Thursday, January 25, 2018

Hacks got to hack


Hack books about campaigns are a guilty pleasure of mine. I take as a given that their political operative authors are almost always trying to sell their own role (perfect in every way, naturally!) and belittle everyone else. That's particularly true in a losing cause and usually also true even if they won. It's a dog-eat-dog profession at whose edges I've played.

Courtesy of the San Francisco Public Library, I've glanced at Donna Brazile's Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House. It's a superb example of the genre: I'm prepared to believe that in her role as the black woman tasked to save the Democratic National Committee for Hillary Clinton, Brazile was surrounded by fools and scoundrels. Such are commonplace specimens in the higher echelons of campaigns. And Brazile, who was Al Gore's campaign manager in 2000, had been around enough blocks to know it. Whatever happened here almost certainly was not her fault. The book grinds her axes, but hey, that's the job of a retired consultant turned pundit.

Nonetheless I'm willing to mull over her observation that voters were offered in 2016 a

choice between a change candidate, whom a majority of Americans found odious and repugnant, and a Democratic nominee who had been on the national stage for more than 25 years. The vast majority of Americans disliked both candidates.

There's a worthwhile nugget in there: a candidate hoping to run a positive, solutions-oriented campaign particularly needs to project broad like-ability. If you are running on mobilizing resentment, like-ability doesn't matter much. But voters don't really attend to policies. If they like you, they may trust your policy prescriptions. But closing the deal runs through their comfort with your person, not through your brilliant ideas. I think Doug Jones' improbable victory in Alabama might be an example of this simple insight.

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