Preparing for Debates and Editorial Boards With Kristina Keats CW 31- transcript

 

Editorial Boards

John Tsarpalas: Have you been watching the presidential debates on TV? I cannot believe how poorly some of these candidates have prepared! Tina and I have been preparing people for many years. Today our topic is preparing for debates and editorial boards. Commonwealthy #31.   

Well I am here with Kristina Keats. Today’s topic is getting ready for debates and editorial boards. I have talked a bit about public speaking and preparing for your stump speech when you’ve got to go out on the stump. But, Tina, this is something you and I have done with others for many years and that’s preparing for them debates.

What made me think of this topic was Republican primary season. I’ve been watching the debates with Donald Trump and the rest of them. I don’t know what we are at in terms of candidate counts at this moment, but the whole crew of them was up there. I can’t believe how unprepared some of them are and how bad some of them are and how we thought through some of these questions.

So let’s start with a debate and then we will jump to editorial boards.

Kristina Keats: I couldn’t agree with you more. I am watching them and I am thinking, “How can they not be prepared to answer any question? Any question?” You have to be prepared. The way that we used to work to prepare our candidates is what, unbeknownst me, our Congressman than U.S. Senator Mark Kirk used to call Tina’s House of Pain, which is amusing.

What we would do is get together a group of supporters and have the person we are working on training stand in front of the supporters. We would ask them every hostile question we could think of.

John Tsarpalas: And friendly questions, too. We asked them everything we could think of.

Kristina Keats: Make sure that you get anything that you can think of and then make them respond. And then we would follow up. Like if they said something that got them into trouble, then we would keep responding, responding, responding until they were pinned to the wall with the gun at their head.

And then we would go back and say, “Okay, when you said this, you opened the door to why you ended up on the wall with a gun on your head,” so that they would learn what to say and what not to say.

John Tsarpalas: Right, they’d learn the pitfalls.

Kristina Keats: Right. One of the things every candidate needs to do is to reframe questions. Again, I am amazed at how few professional politicians actually know how to reframe a question.

When they are asked a question they don’t want to answer, they talk about something else. Do you think that the world doesn’t notice that you didn’t answer the question? You can’t do that. It’s just so obvious that you are not answering the question.

A really well reframed question answers the question but changes the subject in a pivot. If they ask you about abortion, you can’t pivot to taxes. Well maybe you could, but it better be a really creative pivot.

John Tsarpalas: Well, you would pivot to the funding to, say, Planned Parenthood and being opposed to taxpayer money being used there. You can find a place to pivot.

Kristina Keats: But the point is you should answer the question. Also, don’t spend a lot of time answering the question so that you have time then to pivot onto something that you want to answer.

I’ll give you an example of a good pivot. This was a candidate who was running for state representative in a Democrat area. The first question that the newspaper person asked was, “Everyone agrees that we need to increase funding for education. What is your plan for increasing revenue?” which is essentially what tax are you going to increase.

The answer was, “Well, when you only focus on funding, you miss a lot of reforms that are needed to improve education, for example, teacher tenure. In the state of Illinois, a teacher is tenured after essential one year because it is a two-year tenure, but the contract goes out in January. It means that a teacher doesn’t really get vetted before they have a lifetime job. That’s an important reform.”

The candidate went on to go through their reform agenda for education rather than talking about tax increases.

John Tsarpalas: Good pivot.

Kristina Keats: Now, no one, and certainly not the reporter, felt that the question hadn’t been answered because they were talking about education. The candidate didn’t talk about taxes with education; they talked about important reforms that were necessary and had the most important first and then down the line.

Well, in that campaign, when the reporter when to talk to the Democrat opponent, he’s first question to the Democrat opponent was, “What’s your position on teacher tenure?” So it not only reframed the question, but it also reframed the campaign.

Long story short, this was in Illinois. Mike Madigan, shortly after the Democrat was reelected, introduced a bill to reform teacher tenure because he was smart enough to figure out that that could be a wedge issue for Republicans.

John Tsarpalas: Right, but it was a half measure. It really didn’t reform much. It was just so that it gave them cover. “I voted for teacher reform,” but the reform was nothing.

Kristina Keats: Well, the reform was he took it to four years instead of two because two was so ridiculous. It was no vetting period for school districts essentially. But it become a major issue in the campaign and he was smart enough to see that it needed to be dealt with.

The point is this is an example the question was answered. You were talking about education, but you didn’t buy into the “When did you stop beating your wife?” part of the question that the person had asked.

A well prepared candidate is aware of every single topic that could possibly be raised and has an answer ready.

John Tsarpalas: Correct. So you make a list yourself. But then you do what Tina’s always done and bring people into a room. They’ll come up with questions you’ve never heard of. You’d be surprised at what you don’t think of. You’ve got sort of your key topics as a candidate that you’ve given a lot of thought to. But then there are things that are important to a lot of people that you haven’t thought of.

