Category Archives: Leadership

US Elections – How Donald Trump Won

hill-and-donCompare Michigan and Pennsylvania.  Donald Trump clearly won the latter through a massive turnout of rarely-votes in the middle of the state (see and appears to have won the former by winning over previous Democrat voters (see – though more analysis will give a better picture.

That’s two entirely different ways of winning, in two important states.

Obama in the contested 2008 Primary had a successful State-by-State win plan: did Trump have the same in 2016?  These different patterns in two critical states suggest perhaps he did.

Kellyanne Conway was his final campaign manager and deserves major credit for his victory, but she took over only a scant 12 weeks out from election day – could she have created and executed such a state-by-state plan in so short a time?  Her predecessors, incompetent and possibly corrupt, seem unlikely to have had such insight and coherence.

Insider-tell-all books after the 2008 and 2012 election cycle answered many questions about internal strategy development – the 2016 version may tell us whether there was such a plan, or whether luck and happenstance played a bigger part.

However, Kellyanne achieved in less than three months something much more formidable: she created a new candidate and a new election, and hence a winning coalition, by taming Trump.

Before the Presidential Debates, Trump had set about making himself the outsider who could upturn politics-as-usual and fix a failed system.  His plain speaking, deliberately provocative and deliberately different from Republican orthodoxy, had built a loyal following amongst those alienated from the “American Dream”, but failed to broadly inspire evangelical Christians, and alienated moderate Republicans.  His support, lacking those two components of the Republican base, was insufficient for victory.

Just prior to the October 19 third debate, his language moderated, his insults decreased, and the content of his ad-hoc statements became more coherent.  At the third debate, he pivoted, pressed the case for the Republican Right’s hot-button policies, and they flocked to his banner.  Post-debate, he became increasingly a more polished and less alienating candidate.  Some of the moderate Republicans, contemplating voting for Hillary, moved back to the fold.

To the Republican base, Trump now looked – more-or-less – like a Republican.

Quite suddenly, the Clinton campaign faced a different candidate, who now led a coalition of the disaffected and the Republican base, to which they had no adequate counter.  It’s not even clear they noticed the new candidate.



(Half of Ethical Consulting Services (Mike) has been embedded in the campaign since mid-October.)



US Elections – 3 Phases, Now

hill-and-donThe future of this US Election cycle divides neatly into three phases:

  • between now and the close of polls;
  • from election night to the new President’s inauguration on 20 January 2017; and
  • after inauguration.

Phase 1 – up to close of polls

The next seven days will see a recently-better-controlled and more-focussed Donald Trump try to build on his gains of the last two weeks: victory is probably beyond his reach, but he’s now about saving the Republican Party from electoral devastation.

We’ll see Republicans actively campaign to suppress Democrat votes, and intimidate Democrats at polling places.

Will Hillary’s current lead, and voter revulsion at Trump, translate into effective Democrat control of Congress?

In the last two weeks, Hillary has slipped back in the polls by about 3%** nationally and if this trend continues through the week it will be a much tighter election (see and a much-reduced chance of coat-tails for the Democrats.

Phase 2 – election night to inauguration

A lot can happen between the TV networks*** declaring a winner on election night, and the Inauguration on 20 January 2017.  In 1861, most of the Confederacy announced their secession between Abraham Lincoln’s victory and his inauguration*, for example.

The victor’s speech matters – it sets the tone for their transition – as does the speech of the vanquished.  Will Hillary lay out a plan to heal the divisions made strikingly evident by this campaign?  Will Trump try to mobilise his supporters to defy US democracy and challenge Hillary’s legitimacy?

Will the new President have a supportive Congress to speed up and smooth their appointment of senior staff and transition to leadership?

Phase 3 – after inauguration

After they are inaugurated on 20 January 2017, the new President at last will begin the absurdly slow and complicated process of appointing senior Government officials.

Will ongoing challenges to the legitimacy of the new President undermine their capacity to govern and to lead?  Can the kind of illegitimate claims of “rigging” made by Trump be sustained beyond the short term?

Will the Republican Party’s grown-ups, so lacking in presence and responsibility for well over a decade, decide to take their Party leadership back from those who facilitated Trump, or do they lack the integrity?  If Trump wins, he’ll remake the Republican Party, and seek to remake the US, in his own image: there will be no room for more moderate voices, and the world will struggle to know how to respond.


* In March – these days it’s in January.

** as at 2 November 2016

*** Yes, on election night the TV networks call the shots.  The result isn’t formally declared until the Electoral College reports to Congress and Congress votes on their report at 1.00 pm on 6 January 2017.


Ethical Consulting Services’ Mike Smith is embedded in the US Presidential Elections until Election Day.



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.



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 – 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 – What’s Happening?

hill-and-donThis year, US Presidential election day is 8 November.

Half of the Ethical Consulting Services team – that would be Mike – is off, shortly, to embed within the US Presidential campaign, in Philadelphia.

This blog is nearly always the best summary of where the competing Presidential stand in the polls.  It’s easy to pick which states are critical, by checking out their maps and the blog.

Other elections are going on, as well:

Mike is hoping to blog about his experiences while he’s away, but these campaigns are hard work and he’s not promising.

