Fake news. Russian hackers. Twitter.
All of the above played a part in Donald Trump’s astonishing victory last month.
But lost amid the post-election news clamor are the efforts of Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and husband to Ivanka. Trump’s electoral success, in fact, might owe more to Kushner’s efforts than any other factor. And the calculated way that Kushner worked behind the scenes demonstrates how rapidly politics are changing in the digital age.
Analysts point to Barack Obama’s 2008 victory as an internet-fueled turning point. The Pew Center found that 78 percent of internet users went online during that election to “take part in, or get news and information,” representing the first time that “more than half the voting-age population used the internet to connect to the political process during an election cycle.”
What’s more, “online Obama supporters took part in a wider range of online political activities — from posting their own thoughts and comments about the election online to going online to volunteer for campaign activities or donate money.”
In short, politics entered the internet age in 2008, a transition still evolving today, even at the local level — at least for the news providers.
A lot of news organizations offered special, election-specific products to their readers and viewers on the internet. CTNewsJunkie combined the power of the web with a database app this election season to develop Vote.CTNewsJunkie.com, a legislative voter guide/candidate questionnaire as a way to “provide more information about as many General Assembly candidates as possible, beyond just writing a few primer stories about the House and the Senate,” explained business manager Doug Hardy.
Each candidate was invited to complete an online survey, whose results were posted on the site — a basic “crowdsourcing” strategy — which consumers accessed online. Using geolocation, the site then provided voters with targeted information about their local candidates.
The national election, meanwhile, featured digital tools to the extreme, a reality illustrated most vividly on the candidate side by Jared Kushner’s strategy for Donald Trump. Kushner, like his father-in-law, made a fortune in his family’s real estate business. After an initially modest role in Trump’s campaign, Kushner engaged contacts in Silicon Valley to become a major player.
According to Bloomberg Businessweek, Kushner soon enlisted Brad Parscale, a San Antonio marketing pro, “to begin an ambitious digital operation fashioned around a database they named Project Alamo” — a textbook model for running a data-oriented campaign.
“Powered by Project Alamo and data supplied by the RNC and Cambridge Analytica, [Trump’s] team [was] spending $70 million a month, much of it to cultivate a universe of millions of fervent Trump supporters, many of them reached through Facebook. By Election Day, the campaign expect[ed] to capture 12 million to 14 million e-mail addresses and contact information (including credit card numbers) for 2.5 million small-dollar donors, who together will have ponied up almost $275 million.”
As the Forbes article noted, “Kushner structured the operation with a focus on maximizing the return for every dollar spent. ‘We played Moneyball, asking ourselves which states will get the best [return on investment] for the electoral vote,’ Kushner says. ‘I asked, How can we get Trump’s message to that consumer for the least amount of cost?’”
Traditional political strategies, ironically, were still a big part of the digital plan, including buying slots for TV ads. But it was the way Kushner determined how to spend ad money that changed the game. In short, Project Alamo collected voter data and used it in stock-market trading fashion to make split-second decisions.
“As the election barreled toward its finale, Kushner’s system, with its high margins and up-to-the-minute voter data, provided both ample cash and the insight on where to spend it,” reports Forbes. “When the campaign registered the fact that momentum in Michigan and Pennsylvania was turning Trump’s way, Kushner unleashed tailored TV ads, last-minute rallies, and thousands of volunteers to knock on doors and make phone calls.”
Even more shrewdly, Kushner reportedly inked a deal with Sinclair Broadcast Group “to try and secure better media coverage” for Trump, according to an exclusive story by Politico. The deal gave Sinclair-affiliated television stations “more access to Trump and the campaign, according to six people who heard [Kushner’s] remarks” at a private meeting.
In exchange, Sinclair — “labeled in some reports as a conservative-leaning local news network” — “would broadcast their Trump interviews across the country without commentary.” The arrangement provided a significant advantage in battleground states like Ohio, where Sinclair stations reach 250,000 people, as compared to CNN, which reaches only 30,000.
Now, of course, the election is over. Trump is president-elect. Pundits focus on fake news and Russian hackers. And undoubtedly Kushner is already applying data-based metrics to Trump’s policy decisions.
Or more accurately, Kushner is using sophisticated digital tactics to craft a positive image of Trump as president.
We haven’t seen the last of Jared Kushner, no doubt.
Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who also teaches courses in journalism and media literacy at Haddam-Killingworth High School.
DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.