Kristina Keats: Right. Or obscure issues that maybe only one person has ever thought of. Now it’s unlikely to be a question in a debate, but when you are going door to door, it can happen. So you should have an answer prepared for when the question is something that you’ve never thought of.

For example, one time when I was campaigning for somebody, a person came to the door and said, “What’s the candidate’s position on historical preservation?” Out of the thousands of people that I had talked to in campaigns over many years, that question was only ever asked once. So it’s not essential that the candidate have a position on preservation.

A good response is, “Well, you must know more about this then we do. Would you mind giving us the background and information?” Oh my gosh, you are asking for the expertise of the voter. Do you think you get their vote? You didn’t have to take a position, but you wanted to hear what they thought.

John Tsarpalas: Okay. That’s with a voter. What do you do when you are standing in a debate and they say, “What is your position on…”

Kristina Keats: When you are in a debate, if a question comes up that you don’t know the answer to, then you didn’t do a very good job of preparing yourself. Even in the most hostile editorial boards or debates, every question is going to come up.

For example, let’s look at Mitt Romney and the wealth issue. I mean, if he didn’t think that they were going to ask him things related to his business and his wealth, then he’s not well prepared. Now, in that thing, remember when they did the thing about birth control? They asked Romney about birth control when it wasn’t an issue?

John Tsarpalas: Right, Stephanopoulos did that to him.

Kristina Keats: Right, it was the strategy of the war on women. Actually, Romney handled that really well when he said, “Why are you asking about this? This is not issue. Birth control is available to everybody.” So he handled it okay. When you hear a question like that, out there, on the campaign, your antenna better go up because especially questions coming from the media are not usually accidental.

He answered the question alright, but what he didn’t get is this was going to be a major theme for the Democrats. He wasn’t prepared for it because then he comes back with, “I hired women. I had a white notebook.” Well, then they jumped on that.

You really want to be prepared on these issues so that when they do come up, you need to figure up a smart response.

John Tsarpalas: Correct. You want it to be fairly succinct. You want to be reasoned and thoughtful. You want it to be compassionate. You want it to be positive.

Kristina Keats: So for example, let’s talk about the birth control issue. I mean, it was alright that Romney answered it that way, like nobody cares about it. You have to answer it in an elevated level. You can’t say, “I have a notebook of women that I hire.” You have to reframe the issue.

So for example, as a conservative on the birth control issue, you could say, “Well, birth control is available to everyone. Anyone who wants it can purchase birth control in the United States. The bigger issue is how to we provide better employment opportunities for everyone, including women. Women are best off when they can have a good job. So here is my plan for economic growth and job growth.”

Reframe it. Reframe it to your strength. If they are attacking on “You are anti-women”, then counterattack on “You are anti-jobs.” Honestly, jobs and economic growth, at least every poll I have ever seen, beat just about every topic as a general topic. That’s where we are winning. That’s where we have the facts on our side that job is created in the private sector with low taxes and less regulation.

You can see how you could reframe an issue that doesn’t seem at all related into an issue that is related if you go from, “The real question is how do we create better employment opportunities for women and everyone else.” You address the birth control issue, but you reframed it into job growth.

John Tsarpalas: Correct. Now, we are talking about local races. You can always still talk about having your community be business friendly and job growth for the local community.

Kristina Keats: One of things in school board elections, the left always makes it about the children. “We care about the children. Spending money is for the children.” The left’s solution to all problems is more government spending, right? That goes from the smallest government to the biggest government. “If the schools aren’t performing, we aren’t spending enough money.”

I already gave the example that money isn’t the solution to every problem. We may need essential reforms. In every school, there’s probably essential reforms that are needed. The reason why our schools aren’t performing is not money. We spend more per capita than any other country in the world and yet we are thirtieth or fortieth in math and reading the world.

Their solution is always money. Our solution is reform. So address the money and pivot to reform. You should be able to do that on any subject. But again, get your House of Pain together. Get ten people in the room. Don’t have three people; have ten people. Ten people will come up with a lot more different questions than three. More is better in a situation like that.

John Tsarpalas: Right. Get somebody to moderate, too. Tina was always the moderator, which helped. Otherwise it can get out of control. So that’s important.
The other thing to think about for debate prep is most debates are very different from what we are seeing on TV right now. Right now, it’s kind of like they want the candidates to fight with each other. A debate for a local school board or county board or whatever is maybe put on by the League of Women voters.

By the way, know that most League of Women voters is controlled by the left and are liberal. The questions will tend to be liberal. Know who is hosting your debate. I think that’s something that’s important. Try to get an idea where their questions are coming from. And since they tend to be liberal, they have a liberal bias and they will be worded in ways that they want more taxes and more spending.