And, why Philadelphia?  Pennsylvania is usually a highly competitive state for the Presidential ballot, so campaigners get to see world-class campaigning (Mike was there in 2004 for John Kerry’s campaign, and 2008 and 2012 for the two Obama campaigns); plus, the polls are very tight in Pennsylvania right now, and Donald Trump has previously said he’ll target the State.

This also means our “Last Week in Queensland” weekly blogs and newsletters will be having a break, from 4 October to 21 November.

Last Week in Queensland – 4 July 2016

last-week-logo-2The Federal Election Campaign continues to dominate news* because we don’t yet know who’s won, and Queensland’s Infrastructure Pipeline Report generates debate … and focus … last week in Queensland.

Federal Election

  • Even in Queensland we noticed there was a Federal Election – it’s been increasingly dominating the local news as we’ve got closer to Election Day.  At the time of writing, the state of play is this:
    • Most likely there will be a very small Liberal-National Party majority in the House of Representatives.
    • There’s some prospect of a minority Liberal-National Party Government with support from cross-bench Members of Parliament, and a small chance of a minority Labor Government.
    • Each of these is likely to produce quite unstable Government and a degree of daily political uncertainty.
    • The Senate will be beyond anyone’s consistent control and quite unpredictable, with a very big Senate cross-bench (maybe as many as 19, some commentators say) made up of a multiplicity of parties.
    • Final Senate results may not be known until August.
  • The ABC’s Queensland summary as of Sunday:
  • Ben Rau’s summary of the in-doubt seats
  • Tim Colebatch’s summary of the uncertainties




The Opposition and Crossbench

  • Opposition scores hits on State Government over Cross River Rail funding: see below under ‘politics’



Opposition Leader Tim Nicholls

Opposition Leader Tim Nicholls




Economy and Infrastructure



  • Queensland’s Parliament sits again from 19 to 22 July, and 26 to 28 July, for Estimates Committee hearings on the State Budget
  • The Queensland Parliament’s summary of what’s new, including newly-introduced and passed legislation, is here
  • The Federal Parliament has been prorogued until after the Federal Election on 2 July – see


Sleeper Issues?

Police Minister Bill Byrne

Police Minister Bill Byrne





* We’re not representing that this is a complete coverage of news in Queensland – it certainly isn’t, and it’s what we find interesting or important, and sometimes what’s unusual.  Some of the links will require subscriptions to read content.



Last Week in Queensland – 28 March 2016

last-week-logo-2News* was dominated by the success of the 4-year-Parliamentary-terms referendum, and Local Government election updates/fallout; and the Palaszczuk Government might have better relations with crossbench Members of Parliament, but they still have an agenda of their own!



Local Government

As counting continues:



Photo: Veni Markovski





Economy and Infrastructure




Sleeper Issues?




*     We’re not representing that this is a complete coverage of news in Queensland – it certainly isn’t, and it’s what we find interesting or important, and sometimes what’s unusual.  Some of the links will require subscriptions to read content.

Last Week in Queensland – 21 March 2016

last-week-logo-2There’s mild surprise Queensland now has four-yearly State elections, no surprise incumbent Councillors were mostly re-elected, little surprise the Palaszczuk Government’s legislative program is now harder to progress, and views are mixed about Queensland’s newly-released State Infrastructure Plan … and more!



The Opposition


Local Government



Brisbane's Lord Mayor Graham Quirk, re-elected

Brisbane’s Lord Mayor Graham Quirk, re-elected




Economy and Infrastructure



  • Queensland’s Parliament next sits from Tuesday 19 April 2016 to Thursday 21 April; there will be two weeks of further sittings in May before the State Budget on 14 June
  • The Parliament’s summary of what’s new, including newly-introduced and passed legislation, is here
  • The Federal Parliament was due to next sit – both Houses – on Tuesday 10 May 2016, but a special sitting is now scheduled for 18 April, and the budget sittings are now scheduled for 3 May – see


Sleeper Issues?


We’re not representing that this is a complete coverage of news in Queensland – it certainly isn’t, and it’s what we find interesting or important, and sometimes what’s unusual.  Some of the links will require subscriptions to read content.


Last Week in Queensland – 14 March 2016

last-week-logo-2Last week*, Labor’s minority Queensland Government became more of a minority, an early State Election became a stronger possibility, and the Government, labelled do-nothing, released their four-year Infrastructure Plan and five-year Women’s Strategy.  Horrific levels of child abuse were documented in remote communities.  Mixed signals about the state of the Queensland economy were received, as commentators started to acknowledge the infrastructure and Government spending needed far outstrip what’s available.  Chaos at Queensland Nickel means no-one yet knows whether it has a future, let alone what that future might be.



The Opposition






Economy and Infrastructure


Opening Parliament 2015Parliament

  • Queensland’s Parliament next sits this week, from Tuesday 15 March 2016 to Thursday 17 March, then not again until April 19.
  • The Parliament’s summary of what’s new, including newly-introduced and passed legislation, is here
  • The Federal Parliament next sits – both Houses – on Tuesday 15 March 2016 – see


Sleeper Issues?





* We’re not representing that this is a complete coverage of news in Queensland – it certainly isn’t, and it’s what we find interesting or important, and sometimes what’s unusual.  Some of the links will require subscriptions to read content.