Barely a week after the mid-term elections, the political world has turned its focus to the next Presidential campaign. As contenders put their teams together, devise strategy and prepare to jump into the biggest pool of all, here are a few thoughts to consider. PS – if you have any I’ve missed, please send them to me and I’ll include them in a follow-up post (with or without attribution – your choice.) Rgalen@gmail.com.
1. Patience is a Virtue
Politico reported that Sen. Rand Paul will gather ‘dozens’ of his strategists and advisors in coming weeks to discuss his plans, with April as a likely launch date for his presidential campaign. This is about the right time frame. Get out of the first quarter of 2015, get your spring training done and hit Q2 hard. Once you open the cash register, it doesn’t stop ringing until the till is empty.
2. Stay out of DC
DO NOT run your campaign out of Washington. If you’re a member of Congress and you believe your people won’t work on a campaign outside the Beltway, get new people. DC is everything it’s cracked up to be for a baby campaign – including slips of the tongue that end up on the front page and far too many ‘friends’ stopping by to check in. The press will follow you – no reason to park in their backyard where every last source is happy to pass along gossip and tidbits, universally unhelpful.
3. Better Politics Through Technology
Technology, data, digital, they are buzzwords in politics today. But every last effort should be put into creating a digital hub that sits at the middle of the campaign and through which everything flows. It can be an off the shelf product or a small, scalable system the campaign builds itself. This is not about better Facebook advertising. This is about ensuring that every last scrap of data that can be pushed into the system is done seamlessly.
4. Politics May Make Strange Bedfellows, But Rival Staffs Make for Bad Campaigns
The “Ready for Hillary” effort is comprised of many Obama staffers from 2008 and 2012. The idea that these folks will become part of Hillary ’16 may sound good on paper. It’s not. The remaining Clinton loyalists will never forgive the Obama people for slights – real and perceived from eight years ago. If you must create a blended political family, bring in the subject matter experts first – and those with a lot of opinions and good ideas second. It will save you a great deal of money, heartache and bad press down the road. As a veteran of the McCainiac-Bushie marriage made in hell, I implore you to save yourself the trouble.
5. One Person is In Charge
The candidate must have the final say on major decisions. But after that, one person – ONE PERSON – must be empowered to manage the campaign. This means hiring and firing authority, the ability to spend money and make decisions that keep the organization moving down the road. They cannot be subjected to the whims of consultants who have personal favors to pay off. This person should also reside at the headquarters – it is impossible to run something as time-consuming and complex as a presidential campaign getting on and off airplanes or in and out of motorcades. The perspective necessary for long-term success can only come from someone based at HQ. Strategists don’t plan from the front lines.
6. Start-Up Culture…
The vast majority of people working on your campaign will be under the age of 30. This is a good thing. They bring the energy and idealism necessary to work for indentured servant’s wages 16-18 hours a day for 18 months. But remember many of them are young and inexperienced. They need leadership, vision and mentorship. A positive environment will bring out the best in them and reinforce their belief that you are the best person to run the free world. Most of them will have far more responsibility than they have ever had before. Be certain that they get good direction, but are no suffocated by being micromanaged.
7. Management Nightmare…
But almost no one in politics has an MBA in management from Harvard or five years at McKinsey under their belt. More often we’re the land of misfit toys when it comes to actually running something. This will be the most difficult management challenge for the candidate and members of the senior staff. In an industry where interpersonal interaction is predicated on conflict avoidance rather than problem-solving, someone will need to understand the organizational dynamics of an effort that may eventually employ hundreds of people and spend nearly a billion dollars.
8. Preach Process, Decry Bureaucracy
Separate the operating units so everyone knows their role and when they’ve reached it for the day, the week, or the campaign. Once a plan has been written (and it must be in writing) every good idea must be measured against that plan. You have to find a balance between allowing smart people to be entrepreneurial and going rogue. Clear lines of authority and responsibility will save nerves and millions of dollars.
9. On People, Don’t Pay for What You Can Get for Free
On the 2000 Bush campaign I was a volunteer advance man for months before I got a paying gig. I got a plane ticket, hotel room and $30 a day for my trouble and I loved it. Don’t pay everyone you lay eyes on. There are people all over the country and specifically in the early states who will be happy to volunteer their time, if for no other reason than to meet you and brag about it among their friends on Friday nights.
10. Don’t Believe the Myth of the Magic Consultant
Consultants don’t win early state contests – candidates do. If someone tells you for the low-low price of $15,000 a month they can win you Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina, hang up on them. You will need solid organizations in the states in which you hope to compete, but paying the equivalent of six max-out donations every 30 days is not the way to do it. If you do hire one of these people, remind them repeatedly that they work for the campaign and that freelancing is not acceptable. If someone says “but you don’t understand how we do it here” keep looking.
11. Be for Something; Continue to Be for It
A candidate must have core beliefs, values and policy positions. Too often the obfuscation that takes the form of ‘first do no harm’ leaves a campaign listless and reactive. In Presidential contests, voters want to believe in something – a person and their vision. Referenda on the last eight years will get one only so far. Additionally, once you’ve put your agenda in place, you can use it as the divining rod around which to navigate debates, interviews, etc…It makes things a lot easier to remember – and provides clarity to the electorate.
12. Plans are Useless, Planning is Essential
The campaign needs to plan for how it will prosecute campaigns in early states and beyond. You need a budget and a plan for raising the money to meet those financial goals. Heed Ike’s words. Once you hit the beach, it will all go to hell. But if you’ve outlined your strategy, trained your people and given them the resources to their jobs, you’ve at least given yourself the chance to break through.
13. Unforced Errors far More Damaging Than Oppo Research
A slip of the tongue. A leak from a senior staffer. A stupid Facebook post from a junior squirrel; these will occupy far more time for response operatives than anything the oppo guys dig up. Or hopefully they should. If there is a major problem in your bio, understand how to address it and move on. If you’ve had a problem in your personal life, understand how to address it and move on. Need an example? Look at the entirety of the Romney 2012 campaign where they never had a good answer for his time at Bain. This was an issue from 2008, but was never addressed properly and completely.
14. How Your People Act Will Color the World’s Vision of You
Everywhere someone on your payroll goes, they take a reflection of you with them. Every time they interact with the outside world, your image is in play. Yes, you are running for the highest office in the land. Yes, the demands on your time and that of your counselors is always too full. But that doesn’t excuse bad behavior. How your people treat others, Iowans, the locals in New Hampshire, the hunters in South Carolina, will have a direct impact on your efforts. As both Governor and President, when George W. Bush arrived an event, the first question he would ask of the host is how his people had treated them. If the answer was any less than stellar praise, there was hell to pay – and rightfully so.
15. Survival of the Fittest
Sometimes just hanging around is enough. In the summer of 2007, as John McCain’s campaign met its darkest days, the idea was to keep going – reduce spending to a minimum, park in New Hampshire and wait for everyone else to implode – it worked (in the primary anyway). Santorum had little to campaign with in 2011 but a rental car but he hit every county in Iowa and ultimately won the Caucuses. None of this stuff – the money, the staff, the airplanes, the rallies and debates, none of it matters if you can’t get to game day sometime in January 2016. Everything should be geared around ensuring, to the extent possible, you have a campaign that constantly takes the long view of events. There will be issues that arise that you cannot possibly account for today. Politics is not a straight-line continuum. The ability of you and your organization to remain dynamic in the face of crushing pressure will ultimately determine your fortunes.