Monthly Archives: October 2016

US Elections – The Coward’s Pivot

hill-and-donThe third US Presidential debate yesterday was fascinating for many reasons, but most of all because it revealed Donald Trump, like all bullies, to be a coward; it also showed he’s capable of rational desperation.

Donald Trump performs better each debate – he’s better briefed, more mannerly, and more rational.  More of his sentences are completed.  Hillary Clinton continues to display superior intelligence, depth, understanding, and thoughtfulness.

The big debate take-away:

It’s been proven time and again: if you must commit resources to activating your base your campaign is in trouble: someone has persuaded Trump, because his campaign is so desperately failing, he must proclaim conservative Christian orthodoxy, and gun-ownership focussed orthodoxy, to persuade Republicans to bother to vote for him.  His debate performance wasn’t appealing to middle America – undecided, moderate and independent – when he talked so strongly about opposing abortion and stacking the US Supreme Court; he was talking to the Republicans who’ve seen him as a hypocritical libertine and dangerous bully, and weren’t voting for him.

Without them, he won’t just lose on November 8, he will be devastated, and the Republican Party’s other candidates with him.  Without them, the Democratic Party must take control of the Senate and the House of Representatives, and many of the State legislatures and Governorships that are up for election on the same day.

He is indeed a narcissistic libertine; he has certainly previously supported abortion rights; he’s a very recent and probably temporary convert to this kind of conservative agenda, and it has come at the cost of keeping the True Donald in the public eye.  At the end, lacking the courage of his own convictions, he’s prepared to adopt someone else’s.

His mealy-mouthed, half-unsaid, half-demand that a Supreme Court appointed by him should reverse Roe v. Wade, the most important Court decision about reproductive rights and obligations in US history, will have satisfied only the so-called right-to-life movement.  He lacked the courage to unequivocally say he wanted it overturned … he took the coward’s approach of trying to conceal the promises he’s made to the Evangelical Christian Right.

There was a flash or two of the Real Donald, the bully strip-mining the hurt and pain of communities outside the economic and social elites: he’s contemplating refusing to concede defeat if he loses, suggesting fraud on a massive scale, and implicitly threatening to use his campaign to destabilise Clinton’s legitimacy, and the legitimacy of the electoral system, beyond Election Day*.

Before the debate, Trump’s surrogates and advocates talked about him pivoting his campaign, away from the confused melange of messages past, and towards a “Drain the Washington Swamp” theme.  This debate performance, in contrast, was a pivot towards trying to save the down-ticket Republicans from the expected Clinton coat-tails.


Ethical Consulting Services partner Mike Smith is embedded within the US Presidential campaign, until US election day on 8 November.


  • The next day, appreciating the furore, and harm to his aspirations, this had caused, he issues a typically weaselly non-retraction that he’ll claim as a retraction when convenient.



Ethical Consulting: 612ABC this Thursday

hill-and-donIf all goes to plan, Mike Smith from Ethical Consulting Services will be live on Steve Austin’s Morning Program at about 10.30 am on Thursday 19 October, on 612 ABC Brisbane local radio.

Mike is embedded within the US Presidential campaign, until US election day on 8 November. and has been blogging about the campaign since early October.




US Elections – Explained, Sort Of

hill-and-donWhile Mike from Ethical Consulting Services is embedded in the US Presidential election campaign, he’s found a few articles that explain some of what’s going on.

Some of these might interest you, but feel free to suggest interesting articles of your own!

If you want some background on what’s going on this election cycle, try this article.

On the major differences between US elections and Australian Elections, try this one.

For a discussion about the impact of voluntary voting on US elections, this might be useful.

And here’s a summary of what it mans to have to rebuild a US Presidential campaign machine very four years.




US Elections – Hillary’s Coat-Tails?

hillary_clintonThe best evaluation of US Presidential Election polling says* Hillary Clinton is heading for a very solid win, possibly bigger than that of Barack Obama – that’s Nate Silver’s very credible blog at

Most US voters tend to vote a Party’s ticket on election day – that is, they choose who they’re voting for as President, then follow that Party’s ticket in the House of Representatives, the Senate, State Governor and legislature ballots, and further down the ticket – all elected on the same day.

This tendency to vote for a Party’s ticket is important because it means a strong showing by a Presidential candidate can help their Party achieve control of Federal and State Governments – and, conversely, a weak showing can harm a Party’s chances of power at other levels of Government.

