Election Insight: Republican Perspective
Every four years, Americans come together to elect a president. While every presidential campaign is essentially an argument about who is truly fit for the highest office in the land, the 2020 election promises to be more bitter and contentious than most that have gone before it. Both Republicans and Democrats have already surfaced their main talking points, and the barbs being tossed back and forth will likely become only sharper as we move closer to November.
To get the Republican view of the contest so far, GLG asked Scott Jennings, a CNN Political Contributor who has advised former President George W. Bush, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and scores of other Republican politicians, a few questions. Earlier, Scott participated in a GLG Roundtable with Robby Mook, former Presidential Campaign Manager for Hillary Clinton, where they both shared in-depth insights, each from their unique point of view. Scott’s answers to our questions appear below.
This election year, vote-by-mail is likely the way many people will cast their ballots. What are some of the pros and cons of mail-in voting and how will that impact get-out-the-vote efforts within the Republican Party?
I think it greatly depends on the state. Some states already rely heavily on voting by mail, and some have little history with it. Culturally, Democrats embrace voting early and voting by mail more than Republicans in most states. The polling on it is clear— look at the split of people who are planning to vote by mail in the presidential election. The vast majority are going for Biden. But that doesn’t mean the GOP should give up on it. If there are new avenues for voting, either early of by mail, Republican campaigns should try to use it and not dissuade people. I do think in some areas there could be fewer polling places than usual, so you need to make sure your people can vote whenever and wherever they can. There are some rural areas where polling places could be scarce, and those traditionally go for Republicans. So, you want to make sure people in those rural areas know all their options to casting ballots.
How would you define the Republican platform in this election? What are the key issues at stake for Republican-base voters?
If you want a solid economy and safe neighborhoods, vote for us. Pretty simple. “Make American Normal Again” should be the slogan because I think that’s all anyone wants. To go back to work, for their kids to go back to school, and for a return to life as we knew it before COVID. Republican-base voters still care about base issues — abortion, immigration, the Second Amendment — as well.
What would you expect to see as key policy priorities in a Trump second term?
Based on his convention remarks, I’d expect more conservative economic policies and a focus on school choice. Truthfully, the president hasn’t fully embraced a robust platform the way I think he should as he seeks another four years. Neither has Biden, of course, because he wants a referendum on character and empathy and not issues. So, I am not sure either party has done a great job telling people where they will take the country four years from now.
The COVID-19 pandemic, ensuing economic recession, and ongoing civil unrest promise to be key talking points for both parties during the remainder of the campaign. How do you expect these conversations will evolve as we get closer to November?
Democrats want to talk about coronavirus as a Trump failure; Republicans want to talk about it as an unpredicted emergency that would have happened no matter who the president was. On the economy, Democrats want to blame Trump for the economic hardship largely caused by the COVID lockdowns strongly preferred by Democratic governors, and I don’t think people will find that argument persuasive. Republicans should talk about the economy as bouncing back (which it is) and positioning Biden as someone who will raise taxes and enact slow-growth or no-growth policies. Regarding civil unrest, Republicans will argue that Democratic mayors and governors are too weak to stop them, and that Biden would implant that mindset into the White House. Democrats argue it is all Trump’s fault, although I am not sure people believe that.
It strikes me that the key demographic issue plaguing Trump is the huge gender gap. Women and men are badly split on this election, but the 15- to 20-point gender gap is something Trump must close. Also, remember, Trump can do worse than he did in 2016 in terms of the national popular vote and the Electoral College and still win reelection.
About Scott Jennings
Scott is the Founding Partner of RunSwitch Public Relations, Kentucky’s largest PR and public affairs firm, providing senior-level communications, media relations, and crisis management counsel to clients the world over. Scott’s unique ability to analyze data and reconcile it with gut-level political instincts makes him a valuable contributor to clients and to CNN, which made him an on-air Political Contributor in June 2017.
The foundation of Scott’s career is journalism and understanding how information flows in our complicated media ecosystem. He started over 20 years ago as a reporter and news anchor in Louisville, Kentucky, and today, in addition to his work for CNN, he writes columns for the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and the Louisville Courier-Journal, among others. Scott has appeared on countless radio and television programs and is one of the most quoted political analysts in the country.
Scott served in four presidential campaigns and in numerous federal and state races. He served in key roles for President George W. Bush’s campaigns in 2000 and 2004, before becoming Special Assistant to the President for Political Affairs. Scott’s White House portfolio involved political appointments, including roles in confirming two Supreme Court Justices (Roberts and Alito). He advised on the President’s domestic travel and briefed the President, Vice President, and senior-level White House officials. He advised the campaigns of Mitt Romney in 2012 and Jeb Bush in 2016.
After leaving his service to President Bush in 2007, Scott moved home to Kentucky, where he launched a successful public relations and affairs practice advising clients ranging from Fortune 25s to small nonprofits. Scott’s greatest skill is distilling complex issues into digestible messages built for the intersection of public policy and the modern communications environment.
Scott has continued his role in Republican politics, helping reelect U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (’02, ’08, ’14) and Congressman Brett Guthrie (’08-present). Scott has written speeches and other content for numerous political leaders on a range of topics and is regarded as one of Leader McConnell’s top outside political advisors. In 2019, Scott crafted the television creative for Daniel Cameron, Kentucky’s new Attorney General and the first African American elected to a standalone statewide office.
Scott was born on October 26, 1977. He grew up in Dawson Springs, Kentucky, and graduated from the University of Louisville in 2000. He was a Resident Fellow at the Harvard Institute for Politics in 2018 and now serves as an Adjunct Lecturer in the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, teaching a course called “Modern American Political Campaigns.” Scott’s course is one of the most popular in the Kennedy School. He is also a Guest Lecturer at Tufts University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and is a Pritzker Fellow at the University of Chicago Institute of Politics in the fall of 2020.
Scott is married to the former Autumn Stiff of Whitesville, Kentucky, and they have four sons: Everett (11), Winston (6), Thatcher (4), and Harlan (2). The family rescued Rufus the basset hound in 2011 and Baxter the terrier in 2019. The gang resides in Prospect, Kentucky, where they raise a flock of backyard chickens.