Mark D. McKinnon

IOP Fellow Mark D. McKinnon
Courtesy of Mark D. McKinnon

IOP Fellow Mark D. McKinnon

In this mini-series, Flyby will profile one of the seven fall 2012 IOP Fellows each week. This week: Mark D. McKinnon.

The first thing you might notice about IOP Fellow Mark D. McKinnon is his sense of style. From his trademark cowboy hat and panuelo scarf, the man who was President George W. Bush's communications strategist stands out in a world of plain black suits.

"I spent a lot of my early life trying to look like everyone in meetings, but I was never really comfortable in a suit and tie," McKinnon said in a phone interview. "I'm more comfortable in the room when I look like the weird guy, because I am the weird guy."

This semester, McKinnon is leading the IOP study group "Political Disruption: Where It's Coming From and Why We Need It" on Wednesdays from 4 to 5:30 p.m. in room L166 at the IOP. Discussions are focused on movements for change like the Occupy movement, the Tea Party movement, and the bipartisan group No Labels, which McKinnon co-founded. The paralysis of the current political system is another theme in his study group.

Before getting involved in politics, McKinnon, who has worked with other notable clients including Lance Armstrong and John McCain, went to Nashville to try to become a songwriter. When he didn't strike success, McKinnon left for Texas to become a journalist. He worked for political campaigns for thirty years after that, but now writes weekly columns in The Daily Beast and The London Telegraph.

"In recent years, I've evolved to the point where I'm not doing campaigns but I'm writing about them and teaching about them," he said.

Though McKinnon worked as a democrat for 15 years of his life, he switched party affiliation after Bush was elected as governor of Texas. McKinnon said that he liked that Bush raised issues that McKinnon cared about, like education and immigration reform.

When asked about his changing political affiliation over the years, McKinnon said, "Well I started off as an anarchist. I'm on a long journey here."

McKinnon developed a close relationship with George W. Bush and worked as Bush's chief media adviser during his presidential campaign and bid for reelection.

"Well initially we clicked, not for political reasons, but for personal ones. We shared a lot of father stories about our daughters and how to raise kids," McKinnon said. "Also we had a passion for running, and we started running together."

After working on multiple successful campaigns, McKinnon has some insight into how to communicate effectively.

"The secret," he said, "is to have a clear rationale, to be able to tell a story, to communicate a message briefly, to do it emotionally, to do it authentically, and to do it with a lot of repetition."