So be prepared for that. Be prepared to pivot.

Kristina Keats: The other thing is remember that most people probably won’t watch the debate. So it’s important to have a good performance, but it’s not essential to winning.

John Tsarpalas: Correct.

Kristina Keats: The winning goes back to grassroots, connecting with voters, getting your vote out, and the whole thing. You want to look intelligent and informed.

John Tsarpalas: Right. With that thought though, there’s probably an audience. Try to get some supporters there so there’s applause when you speak. It probably is being recorded or broadcast on the local cable network, access or whatever.

Kristina Keats: If you have them. They don’t all have them in every community. But be prepared.

John Tsarpalas: Well, if you do, it could be happening. It could be getting recorded and snippets might be played on local radio. So you want to be mindful of that and mindful that it’s nice to have a few people in the audience to applaud of you.

But the majority of what’s happening at a local debate really doesn’t do much for you to win or lose. However, it’s nice to be prepared because it’s a good reason to practice so when you do talk to people, you are rehearsed.

Kristina Keats: Right. And then your better prepared to face an editorial board, which gets us to the next place.

John Tsarpalas: Right, but I want to stop first. We didn’t get into the fact that you are not there to attack the other candidates. You are there to talk about what you would like to see, where you stand on an issue, and you might perhaps point out what someone else is doing.

But you are not there to call names. What’s happening in these current debates with Donald Trump is just bizarre. You are not there to do a lot of name-calling or whatever.

Kristina Keats: And Donald Trump seems to be the only candidate in my memory who can get away with it. I don’t understand why people still want to vote for somebody who basically calls one of his opponents ugly. I don’t get it. There’s something unique about him.

I think he’s tapping into anger and people are just angry. He is making them feeling vented. I don’t know. But at any rate, that’s an unusual situation. It’s okay to disagree with someone else on the stage and say, “Well, that wouldn’t be my approach.” That’s okay.

But you don’t want to get into big fights. It actually works against both of you. If you look at the recent Republican debate where Rand Paul and Chris Christie went at each other, both of their numbers dropped. People don’t really like that.

John Tsarpalas: Right. Something else you can do is use words such as fair and feeling. People like things to be fair. You can say, “That’s just not fair.” You can use those kinds of words. If you argue too much on dollars and cents and facts, there is a whole group of people you are missing. You’ve got to bring some feelings in.

Stories are good in a debate. You’ve got a story of someone who is being hurt by a policy or a story of how it is going to help someone with this policy. Those are good things to do.

Kristina Keats: In general, you want to stay away from fact-filled answers. People glaze over. They don’t care. Again, you want to have general principles that you are discussing that are easy for people to understand.

A lot of people run for office because they really care about the policy. People don’t care about the policy; they care about the results and they care about the personality. They are going to vote for someone they like. People who quote statistics all day are just generally less interesting.

John Tsarpalas: That’s true. That is very true. So, yes, you want to be welcoming, warm, and friendly when you are up there. You want to be smiling. You want to look likeable and you want to look like a leader. It’s just like you are giving a public speech.

Kristina Keats: If you are good at humor, that’s wonderful. Not everyone is. You can’t insert a sense of humor into a person that doesn’t have one. But if you’ve got a good sense of humor and you can use it, then you should.

John Tsarpalas: Right, exactly. Okay, now let’s switch to editorial boards because it’s a little different than a debate. Maybe we should describe what an editorial board is and how they usually work.

Kristina Keats: Right. Well, an editorial board is just what it says; it’s the people who run the paper or the TV station or the radio station. They often times will make endorsements. They call the candidates in to endorse.

But do understand that most media outlets have a bias. So if you are going in to the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun Times or LA Times, they are not going to endorse a Republican unless it’s in a Republican seat that no Democrat has a chance. Then they’ll endorse a Republican.

But otherwise, no matter what you say at editorial board, it’s not going to change their mind. Just understand that. Don’t go in saying, “But they’ve never met me! And I am so wonderful.” It doesn’t matter. You are not wonderful enough.

So your goal when you are going into a hostile editorial board, which by the way you have to do. You can’t refuse to meet with the editorial board because then they will give you an even more scathing review than you would have gotten otherwise.

You goal is to be as intelligent and personable as you can so that when they endorse your opponent, they might say something like, “Joe Blow is a worthy opponent and has some good ideas for education reform, but we endorse Sue Smith.” Then you can get a nice phrase about yourself in the editorial, which by the way you can reprint and put in ads.

John Tsarpalas: Right, if you lift that line and you cite them.

Kristina Keats: You lift that line, exactly. You don’t have to get the endorsement to use the line in the newspaper. You want to be intelligent. You want to reframe questions. You want to do everything that you do all the time and do it in as personable and calm way as possible so that at least they are going to respect you.

