They are John Truscott and Kelly Rossman-McKinney, whose politically savvy PR firm, Truscott Rossman, turns 6 years old in January. In this case, he is the Republican and she the Democrat. Truscott was the quietly mannered press secretary to the bombastic Gov. John Engler. Rossman-McKinney once told a crowd: “Remember that BITCH is an acronym for Boys, I’m Taking Charge Here.” Oddly, he drives a Porsche and she a Buick.
Different though they are, their politics hug the center, albeit from different sides, as was clear in interviews they did on the TV show “City Pulse Newsmakers.” Truscott’s aired Saturday (and can still be seen at lansingcitypulse.com). Rossman-McKinney’s will be broadcast at 10:30 a.m. Saturday on My18 and will be available on the website on Friday.
The topic for both was presidential politics. Whatever else they disagree on, neither supports Donald Trump. Truscott avows he isn’t supporting anyone (and that came not on the show but in a follow-up email in which he offered no explanation). Rossman-McKinney is a loud and clear Hillary backer.
Truscott, who assumes Clinton will win barring a bombshell, knows what went wrong for the GOP. And he knows how to fix it. But that doesn’t mean it will be fixed — just that it can.
The party’s first mistake was that too many people ran for the nomination.
“If there had only been four or five people early on, Trump would not be the candidate today,” he said. Many of them were “not credible enough to be running for the office of president. … There were people who took away votes from folks who were more credible and normal.”
The result: Defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory. “Hillary was very beatable,” he said. “We didn’t step up to the challenges as Republicans, and if we don’t learn from it, we’re going to be marginalized for many years to come.”
The fix: Party leaders, particularly governors, need to get behind one candidate early, as they did with George W. Bush in 2000. Here Truscott, 50, relies on personal observation.
“I was at a meeting of the Republican governors in Washington, and John Engler and Tommy Thompson and some others walked in," he recalled, referring to the former Wisconsin governor. "Engler, who was chairing the GOP governors that year, said: ‘Look, if we’re going to take back the White House after the Bill Clinton era, the next leader of our party is going to come from this room.’
“The governors all looked at George W. Bush and said, ‘You’re the guy.’”
Another nail in the GOP coffin this year, Truscott believes, was how spread out the primaries were.
“It allowed a minority who may or may have been members of the party to get their candidate through,” he said.
The Democrats dealt with outsiders too, he said, referring to the Bernie Sanders challenge.
“They just did a better job of picking the candidate who would be a little more rationale.”
None of that may have mattered, though, had Donald Trump not been on the scene.
“Even a Ted Cruz, with all his faults, would have been more in the mold and would have run a tighter campaign.”
As for the future, the party needs to become “socially a little more moderate. There’s room to grow that wing of the party,” he said, perhaps intentionally employing understatement.
House Speaker Paul Ryan is “the kind of person who can save the party. He will lead the regrouping starting in December.”
Truscott expressed optimism: “People have very short memories. I think we get past this pretty easily.”
But that seemed to contradict his views on officeholders caught up in the Trump dilemma.
“This is not the party they’ve been part of and they’re not ready to leave it. They are hoping things will come back and reset after this election. But if this continues for another cycle or two, you’ll have a lot of these people walk away from the party.”
The inference is the same could be said of many Republican voters.
Rossman-McKinney’s interview quickly turned personal.
She and her two youngest sons, 20 and 23, engaged in a “very spirited debate” over the weekend about sexual assault. The younger one questioned why it took Trump’s accusers so long to speak up.
“Number one, the majority if not all were very young when the incidents occurred,” she said. Then there were no witnesses “other than an extraordinarily powerful, wealthy person who foisted himself upon you. It’s not unusual you wouldn’t say anything. It’s embarrassing, humiliating. Did that really happen? You kind of talk yourself out of it.”
Rossman-McKinney, 62, didn’t blanch at my suggestion that a new biography of Hitler was very timely reading.
She said that her friend Katie Packer, Mitt Romney’s campaign manager in 2012, is very anti-Trump because “her parents were born in England, and they have talked to her about how Hitler-like Trump is. It’s something you don’t necessarily see when it’s happening.”
Like Truscott, Rossman-McKinney praised the media coverage, calling it “abundantly fair,” even though Trump won much more “earned media.”
“It was news every time he opened his mouth,” she said. “He was attracting crowds of 16,000, 20,000 people. What he was saying wasn’t substantive, it was provocative, and that’s what news tends to cover.
“A debate on substance is important,” added Rossman-McKinney, the daughter of a newspaperman, “but it’s boring.”
As for Clinton, “She needs to show this warm, friendly side that I keep hearing she has when she’s with her friends.” She came close during the Town Hall debate by walking to audience questioners. “But what she didn’t do was ask ‘Why did you ask that question? Tell me what’s going on in your world.’ Instead, she answered the question like the policy wonk she is.
“She’s the opposite of Jennifer Granholm,” she said, referring to the Democratic governor before Rick Snyder. “She was a great candidate, not a great officeholder.”
While neither she nor Truscott sees much negative downticket effect for Republicans in the Michigan House of Representatives in this election, when all seats are also on the ballot, Rossman-McKinney said it could cost one local Republican, Tom Barrett, his seat. Barrett barely beat his challenger, former incumbent Teresa Abed, four years ago, and Barrett “has not walked away from Trump the way I expected him to.” That’s a big mistake in her book.
True to form, when asked about the potential mayor’s race shaping up in Lansing next year, Rossman-McKinney didn’t hold back on her views about three-term incumbent Virg Bernero, a fellow Democrat.
Their public differences go back to 2008, when she claimed she lost a city contract after she delivered a eulogy for the mother of Councilwoman Carol Wood, Bernero’s nemesis. Bernero’s camp denied the charges. Four years later, she resigned her post on the Lansing Economic Development Corp. board after Bernero claimed her firm had a conflict of interest over his pet casino proposal.
Rossman-McKinney said she has supported him in previous elections because he was “very strong, very capable, very successful.”
“The last year or two he has taken his role to a level of power and conceit I am really uncomfortable with,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s a phase and he’ll come out of it and go back to being the mayor I loved and supported or if it really is time for a change.”