Monday, November 7th, 2016
By Reed Galen
Welcome to the American Singularity.
This is the end, beautiful friend. This is the end, my only friend, the end.
The last 48 hours of a presidential campaign combine the most frenetic time in American politics with a nauseating knowledge that there is not much more you can do to push your candidate across the finish line to victory. If you have don’t everything you possibly could by the Sunday night before Election Day, it’s nearly impossible that you’ll do it before the polls close. The last mail piece has dropped. The last ad has been written, shot and will air until the sun goes down in target states across the country. The last fundraisers have been held and the last rallies are planned.
Now, it is up the Political office and the GOTV efforts they’ve been planning, building, honing and refining for months. Now the voters, those who haven’t taken advantage of their absentee ballots or early voting, will go to their elementary school gymnasiums, fire houses and yes (in San Francisco) even their neighbors’ garage to cast their ballot for the next leader of the free world.
On Election Day itself, the inside of the campaign is a strange, almost surreal place. People you haven’t seen for months suddenly pop up out of nowhere. Maybe they were deployed to a nearby state or based in Washington, and they too have little left to do but wait. Dozens of advance people, most of whom have no idea what the Sunshine Room is other than there are always cookies there based on all-staff emails, will stream into town as their last events are done and they too hunker down.
Sometime early in the morning, the Political shop will begin distributing dozens of call sheets with the names of voters in target states to call - every last one counts, after all. Those with little activity left, the Operations folks, the Finance office and maybe the Treasury people will pick up their desk phones and start dialing for votes. Many of these folks have spent little-to-no time over their careers working the phones. Suddenly they will be confronted with, “Are you kidding? I would never vote for them! And never call here again!”
A few dozen staff members will get an email from the campaign manager, or perhaps the general counsel, that they should be prepared to run home and pack a bag if necessary. While no one expects a repeat of the 2000 campaign (four weeks in Florida here) no eventuality can be overlooked. Should the outcome be less than clear in one or more states, members of the staff will prepare to parachute into a disputed state to serve as the core team of what could or would be the nexus of a full-blown recount effort. Just to be sure, there are jets on standby to ferry the teams to their respective destinations.
Then, sometime around mid-day, the first exit polls will come in. While they are more restricted today than they were say in 2000 or 2004, the press shop still gets ahold of them. If they are in your favor, you feel on top of the world; the end is close - the dream is almost a reality. If the exits show you down in the early states, the pit in your stomach ways about 20 pounds. You sit there, trying to figure out what it means. Could we really be losing? Could all this work, the months of endless days, the missed family events, the personal life sacrificed for something larger than yourself - could it all be for nothing?
For thousands of people, Tuesday will be more than just losing an election. It will be a crushing blow that will take time, like any grieving process. The campaign becomes your everything. Your friends are your co-workers. Your girlfriend works down the hall. The people with whom you live, work and party are all the same small group. You spend so much time around each other, you become family - with all the attendant dysfunction and joy that comes with being in such close proximity to other for so long.
The winners will feel an exhilaration that will, for a short time, far surpass any of the internal squabbling or personal sacrifices the campaign produced. For those in their 20s, winning is a pathway to opportunities that many would do anything for. The campaign is also a singular career elevator; working on the President-Elect’s campaign can mean plum jobs within top-tier government agencies, or, the brass ring - getting to go to work at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Northwest everyday.
On Election Night, after the networks have called the race for your candidate, you honestly believe nothing is impossible. The joy of a job done, and hopefully done well is truly amazing. For those at the highest echelons of the effort, though, Wednesday is not a day off, but Day One of the Transition from political organization to building a brand-new government. Many are veterans of the process - sifting through the thousands of job seekers, making the decisions on who will be lucky enough to staff the West Wing, answering the calls of donors whose children must have that certain job, and parrying with governors who believe they, and they alone, will make the best possible Secretary of Energy.
For both the victors and the vanquished, Wednesday, November 9th will be almost surreal. Undoubtedly exhausted, probably hungover, most of the staff will go back to Trump Tower or the Brooklyn campaign office and begin the process of deconstructing, in a matter of hours or days, the lives they spent months and countless hours building. Most will be off payroll by the November 15th. Those on the losing side will hope to get that last paycheck and their expenses reimbursed. The winners hope to land a cherry gig at the Inaugural Committee that will stand up almost immediately and sweep up hundreds of the staffers who, not slated for the Transition Team, will spend ensuing weeks preparing for the formal, peaceful transition of power.
All will suffer from the campaign blues. After all the work and time and fatigue, the campaign train comes to an immediate and screeching halt. The attendant adrenaline drains away quickly, leaving new campaign veterans and old a little out of sorts and unsure of what’s next, regardless of the outcome. The friends and colleagues these folks have made will likely be with them for the balance of their careers - some will be best friends (or spouses) for life. The presidential campaign is a singular opportunity and a singular honor on which to serve. It takes the collective will of thousands of people and hundreds of millions of dollar to propel one person - one person - to the highest office in the land. A not insignificant achievement.
Whether you are destined for the White House or have no idea what comes next, I offer the advice of long-time GOP attorney and all-around sage, Ben Ginsberg: “Never make a major life decision without a sun tan.”
Copyright 2016. Jedburghs, LLC.