Keep calm and carry on. The worst possible outcome for your campaign is for your candidate to directly engage with the crashers in any way. As a rule, the only person your candidate should ever confront in an adversarial way is a fellow candidate. You can be assured that the crashers will be taking video, and they’d love nothing more than some footage of your candidate getting down and dirty.
Now, if your boss is the famously bombastic Newt, you many not have a choice. But most of us aren’t shepherding presidential contenders and American political icons, and thus should be able to school candidates to keep their cool, do their best to ignore any disruption, and if the situation becomes un-ignorable, be friendly and treat the crasher as just another attendee, and then get on with the program.
Frame it your way. The Romney run-ins were endlessly dissected in the media, and the armchair quarterbacking occupied the punditry for days. So you can be sure that your campaign will get its chance to respond in the press, which you can use to your advantage. The proper response depends on the identity of the crasher and the campaign that sent them. The most effective of the Gingrich camp’s varied responses were those that scoffed at the desperation of a supposed frontrunner sending polo shirt-clad members of Congress to stir up trouble at suburban rallies.
Unfortunately, the famously inconsistent Gingrich campaign undercut that message when their own surrogate subsequently crashed a Romney event, but that’s another story. The takeaway remains that if the crashers represent a true rival, then the spin is that the campaign must be in trouble to be trying Hail Mary tactics.
If, as more often is the case, the invaders are representing a lesser-known candidate trying to punch his or her way up, get some valuable earned media, and spook your candidate, then its time to be gracious and take the line that you welcome so-and-so to the conversation, you look forward to seeing him or her on the campaign trail, and you hope you can proceed with civility and respect.
When rival campaigns use asymmetrical tactics like sending in high-profile crashers, it’s easy to feel outraged and want to go to war, and that’s exactly what your opponent wants you to do. Instead, keep your cool, run a tight ship and stay focused on what matters. Like a schoolyard bully, they will quickly lose interest when they fail to get a rise out of your team.
Amelia Chassé is an account director at Hynes Communications, where she advises political campaigns, corporations and advocacy organizations on new media strategy. A veteran of campaigns at the state, local and presidential levels, she currently resides in New Hampshire.