They are not going to endorse you, but you can get their respect and hopefully get something pleasant said about you in the endorsement of your opponent.

John Tsarpalas: It helps if you can find out who the editorial board is in advance and read their bias. Read some of their stuff so you understand where they are coming from. Read their articles. Know what they are thinking.

Kristina Keats: Absolutely. You might find something in an article that you agree with. Believe me, if you quote it, you’ll get brownie points. Now, even in the biased newspapers in Illinois, we did get endorsements as Republican candidates. We got endorsed when there was no hope of winning or when it was pretty sure that a Republican would win. When it was actually a contested seat, they’d endorse a Democrat.

It allowed us, then, to do a robo-call: “Breaking news! The Chicago Tribune just endorsed…” That’s what you hope for. And that means that maybe there is some local, small town paper where you could get the endorsement.

John Tsarpalas: Sure, there are places without a prejudice or they lean your way. I mean, you are in Texas now. Do the papers still lean left?

Kristina Keats: Well, yeah, the Austin Statesman.

John Tsarpalas: Well, that’s Austin.

Kristina Keats: The big city newspapers even in Texas lean left. Schools lean left. It’s not conservative. And the people on the school board tend to be left, even though this is a district that probably votes seventy percent Republican. The problem is Republicans don’t run for school boards.

John Tsarpalas: Well, that’s why we are doing this podcast, trying to get people to realize they’ve got to run for these smaller offices because we are in trouble.

Kristina Keats: That’s where the world changes.

John Tsarpalas: Right, exactly.

Kristina Keats: And school board is probably the most important office to run for.

John Tsarpalas: Right. Okay, so for editorial boards, you want to go in with a smile. You want to be friendly. You want to be careful; you know you are in enemy territory. But you also have to do it; there’s kind of no way of getting out of it.

You are going to go in and do your best. It’s that simple. But again, you are going to rehearse. You are going to get people to give you different questions. You are going to practice. You are going to try to be thoughtful and compassionate with positive answers.

Kristina Keats: Exactly. The best way to rehearse for debates or anything is go door to door and talk to real people. Nothing is better than that. Every single contact is an interview. They are going to ask you questions. Not everybody, but it is the best way to prepare yourself for an answer.

When you get a question that you’ve never heard, you are prepared for that. “I have never been asked that question. You probably know more than I do. Can you fill me in?” You’ll get education.

John Tsarpalas: Good, good, good. Well, I think we’ve given people a basic idea of what happens here. It’s just like anything else: practice makes perfect. Do it! Get some people together and practice. The more practice, the better you are going to be as a candidate, for door to door, debates, stump speeches, events, and whenever you are running into contact with other people.

Kristina Keats: For everything. And the more confident you’ll get. The more confident you are, the better you are.

John Tsarpalas: Correct. So go for it. Do it. Work it. And thanks, Tina. We’ll talk again soon.

Kristina Keats: Alright.

John Tsarpalas: Well, just like anything else in life, practice makes perfect. The same is true in getting ready for debates and editorial boards. Do as Tina said. Do as we’ve done for years. Get a bunch of people together and have them quiz you. Rehearse. Practice. Go away, think about it, and then practice some more. That’s the best way to be ready for these things.

We just started touching on editorial boards at the end of this podcast. For next week I have called Steve Huntley, retired editorial page editor for the Chicago Sun Times. I have spoken with Steve many times in past and he’s an expert in this area. So tune in next week and find out how the editorial boards work from the editorial board’s perspective.

Thanks for listening today. If you’ve got a moment and you can give us some comments on our website at Commonwealthy.com or review in iTunes, it would be much appreciated. Thanks!

Kristina Keats: I’ll give you an example of a good pivot. This was a candidate who was running for state representative in a Democrat area. The first question that the newspaper person asked was, “Everyone agrees that we need to increase funding for education. What is your plan for increasing revenue?” which is essentially what tax are you going to increase.

The answer was, “Well, when you only focus on funding, you miss a lot of reforms that are needed to improve education, for example, teacher tenure. In the state of Illinois, a teacher is tenured after essential one year because it is a two-year tenure, but the contract goes out in January. It means that a teacher doesn’t really get vetted before they have a lifetime job. That’s an important reform.”

The candidate went on to go through their reform agenda for education rather than talking about tax increases.

John Tsarpalas: Good pivot.

Kristina Keats: Now, no one, and certainly not the reporter, felt that the question hadn’t been answered because they were talking about education. The candidate didn’t talk about taxes with education; they talked about important reforms that were necessary and had the most important first and then down the line.

Well, in that campaign, when the reporter when to talk to the Democrat opponent, he’s first question to the Democrat opponent was, “What’s your position on teacher tenure?”

 

 

 

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