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Whatever happened to President Rudy Giuliani? Throughout 2007, Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City led the Republican field, at times nearly tripling the numbers of Senator John McCain of Arizona or Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts. Giuliani broke all previous fundraising records for a Republican, and GOP leaders from every region of the country and every part of the Republican coalition rushed to endorse him. Rudy Giuliani won national popular acclaim for the way he guided the New York City government after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. He became known far and wide as “America’s mayor” and was Time magazine’s Person of the Year. He projected grit and determination, and looked particularly strong compared to President George W. Bush, who was presiding over a weakening economy and seemingly unending, deteriorating wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Giuliani was already revered among conservative leaders for his choice of enemies and the relish with which he baited them. New York symbolized Sodom and Gomorrah for many religious conservatives, and liberal excess for many others. Giuliani lowered the crime rate, ridding New York of panhandlers, subway-turnstile jumpers, and especially the squeegee people who descended upon autos at stoplights, wiped windshields with their
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rags, and waited for tips. California Representative David Dreier (R-CA), a widely respected congressman, endorsed Giuliani, arguing that “If he could [get rid of the squeegee people] we know he can win the war on terror.”1 What New Yorkers hated, the heartland loved. Giuliani was the man of the hour after Osama bin Laden attacked his city. He defended New York police against any and all charges of excessive force or racism. He was a hawk on national defense and a culture warrior. Giuliani sold more than a million copies of his memoir, Leadership. Admirers flocked to his book signing and adoring audiences applauded his core leadership principles—“prepare relentlessly,” “communicate strong beliefs,” and “surround yourself with great people.”2 He made his “Twelve Commitments to the American people” the centerpiece of his campaign, distributed them at every speech, and promised to keep them before him every day in the Oval Office. Republicans throughout the country applauded “Mr. Accountability.” He was the perfect corrective to the lack of administrative accountability under George W. Bush. Rudy was the strongest Republican when matched with any Democrat, particularly the clear front-runner and likely winner, Senator Hillary Clinton. He would restore the Republican brand name and save the party from ruin. When the dust cleared, America’s mayor, the candidate with the most money, the best poll numbers, and the most endorsements, had set a new record for futility: zero delegates won at a cost of $58.8 million. And what about President Hillary Clinton? On November 9, 2007, a National Journal poll of seventy-five respected Democratic Party insiders found that Senator Barack Obama was the candidate who had most surprised them—for being a worse candidate than they had expected. Senator Clinton, on the other hand, was the candidate who surprised them for being better than expected.3 Two days after expert observers thought Hillary Clinton was in control, unnoticed breakdowns inside her campaign paved the way to an eventual, very public defeat. And before President Hillary Clinton, and before President Rudy Giuliani, there was President Thomas E. Dewey. Dewey appeared so far ahead of Harry S. Truman in 1948 that George Gallup stopped polling in mid-October to save money. The equally certain
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editors of the Chicago Tribune didn’t bother to wait until the results came in and put out an extra evening edition with the famous three-word headline “Dewey Defeats Truman.” Today, all anyone recalls about this, the most stunning upset in American history are the two legends it created: the Truman who “Gave ’em Hell” to save the New Deal, and the complacent, stiff, overconfident Dewey who never knew what hit him. Why was there no President Rudy Giuliani, President Hillary Clinton, or President Thomas E. Dewey? The actual story of how an almost incoherent Harry Truman overcame a dashing, crime-busting district attorney–turned–governor is far more revealing. Dewey wasn’t complacent or overconfident, and much of the hell Truman tried to deliver was confusing, inarticulate, and garbled. As with Giuliani and Clinton in 2008, critical steps taken before the campaign are what made the difference. Inevitable Winners There are two winners in every presidential election campaign: the inevitable winner when it begins and the inevitable victor after it ends. This book explains the difference between them. It is hard to predict who will win a presidential campaign, whether it is for the nomination of a party or the presidency itself. It is easy, though, to predict the excuses the losers will give later. When presidential candidates explain their defeat, they generally say they were outspent, or they couldn’t get any coverage from the press, or that someone else had wrapped up all the endorsements. Giuliani, Clinton, and Dewey each had the money, the endorsements, and an audience. Somehow, after the fact, it seems obvious that they never had a chance. Giuliani couldn’t win because he was a pro-choice Catholic with a huge ego. Clinton could never win because she was a woman, divisive, and supported national health care. And Dewey was a threat to the New Deal and no match for Truman’s populism. So how did George H. W. Bush, who never managed to win a statewide election in Texas and who championed the Equal Rights Amendment, ever win? How did Ronald Reagan, who started so far to the Left that he was too liberal for the Hollywood Democratic Club to run him for
