I knew I’d have plenty to talk about at this week’s ‘Lunch’ with passionate politicos Joan Gelman and Democratic National Committeeman Robert Zimmerman. Both are headed to the Democratic National Convention in a few weeks. Joan will be producing Joan Hamburg’s WABC radio show from Philadelphia and Robert will be rallying the faithful, while no doubt serving up the dead-on soundbites for the cable networks that have made him the go-to guy on all things relating to the party.
Joan arrived first and we talked about the challenges of covering what is sure to be one of the most media-centric conventions ever. “It’s a gold mine for booking,” said Joan, between bites of salmon tartare. Top among her dream guests: Elizabeth Warren (“She’s fabulous”) and Joe Biden (“Everyone respects him.”)
Of course the person attracting the most media attention at the convention besides Hillary Clinton will undoubtedly be her tireless challenger Bernie Sanders, whose endgame has been both bewildering and enraging (depending on who you ask) to Clinton supporters. Joan left little doubt where she stands on Senator Sanders’ reluctance to cede the spotlight and rally his supporters behind the presumptive nominee. “It’s absurd and absolutely selfish,” she told me. “We’re going to have a president and it’s going to be Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. Time to get on board. It’s no longer about you.” Got that?
When Robert arrived (he’s got a very full plate these days helming his marketing-advertising firm, Zimmerman/Edelson, now in its 26th year, in addition to his political work) it was clear he’s fired up about the Democratic convention because of his firm belief that the event is much more than entertainment for political junkies (more on that later) and plays an important role in electing a president. “Conventions do have a role in the process because it’s when the country stops and listens to what the candidate are saying. They unveil to the country what the parties and candidates represent.”
And that, as we all know, is where things are going to get very interesting this year.
Robert told me he is unconcerned about today’s polls, which once again put Clinton and Trump in a statistical dead heat. “No matter who you are supporting for president, you can a find a poll to support [that candidate].” But, he admitted, “It’s going to be a very competitive race.” He dismissed the ongoing investigation into Clinton’s emails and her role in Benghazi as having any negative effect on her campaign. “The Republicans continue to try to exploit [those stories] and the country has rejected it.”
“Hillary as a candidate is standing out especially now because we need stable, strong leadership for the challenges ahead.” Trump “doesn’t have political policies, he’s got tweets,” said Robert, as he tucked into his mini-lobster rolls. “He’s the most unstable and unprepared candidate in modern presidential politics.” Robert pointed to the news that Republicans like Hank Paulson and Brent Scowcroft have jumped ship and announced their support for Clinton as evidence of “a coalition of leading Republicans coming together [with Democrats] for the sake of the country.”
Robert was mum on the specifics about what viewers can expect when watching the Democratic convention, but assured me whatever “entertainment” or star power that’s in the mix will no doubt be “inspiring.” Having not taken out a loan to see Hamilton, we’re intrigued by that rumor that creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda might be making an appearance on stage.
Robert said that reports that The Apprentice producer Mark Burnett, who helped turn Trump into a television star, is working on glitzing things up is evidence that “Republicans are using a reality show theme” for the convention. All of this is no surprise, because, he noted, “Within the Republican party you have 44 percent of registered Republicans who believe the president is a secret Muslim. Duck Dynasty is a think tank for those people.”
As you can see, Robert pulls no punches in speaking on the record — and Trump has taken notice. Shortly after Trump posted his much-derided Cinco de Mayo taco tweet, Robert was asked about it during an appearance on Megyn Kelly’s Fox News show. “I said it was like the Iranian Ayatollah eating matzo ball soup and saying he loves Jews.” Robert laughed when he recounted how Kelly later showed Trump a tape of his remarks which resulted in the candidate branding him ‘a flunkie.’ “That was my moment of fame. I had T-shirts with ‘flunkie’ written in a heart and chocolates sent to me from a leading Democrat calling me their ‘favorite flunkie’.”
Even with the country’s unending fascination with and worship of celebrity, said Robert, things are not entirely what they seem. “Donald Trump’s emergence is not about Donald Trump, but about the state of the Republican party.”
“There are two Americas,” noted Joan. “It’s racism and sexism versus progressive empathy.”
I was heartened to hear that Robert has a more optimistic view of things. “We’re going to be all right. We’re a great nation. I have absolute confidence in our constitution and our democracy. Ultimately, our people and our government are stronger than political grand-standers and trends.”
Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:
1. HollywoodLife.com’s Bonnie Fuller and Penske Media’s Gerry Byrne, playing host to Million Mom March founder Donna Dees, Carol Evans, co-chair of Executive Women for Hillary, Glamsquad’s Alexandra Wilkis Wilson, Robyn Santiago of Illumination PR, Jessica Abo, a “TV personality” and YouTuber, Open Road Integrated Media’s chair Jane Friedman, Julie La’Bassiere, CEO BAFTA/New York, AMPAS’ Patrick Harrison, Dr. Betty Spence of NAFE, actress Ashley Williams, FRANK PR partners Lina Plath and Clare Anne Darragh. Don’t ask me how they squeezed that many movers and shakers around one table.
2. Producer Beverly Camhe and three pals
3. Joan Jakobson and Rikki Klieman
4. Former Hearst president Cathie Black with House Beautiful’s publisher Kate Kelly Smith
5. Herb Siegel and his son Bill
6. Andrew Stein
7. Glenn Horowitz
8. New York Social Diary’s David Patrick Columbia with author and screenwriter/director Tracey Jackson
11. Susan Duffy and Marie Claire’s publisher Nancy Cardone
12. Joan Gelman, Robert Zimmerman and yours truly
14. Michael Wolff
15. Tom Rogers
16. British Heritage Travel’s publisher and CEO Jack Kliger
17. Owen Grover
18. Legendary lensman Sir Harry Benson
20. Gena Smith
21. Quest’s Chris Meigher
22. Colin Welch
23. Ted Hathaway
24. Robert Marston
25. PR maestro Tom Goodman
27. Walter O’Hara
We’ll be off for next week. Hope your Fourth is full of fireworks! See you on July 13.
Diane Clehane is a FishbowlNY contributor. Follow her on Twitter @DianeClehane. Send comments and corrections on this column to LUNCH at MEDIABISTRO dot COM.