That’s one of the reasons we can see many Republican candidates distancing themselves from Donald Trump right now – they’re judging Trump will do badly on Election Day 8 November, and that if they put distance between themselves and him it might make their job of re-election or election easier.  On the other hand, some Republican down-ballot candidates have a dilemma – they feel they need Trump’s supporters, to get over the line.

This summary from fivethirtyeight suggests the distancing strategy has been working: but on the other hand, the chances of the of the Democratic Party having a majority of the Senate has been increasing rapidly* since 9 October

If Hillary’s support continues to grow as it has in the first weeks of October, the Democratic Party’s strategy – and possibly hers as well – will turn from simply defending her Presidential candidacy, to trying to use the comparative strength of her polling, and the obverse rejection of Trump, to build Democrat prospects of controlling both Houses of their Congress, more Governorships and more state legislatures.

The message nationally will become “Hillary needs a Democrat House/Senate to support her program and get Washington out of the Republicans’ gridlock” or similar.  Less clunky and more smooth than my formulation, I’m sure.  On the ground in the campaign, we’re starting to see that message making its way into the media.

If you start to observe that kind of message coming from the Democratic Party and its candidates with any consistency, you can be sure they’ve become very confident Hillary will win comfortably, and they want to maximise the coat-tail effect.


* As at the date of writing, October 16, 2016, anyway.


(Half of the Ethical Consulting Services team – that would be Mike – is embedded in the US Presidential campaign, until Election Day 8 November.)




US Elections – Ethical Media Tarts?

hill-and-donFriday 14 November’s Today Extra program, on Channel 9* are expected to discuss Ethical Consulting’s Mike Smith’s trip into the heart of the US Presidential campaign, at around 9.20 am.

His campaigning activities have been reported on the ABC News website, here  Some of the comments on social media have been … interesting!

It follows Mike’s interview with Steve Austin on the 612 ABC Morning program on 5 October here, (this link expires a week after posting, apparently!).

Mike will be exploring Hillary Clinton’s campaign from the inside, and exploring the Presidential campaign from that perspective, up until US Election Day on Tuesday 8 November.


* Sadly not able to be watched outside Australia!




US Elections – New Every 4 Years

hill-and-donThey completely dissolve and re-form their Presidential campaigns every four years in the US, while in Australia the campaign machinery and personnel continue from one election cycle to another* – this is one of the big differences between Australian and US Election Campaigns.

This system in the US arises in large part because the Presidential campaign is so much a construct of the candidate, rather than the Party – based around the style and wishes of each individual candidate.

The downside of this system is the need to rebuild completely, and the capacity of a campaign to have to relearn hard lessons learned by previous campaigns.  I’ve seen that happen – one candidate’s campaign, four years after some inspired organising, had quite forgotten how to manage a particular and important aspect of campaigning.

Another downside is that campaigns have to re-learn the local terrain and quirks, and consultants have to be re-inducted all over again.

And it also builds a resentment amongst locals, that the Presidential campaign has come in over the top of them, and taken over their turf, again, without seeming interested in local knowledge, or employing locals.

There are two big upsides, though:

  1. a complete rebuild every four years clears away the bad habits of the past, makes it easier to innovate, and reduces the desire to prosecute the battles of the last political war, and
  2. Presidential candidates get an opportunity to build the campaign which best reflects their values, strategies and interests – and consistency between campaign and candidate brand is very important!

So, the feel is very different from Australia, and it’s the same with both major Parties.

Better or worse than Australia?  Maybe, on this issue, it’s simply different.


(Half of the Ethical Consulting Services team – that would be Mike – will be embedded within the US Presidential campaign, from mid-October: this year, US election day is 8 November.)


* With, in Australia, some uptake of new technology and some staff turnover, of course.




US Elections – Don’t Count Trump Out

hillary_clintonThough Hillary Clinton is today rated an 82.8% chance to win the US Presidency, it isn’t over until it’s over.  Though Donald Trump has shown himself unfit for office time and again, key supporters are deserting him daily, and his Party are thinking about doing the same thing, there are four weeks to go.

I strongly expect Hillary to win, because she is the best candidate who could and she’s way ahead, but she has vulnerabilities which can change the dynamic of the last four weeks:

Voting is voluntary.

