Donald Trump has certainly said and done some really cringe-worthy things during the 2016 Republican primary season. From his feud with Meagan Kelly to tweets about Heidi Cruz, Trump is often his own worst enemy. Lacking any inner filter, he should hire someone to act as one.
But nothing can compare to the blunder of Ted Cuz and his “New York Values” remarks made before the Iowa caucus. Cruz later explained that this phrase was used to sum up all that was wrong with the liberal establishment and attendant media located in New York City. It’s probably no coincidence that his chief rival for the republican nomination is from the same city and he was taking a swipe at Trump at the same time.
Cracks like this will play well in Iowa and even in Texas.This probably seemed really clever at the time and Cruz did win the Iowa caucus and the Texas primary. Unfortunately for Senator Cruz they are not as well received in places like say, New York and now January’s winning phrase is an albatross in April.
Ted Cruz is a smart man which makes calculus like this hard to understand. It does not take the gift of prophecy to know that New Yorkers would not respond favorably to a negative characterization like this. Even Donald Trump called Senator Cruz on this remark during one of the republican debates.
I cannot pretend to know what the Cruz strategy was in Iowa and what may have led to his ‘New York Values’ remarks. Unlike Trump, Cruz has a staff and an organization of party apparatchiks who should know that knocking an entire state, which happens to be among the most populace in the union, could come back to haunt him. Maybe Cruz thought that unless he won in Iowa, he was finished and that the gamble was worth the risk? Maybe he thought he would lose in New York anyway regardless? But I doubt he foresaw the beat down now delivered hourly from the same New York media and Donald Trump. Even Geraldo Rivera of Fox News has characterized Cruz’ remarks as code for anti-semitism. Fox News!
It is too early at this writing to know whether Trumps many rhetorical goofs will cost him the nomination. He is ahead in delegate count at the moment and seems certain to win the New York primary. But Ted Cruz will certainly lose in New York and will be pressed to prevail in other, non-southern, non-bible belt states. He will also be asked to explain his loss in New York. If he were brave, he would say that his unfortunate mischaracterization of New Yorkers was what did him in. But his ego will not allow that and he will more likely double-down on the statement. Some people are not capable of admitting a mistake. For Cruz, being right is more important than getting votes.
So what is the lesson for communicators? Easy. Never badmouth potential customers, especially if they number by the millions and work at large media conglomerates. It does not seem that challenging of an idea.