find its way into his comments, given what he had to say about Megyn Kelly on Tuesday while first telling us that he wasn’t going to participate in Fox’s Thursday night GOP debate.

“I’m not a fan of Megyn Kelly.  I think she’s a third-rate reporter.”

Setting aside Trump’s view of Megyn Kelly, this whole Fox thing is interesting from another standpoint. Well, from a purely hypothetical standpoint, that is.  One could posit that, in boycotting the debate, Trump actually is cleverly hedging his bets on Iowa and setting up Fox and Roger Ailes as potential objects of blame if he comes up short in Iowa.

At midweek, Trump was saying the organization caused him to bail on the debate, not Kelly herself.

“It was the childishly written & taunting PR statement by Fox that made me not do the debate, more so than lightweight reporter,”

So, in the event of an Iowa loss, here’s how it might sound: “Fox, Ailes and this third-rate bimbo Kelly have been trying for months to stop me.  And, incidently, this has been very clear to me and people all over the country who back me.  What they did with that stupid debate cost me here tonight in Iowa.  These morons are losers – and, I can assure you, they are vindictive.”

Sound feasible?

Apart from the outright insults, however, there are hints in Trump’s history that may portend other messages he could convey on Monday night if the caucus-goers don’t line up in his favor. Surprisingly, he actually has been quite reflective from time to time in the past when discussing the concept of failure.

“What separates the winners from the losers is how a person reacts to each new twist of fate.”

“Sometimes by losing a battle you find a new way to win the war.”

So, if he chooses to go in that direction, those quotes suggest that he might emphasize his record as a winner and inform all of us that he not only is going to re-double his efforts, but that he’s also going to employ super-tactics that only he has available to him.

It’s also highly likely he will try to claim victory through some re-imagined look at the numbers, or simply spin defeat into victory by characterizing his performance as a win “when you factor in A, B, C and D.”

Let’s step back to 2004, when Trump faced his third corporate bankruptcy. His Trump Hotels and Casinos Resorts was in trouble – and this was big.  The company controlled the Trump Taj Mahal, Trump Plaza and Trump Marina (formerly Trump’s Castle) casinos in Atlantic City, as well as a riverboat casino in Indiana.

To Trump, the bankruptcy was “really just a technical thing” that affected only a minimal fraction of his net worth. As he told the Associated Press:

“I don’t think it’s a failure, it’s a success.”

Footnote — Trump needed to inject $72 million of his own money to help keep this successful restructuring intact.

And then there was Trump Mortgage, which very few of us remember. When it hit the skids, Trump noted that he didn’t have an ownership stake in what amounted to a mere licensing deal.

“The mortgage business is not a business I particularly liked or wanted to be part of in a very big way.”

Let’s get ready for the political version of this statement – “I never really thought I would get this far. I entered the campaign to make some important points, not to be elected president. I’m too busy making billions of dollars. Let these losers waste their time on this.”

Two other possibilities also loom large.

The first is that Trump will simply flip out, a scenario laid out recently by FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten.

“The question is whether a campaign all about ‘winning’ can take losing. Trump hasn’t lost yet, and the few times he’s gone down in the polls, he’s gone bonkers.”

The second scenario, from the The New Yorker, is that he might just get to the point where he is bored with the process and the people he’s hanging with.

“In the first debate, Trump’s presence on the stage with ‘real’ politicians elevated him, but at this point the setting would diminish anyone. The debates are no longer what Trump might call a classy venue.  Fox’s announcement of the lineup, shortly before Trump stormed off, likely didn’t help. Rand Paul, who had been excluded last time because of low poll numbers, made it back onto the main stage, for a total of eight participants. In a well-run reality show, the field is quickly winnowed down. This one is getting bigger. And so Trump went off to look for a more exclusive club, at his own rallies in Iowa and, soon, everywhere.”

We can only hope.