Long-time CG&G visitors know that my day job is a partner at a national public relations agency based in Washington. Today I’m posting in that capacity.
Communications-wise, the president needed to do one basic thing last night: provide congressional Democrats with the testicular fortitude to keep moving ahead with health care reform.
There were only two target audiences: House and Senate Dems and their constituents. GOP members were largely irrelevant.
And there were two primary tasks: force the other side to start responding to what health care proponents were saying rather than initiating the conversation, and debunk some of what the White House said were myths about health care reform.
In these communications terms, the speech completely succeeded. Although polls taken immediately after an event are not always the best measure, the CNN poll showed a substantial gain for the president’s position among those who watched the speech. The increase likely was far more than the White House expected and definitely enough to be comforting to Democrats. And the instant CNN results were validated by a Democracy Corps poll.
(Note: CNN says that its survey included more Democrats than Republicans and that skews the results somewhat. In this case, however, a great result from a poll of Dems is what the White House needed given the target audience.)
The key will be the next 96 hours. Bill Clinton made a similar speech on health care that rallied the troops for a few days before the shine wore off, so we should all watch to see the results of polls taken over the weekend and reported next Monday. Also watch what the White House does to intensify the instant results from last night. Are there follow-up rallies around the country? Who appears on the Sunday talk shows, what do they say, and how is it perceived? Most important…do one or more previously undeclared high-impact Senate members and other influentials announce their support for health care reform and, therefore, show continued momentum towards the president?
One final note: Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) shouting out during the speech that the president was lying may very well be a turning point in the health care debate. It may not hurt Wilson at home, but it likely emboldened some Senate Democrats in ways that the president could not have done on his own. Wilson was doing the health care reform equivalent of “hiking the Apalachian Trail.”
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