For many reasons, most of them illegitimate but nonetheless felt and believed, plenty of Democratic voters are lukewarm about her.  If they don’t feel enthused enough to turn out to vote, there are states where she’s in trouble.

In the eyes of  many of Hillary’s supporters, Trump is so awful they may feel more motivated to vote, but what I observe is a feeling he’s so awful he can’t possibly win – “I mean no-one’s actually going to vote for him are they, so why should I bother to go and vote for Hillary?” – so they don’t need to bother.

And while Hillary’s remains to be tested, Barack Obama’s Get-Out-The-Vote machine was the best the US has ever seen: if Hillary can’t match it, can she get a big enough turnout to win?

Hillary can make mistakes.

Describing half of Trump’s supporters as “deplorables” was disgusting, wrong and a campaign disaster.  It wasn’t off-the-cuff, it was scripted.  A campaign that so misunderstands how to campaign as to do that, can make more, big, mistakes … but they might have learned from that one.

Hillary can believe the wrong thing.trump

She might truly believe half of Trump’s supporters are “deplorables”, which says she’s disconnected from the real world.  Research done independently on those who are voting from Trump says that in many cases they are people for whom the system isn’t delivering, for whom the American Dream is a nightmare.

They aren’t voting for Trump en masse because they all want to sow division and bile and hate as he does, they’re voting for a guy who they think will wreck the system that has lied to them, failed them, and failed their communities.  A campaign so off target about their opponent’s supporters has little chance of prising any of them off.

And, if you are that mistaken about why your opponent has supporters, you’re hardly likely to be focussed on addressing their issues – and powerlessness, imposed change, inequality, and unfairness are at the heart of the US failing to deliver for an enormous proportion of its citizens.

Hillary can say the wrong thing.

Describing half of Trump’s supporters as “deplorables” was a stupid thing to say, even if she actually believes it.  There are at least four things wrong with it.

First, you’ll never get people to change their opinions and support yours by abusing them, or authorising others so to do, as she did.  You only lock them in to opposing you forever – beyond just one election – and sow further seeds of division in a system already rife with intractability.

Second, the meta-message you send when you describe people as “deplorables” is that you think you are superior to them, which plays into the “aloof and elitist and not one of us” picture of Hillary and insider Democrats, which Republicans have so assiduously used to take working class votes away from Democratic Party candidates.

Third, it wastes valuable airtime and distracts your campaign from more important messages.  Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s recent discussion of Pauline Hanson and her One Nation Party were heading down a much smarter road.

Fourth, it makes campaign workers and down-ticket candidates think that’s the message they should be sending, which locks them into maximising the first two bad outcomes.

She won’t say “deplorables” again, and she’s sorry ever she did, but four weeks of draining campaigning is a long time for a campaign which has shown itself capable of such an error to make no more biggies.

The Russians are coming.  And Wikileaks.

They’ve both got more files and more emails to leak.  They both seem to want Hillary to lose, though I imagine the Russians might back off in exchange for a less aggressive Foreign Policy posture from Hillary.  The harmfulness to her campaign of what’s been leaked so far seems relatively inconsequential, but these leaks might be more important for the signal they send of how deeply they’ve both seen into her secrets – sending a message about what might yet be released.  Not knowing what they’ve got and when it might be released means we have to be open to the prospect that future leaks might significantly harm Hillary’s chances … and that she’s expecting it.

(Half of the Ethical Consulting Services team – that would be Mike – will be embedded within the US Presidential campaign, from mid-October: this year, US election day is 8 November.)



US Elections – Voluntary

hill-and-donClose observation of US Presidential election campaigns shows the enormous and negative impact of voluntary voting.  Starry-eyed* Australians say voluntary voting simply means voters won’t be forced to choose between candidates they dislike.

They’re wrong – the differences between voluntary and compulsory voting are far-reaching.

US election campaigns – Presidential particularly – must devote massive resources to enrolling voters** which raises the cost, which puts pressure on candidates and parties to be constantly in fundraiser mode.  Many senior campaign advisors say candidates should spend half their time fundraising.  The voluntary nature of voting puts even greater pressures on the system and contributes to making US elections the money-pit and money-deformed system they are.

