Professor Hoffman discusses Politics and the 2016 Election

On November 11, 2015, Professor Adonis E. Hoffman, J.D., Adjunct Professor, Communication, Culture & Technology (CCT) spoke with Angela Hart, second-year graduate student, Communication, Culture & Technology (CCT), at Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., on politics, the 2016 presidential election, and social media.

What are your thoughts on the current state of politics?

Now we have the fourth GOP presidential campaign, we see how these candidates have adjusted the way they communicate with the voters based on, I’m sure, their own internal assessments, their own internal barometers of what is connecting and what’s not connecting, but they also are getting, I’m sure, a lot of feedback, interactive, so social media is playing a key role in the basic building blocks of how these people communicate with the folks that they want to talk to, the audiences.

Do you find one social media platform to be more impactful than another?

Well, I think there are two sort of instant feedback, so Twitter is an instant feedback as a tremendous barometer of what is happening, what is trending, not only what is trending, but, I tweeted, for example, last night watching and which I normally don’t do in real time but I found myself just compelled. So I tweeted, I’m listening to Rand Paul and I thought, “Rand Paul if off the wall” – I thought, you know, this rhymes – “Rand Paul is off the wall when it comes to National Security” because he wants to spend no money on or not very much money on National Defense and that to me is a huge issue in this day and age and, certainly, in this upcoming presidential election so I just couldn’t help myself. So with Twitter exploding, I’ve got to think that there’s a lot of Facebooking going on these days with these candidates as well but I’m not quite sure how that trends.

What would you think about SnapChat and Instagram? It is harder to use those platforms in this presidential election in a manner.

It is, I think so. I’m not sure if they lend themselves to this particular expression of broadcast television so, but again I don’t know what the campaigns are doing so the campaigns, I’m sure, are reaching out in a significant way and I would imagine that they are doing what they need to do there; it’s fascinating to watch.

Have you found any particular candidate to be successful with their online platform more so than any other?

Clearly, I think Trump is doing very well because he’s so adept at it; I think Carson, apparently, is doing well and so is Rubio…I think Hillary is head-and-shoulders above everybody; she’s got such great mechanisms so she’s got a wonderful team of people, a framework in place, and I know Bernie Sanders is doing well, also. I’ve just been focusing on the Republicans because there’s so much activity there. I think that Hillary, Bernie Sanders, the Democratic nomination is almost a programmed conclusion. Obviously, anything can happen but I think it’s a foregone conclusion that she is the candidate. Now, when you talk about the Republicans, that’s the most interesting event to observe and we don’t know what’s going to happen.

Christie wasn’t in the lineup last night and, now, you have so many candidates to choose from. Do you have any thoughts on who you think is leading the pack?

Well, I think from just looking at the polls so, again, you’ve got Carson, Trump, and Rubio’s gaining in a significant way I think for his campaign, I think he certainly stays in. Cruz did himself a pretty good favor, yesterday, he comported himself well, he came across as very rational and reasonable for those that he’s trying to appeal to I think he, maybe, made a little bit of a gain, gained some ground last night.

Carly Fiorina, I still think she’s got a point of view, clearly; she represents a segment. I think she’s very good debater and I think she’s actually better in a one-on-one interview context than in the debate context. She comes across, I thought, really well in the one-on-one and, of course, Jeb Bush probably made some incremental rate gains last night as a result of focusing on being seen as more assertive, I think taking some of the discussion directly to Trump and looking at some of the issues that he stood up for the first time, I think, in one of the headlines in a major newspaper was ‘fourth time is the charm’.

Do you have any thoughts on Jeb Bush’s email e-book?

No, I’m not familiar enough with it.

I just thought it was an interesting way to differentiate himself from Hillary Clinton pointing out that he has 700 pages of emails, while there is speculation in regards to her emails.

Oh, I see, yes, when he disclosed his own. Well, again, it’s a way for him to distinguish himself from Hillary; that’s an interesting point, he did speak, I think, more to Hillary than the other candidates did, yesterday. I felt the others were distinguishing themselves from the Republican contenders, and Bush said in a couple of his responses, spoke directly to the distinction between himself and Hillary and I felt that that was really, obviously, a general election strategy – his assumption is that if he can get past this, that he can appeal to those – so that was a real outreach effort to the general market, which I thought was pretty interesting.

Do you think that helped make him more likeable because right now people perceive him as dry? Was this an attempt for him to show a personality?

He has a number of different challenges – he has to be likeable, he has to be credible, he has to be somewhat exciting, more dynamic, I should say, or have more energy – as Trump would say ‘he needs to show more energy’ – he needs to show that he has the leadership capability, he needs to show that the Bush name is not just a name, in this case, and that he has either transcended or grown into it or whatever the right fit is going to be; he’s got challenges on a couple of different fronts, I think, which the other candidates don’t have and this is one of the times when being Bush is probably more of a liability or a handicap than an asset. Of course, you know, he’s raising money but, I think, from what I’ve been reading, that is even trending down now so we shall see.

