How to Lose An Election

Sheriff David Clarke, Ret.,

With nearly every sporting event canceled during the COVID19 outbreak, I went back to one of my favorite pastimes: reading. One of the books I read was: Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House.

Former Chairwoman of the Democrat National Committee Donna Brazile candidly gives readers a close-up view of how Hilary Clinton and her campaign team were active participants in their demise. This book should serve as a blueprint to the re-elect Donald Trump 2020 campaign and the Republican National Committee. Better to learn from other’s mistakes than making the same ones. It should be mandatory reading for every top-level campaign staffer down to the 50 state party chairs. What happened to Clinton was not an anomaly, it infects every campaign, and if it is not managed effectively, it can turn what should be certain victory into a crushing defeat. Arrogance and complacency were fatal here.

Brazile’s work serves as a reminder that no election win is guaranteed. One of the first lessons learned was to avoid the curse of inevitability. Everybody in the Clinton campaign had an attitude that she was destined to be president of the United States. The problem is that someone forgot to notify black voters in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, states Clinton and her staff ignored. I currently sense this attitude from some Trump supporters who believe it is impossible Joe Biden can win in November. They claim Biden is too old and losing it mentally. They say if Trump runs on the economy, he’s a shoo-in. I guess they weren’t expecting that COVID19 would wipe out three years of economic gains in a week. Also, the chatter of Trump getting 20 to 30% of the black vote in 2020 based on a survey is complacency. The black vote for Trump has to be cultivated at ground level, not from a survey-taker.

Brazile’s book also reminds us that because people say they support the job you are doing does not automatically transfer into them voting for you. The Clinton camp had that arrogant attitude too. They thought that there was no way a businessman from Queens with no political experience could beat Hilary, who former President Obama called the smartest and most qualified candidate who had ever run for president. Really?

Another issue that plagued the Clinton camp was ignoring what Brazile called the storm clouds on the horizon. People at the top-level of a campaign rarely go below deck to get a different perspective. People below deck are oftentimes blown off as not important enough because they don’t have a fancy title or a spacious office with a big desk and great view. They couldn’t possibly know anything. However, below deck are the state party chairmen and chairwomen, the volunteers, and the base voters. Their perspective can inform the top that there is an iceberg up ahead and that the ship is headed right for it unless they correct course.

Even though Brazile was high up on the food chain, she was pushed aside by millennial snotty-nosed staffers who had no real campaign experiences. Brazile, with her 40 years of campaign experience at the presidential level, had a gut feeling that the operation was not hitting on all cylinders. There was a lack of urgency and enthusiasm. She heard complaints from volunteers, from people who didn’t have a fancy enough title and from state party people who told her that the top of the campaign was disconnected from the rest of them. Not much of the nearly billion dollars that Clinton raised was filtering down. Even yard signs, brochures, and local office spaces were hard to come by. The top brass arrogantly told her that yard signs do not win campaigns. Brazile reminded them that they show the enthusiasm and energy among the base voters and that it could be contagious. She reminded them that in the black community, brochures and radio ads are how they get engaged and enthused. She said it was essential to get out and meet new people to register. However, Hilary stuck to appearing at fundraisers with wealthy donors because she believed she was destined.

The “smart” people thought they could win the election solely on data and analytics. A ground game was old school, and no longer relevant Brazile was told. I also hear about data and analytics from the Trump campaign. Let me remind them that data and analytics do not win elections; they are a tool, a force multiplier.

The other disease that plagued Clinton’s campaign was an over-reliance on consultants, who are nothing more than a snake-oil salesman. Consultants do little more than bleed campaigns of cash while adding little in return. Most do not know how elections are run, most have never worked in a campaign or have been a candidate, but the belief is that if you don’t have consultants on staff, you’re not a viable campaign. In fact, the opposite is true. The money not spent on consultants can be better spent at the state Party local level where, unlike consultants, the people know how to get out the vote. In the end, everything done in a campaign has to contribute to increasing voter turnout. If it doesn’t, get rid of it.

Finally, Brazile talked about not forgetting the people who got you there in the first place. Trump’s campaign cannot dismiss most of the people who in 2016 helped him win. Clinton got rid of most of Obama’s campaign staff. Yeah, the guy who came out of nowhere and beat the “smartest” woman ever to run for president.  So, during the unpredictable COVID-19 flu outbreak, we should also stay focused on the 2020 election.

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