Four weeks out from election day, every last bit of local activity on the ground switches from being about voter enrolment to nagging people to vote – forget any thought of a high-minded contest of ideas.  Every.  Last.  Bit.  Of.  Local.  Activity.

But the bigger problem is the way voluntary enrolment and voting change the discussion.

In Australia’s compulsory voting system, knowing*** every voter is likely to vote, candidates and campaign strategists have to generate in each voter merely a mild preference between, say, Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten.  In the US system, candidates and campaign strategists have to generate in each voter a preference so strong that it motivates them to vote, usually on a working day when they don’t have to bother – a motivating preference.

That’s done through the use of language and persuasion tactics much more extreme than we usually see in Australia – the kind of campaign Australians say they find revolting: blowing minor differences into massive schisms, the most hyperbolic descriptions, careful mischaracterisation of the other side, pressing questions as though they were fact, aggressive and divisive language, and so on.  They all go to minimise any prospect of bipartisanship, political dialogue, or cross-party cooperation, anywhere in the political system.

In seeking to de-legitimise the opponent, they trash the institution; to save the village from falling to the enemy, they destroy the village.

There’s another issue, too: there’s a contract involved in voting – an exchange of obligations, a reciprocity – that lends the outcome legitimacy, and burdens the victor with obligations.  Those who participate in society by voting have a stake in its institutions, behaviours and success, and in exchange for them participating in elections, society and in particular the elected Government owes voters respect and recognition.  Acknowledgement of reciprocal obligations and legitimacies is weaker, and hence the existence of those things is weaker, between Governments and non-voters.

These consequences, driven so much by voluntary voting, tell a substantial part of the story behind the complete inability of the US system of Government, to govern.




(Half of the Ethical Consulting Services team – that would be Mike – will be embedded within the US Presidential campaign, from today up to US Election Day on 8 November.)


* And some who just want electoral advantage

** Enrolment is voluntary, too.

*** Presuming rather than knowing, but that’s another discussion entirely.




US Elections – We’re on Radio


Steve Austin, 612 ABC

Steve Austin, compere of the 612 ABC Mornings programme has interviewed Ethical Consulting Services partner Mike Smith ahead of Mike’s trip to Philadelphia to volunteer inside Hillary Clinton’s Presidential campaign.  The interview was broadcast on Thursday 6 October.

You can access the interview here: but only for the next seven days.

The whole program is interesting, of course, but the interview with Mike Starts at about 2 hours and 16 minutes into the program – you can use the slider to move ahead to that part of the program.

Half of the Ethical Consulting Services team – that would be Mike – will be embedded within the US Presidential campaign, from 10 October: this year, US election day is 8 November.




US Elections – What’s Different?

hill-and-donThere are so many differences between US and Australian elections it’s hard to know when to stop listing them:

  • Whilst some Australian legislatures have four-year terms and some have terms fixed, most US elections happen on the first Tuesday after the first Monday, quadrennially (see;
  • In Australian, it’s prohibited – without special permission – for National, State or local Government elections to happen on the same day; in the US they mostly happen on that same day;
  • National election voting rules – polling places, hours of opening, early voting, postal voting, and so on – are in the US managed by States and counties, while in Australia the Federal and State Governments manage their own, respectively, and States generally manage local government elections;
  • It’s changing, but in most cases US States (sometimes counties) independently manage voter lists/electoral rolls, while in Australia the State and Territories, by agreement, have the Federal Government manage theirs;
  • Enrolment to vote is optional in the US and mandatory in Australia;
  • Voting is optional in the US, and mandatory in Australia;
  • In most parts of the US, enrolment to vote is partisan – i.e. you identify yourself publicly on the voter roll as a Democrat, Republican, independent and so on, while political alignment is private in Australia – and that partisan enrolment is a significant component of their primary and caucus system of choosing candidates;
  • In Australia, we vote on a Saturday (still a day off work for most people) while in the US it’s Tuesday, a working day; and
  • Election campaigns in the US are not, as they are in Australia, the cooperative meshing of a party machine’s structures and a leader’s staff – US campaign organisations and structures (for big elections anyway) are mostly completely rebuilt from scratch every four years, at the individual candidate’s direction.


Several of these points have quite big implications, and we’ll post articles about these in the coming days.



(Half of the Ethical Consulting Services team – that would be Mike – will be embedded within the US Presidential campaign, from mid-October: this year, US election day is 8 November.)