Interesting, so the last time we spoke, you mentioned Hillary Clinton’s online presence and her goal to get a celebrity endorsement. She was able to get Katy Perry, who has 50 something million followers on Twitter alone, and I was curious what your thoughts were on that in the whole celebrity versus political realm juxtaposition of the two.

I think it’s great. I think it’s a good thing to see celebrities involved in political activity and I think that we’ll see, again, in social media, social media allows for the convergence of those two worlds to come together in a way that we don’t normally see.

We know that celebrities tend to get involved in fundraising activities so that, you know, they get money, they may get involved in causes, whether it’s orphans, war, environmental issues, I mean, you know, issues that are global issues; we’ve seen Angelina Jolie as the Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF and a number of other organizations, so we see that element of it.

So here, I guess, is the question, “Will we see the political leaders tapping into their followers for political purposes?” and “Will the celebrities allow them?” “How far will a celebrity go in terms of endorsement?” So I thought, interestingly, when Stephen Colbert, for example, launched his PAC a couple of years ago – by the way that PAC was recently questioned as to whether he even supported one candidate; they raised all this money but did they make any contributions, that was another story.

I thought that was really interesting about him and his PAC. He explained the whole process to people, educating them about how a PAC is started and what happens once it is in existence. Even though he may not have endorsed a candidate, at least he taught a lot of people about the realm of politics.

It did, yes, it did. I mean, so, Colbert, John Oliver, obviously, the recently-departed Jon Stewart is coming back, now, after a long vacation. So these are individuals who have currency with viewers, and with that currency, can that be translated into currency for political capital for a candidate? It’s interesting, I don’t know.

Will Katy Perry’s followers find some common element, some lake, something that will allow them or cause them to support or even contribute to Hillary Clinton? That would be her goal to have these 50 million, however many she has, social media followers or supporters, come across to the Hillary camp. What kinds of special messages are going to be directed at those individuals that are different from the regular campaign out there? Who knows? But I think those are challengers – I have a friend of my wife who’s working the social media – I guess he’s the head of social media for the Ben Carson campaign. A talented young man, who started off in broadcast and is now doing social media for Carson and I haven’t talked to him in awhile but I’m sort of watching what he does and it seems to be working fairly well.

He is higher in the polls, he’s doing something right.

Yeah, exactly, he’s doing something right. I think now the question becomes, again, let’s take Trump, well, let’s take the Kardashians, I think we talked about them before so what happens if Kim and Kanye – I guess Kanye’s not a Kardashian.

He’s now claiming that he’s running for president.

In 2020, Kanye, yes, I know, interesting…What would make a young man like that think he could even become president? Social media, right? I mean he’s got, I mean he certainly has the financial wherewithal but he’s got millions of people hanging on his every last word on social media, why not leverage that into political office? And maybe we’ll see more of that as we go.

Are you finding any one candidate to be particularly successful with his or her campaign? Is there anyone standing out in particular to you?

Well, again, I think that by virtue of longevity Hillary has been successful. I think Trump was successful in the early days because of the shock value and the novelty and then I think we’ll see the incremental development of a candidate like Rubio, who’s coming up and improving in incremental ways, week-by-week, month-by-month, over the course of the campaign. And we can’t discount what Bernie Sanders has done tapping into a certain audience – and! we cannot discount what Rand Paul did early on; that level of loyalty that Rand Paul has with his followers, among his followers, who tend to skew younger got him to where he is today. I think the challenge for him is that he’s not been able to build on that.

What do you think about his ‘Liberty not Hillary’ campaign? Rand Paul has waged this negative war on Hillary Clinton and he’ll constantly reiterate this negative thought process. Paul has several hashtags and all sorts of other things of that nature that are just going against Hillary so rather than focus specifically on his campaign, he’s including an anti-Hillary Clinton campaign. What are your thoughts on that strategy or that element of his campaign?

Well, there’s two schools of thought there: first of all I think it can only go so far – you can take it to a point and then it just sort of stops – then, of course, in a head-to-head race, when it boils down to just two people, two candidates, going negative has proven to be an effective campaign tactic. But he’s not there yet so I don’t think he has to – the challenge for Rand Paul would be to improve his overall numbers, generically, to get beyond his base.

Do you think his pre-emptive strike is actually hurting his campaign while he needs more support elsewhere?

I think he would be better, if I were advising his campaign, I would say, “Spend a little bit more time clarifying and defining who you are. You can differentiate yourself at times but I wouldn’t focus a whole campaign or major effort on or differentiation on attacking Hillary.” I understand the concept behind it but I don’t think he’s at the stage of acceptability or support or in the polls where he could even implement that strategy at this point in time.