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Congress in 1950, and who had nothing but rich friends, ever win? And how did Barack Obama, an African American with a Kenyan father and an unmarried white mother, ever win? In every presidential election, there are three possible campaigns any candidate can run: He can run as a challenger trying to regain the White House for his party, an incumbent trying to stay in the White House, or a successor trying to retain the White House for the party in power. The three campaigns repeat like movie roles: Challengers offer a fresh start, incumbents offer experience, and successors—the toughest campaign—offer continuity. Each role has different inherent vulnerabilities. Each role also experiences different organizational challenges during the campaign. Candidates who don’t understand which campaign they are waging make predictable strategic mistakes. For example, they misjudge how and when to fight. Like boxers, they forget they are facing, in the words of one crisis management expert, “the world according to Mike Tyson.” When Tyson was the greatest boxer in the world, reporters would ask him about his opponent’s strategy. “They all have a strategy,” Tyson replied, “until they get hit.”4 There are effective attacks and effective counterattacks, even when a candidate is hit by a Tysonlike uppercut on the campaign trail. But counterattacks only succeed when a candidate knows the rules of engagement by which she will be judged. Figuring out how people will frame her fight makes all the difference between the candidate who gets knocked out and the one who picks herself up again. And that is the topic of this book. It sounds simple . . . but it is not. The sophisticated professionals, both strategists and legislators, who endorsed these losing candidates, all paid a price. They lost potential influence with the eventual winner, credibility with their supporters, and status within their party for backing a flop. And they wasted tens of millions of dollars. Even the most sophisticated observers repeat the common mistake of falling for the person who seems to have all the inherent God-given traits of a leader—like charisma, popularity, and a powerful presence. The problem with this is that time and again we are usually wrong about which qualities a candidate must ultimately have.5 Movie producers are “forever searching for heroes” because people look to winners for inspiration.6 Everyone thinking about running for president
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looks at the current president to see how he did it, and whether she can measure up to that campaign and use the same strategy and tactics. This is a near-certain road to defeat. All too often, winners’ stories are structured as fairy tales, populated with misleading magic formulas to vanquish enemies and right wrongs before reaching the promised land. There are no magic formulas or silver bullets, but many people claim to have one—that this time is different. Candidates would be better off by examining losers. General William Westmoreland, commander of the American forces in Vietnam, explained to reporters why he had not read any books written by French generals after their devastating defeat there. “They lost,” he explained.7 And so did we. Losers merit as much study as the flawed, imperfect candidates who win. If the people who began with the most charisma, political glamour, and money got to the White House, the lineup of presidents I analyze here would include those mentioned above. No one would have heard of President Ronald Reagan, President Jimmy Carter—or either of the presidents Bush. Like movie producers, we downplay the nonheroic, implausible aspects of the presidents we remember as heroic. Many presidents began as improbable candidates—before hindsight rewrote our memories. Richard M. Nixon lost to John F. Kennedy in 1960, then was humiliated in 1962 when he threw a famous tantrum at the press conference after losing the governor’s race—and still managed to come back. Carter, a one-term governor of Georgia, started out in fifteenth place in the field of Democratic candidates for the presidency—yet won. Truman’s defeat of Dewey is the most famous upset of the twentieth century. Young, inexperienced Senator Barack Obama, just two years removed from the Illinois Legislature, outmaneuvered Hillary Clinton, who had been in two presidential campaigns and two Senate campaigns. When you write about war, Barbara Tuchman cautioned, write as if you “did not know who would win.”8 Otherwise, as Michael Kinsley cleverly illustrates, what was simply one of many plausible outcomes becomes a predestined result:
Today, at the frenzied peak of the baroque phase, we debate the wisdom of a candidate’s choice of ties—fueled by anonymous quotes from advisers who urged paisley and are damned if they’re going down with the ship of a captain who listened to fools recommending stripes.
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A week from now, we’ll be proclaiming the result as the foreordained culmination of trends since the Pleistocene era.9
A presidential campaign, like a military campaign, is what Tuchman is credited with calling “the unfolding of miscalculations.”10 They are always perilous. Charisma, money, and polls are not enough to make it through a campaign. I have been studying and taking part in presidential elections since 1964. After every election I returned to academia, reassessing the most recent campaign to see what I had missed or misunderstood. Every campaign was a learning experience. What seemed to matter during the campaign always diverged from the predictions of strategists, reporters, and academic researchers about what was supposed to matter. Whether I was working as pollster, strategist, debate participant, or consultant to a network or magazine, I was also absorbing a feel for the rhythms of each organization and the conflicts within and among them. After I processed what I had learned in Clinton’s 1992 campaign, I was ready to leave the world of campaigns. Then, having finished a book and some academic articles about public opinion and citizen reasoning, I started preparations for a long-overdue sequel to my book on the political economy of rural Vietnam. Soon after I returned from a research trip to Vietnam, however, the Lewinsky scandal erupted and I was drawn back into domestic politics, recruited into a group of old hands working with the White House as unofficial advisors.11 (At the time, I was teaching at the University of California’s Washington Center while my wife, Susan Shirk, was serving in the State Department.) As the scandal was winding down, Robert Squier asked me to be his fly-on-the-wall advisor while he directed strategy for the Gore campaign in 2000. After all I had learned about the complexities of palace politics within Washington, I agreed to stay on as his consultant. When he was diagnosed with terminal cancer I spent time consulting with his partner Bill Knapp while he developed the media for the campaign. That gave me the rare chance to learn about the world of visual imagery I had never appreciated, and see more of the competing claims being fought out in a campaign. After Squier died, I was asked to stay on and help steady a fragmented research and targeting effort. In comparison with the camaraderie, common
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purpose, and (mostly) suppressed egotism of the 1992 War Room, the Gore campaign was dysfunctional, incoherent, and low on esprit de corps or unity. I observed White House staffers en route to the private sector more concerned about padding their resume; Gore insiders determined to advance only those issues that improved their chances to get better jobs when Gore won; campaigners protecting their fiefdom to the detriment of adapting strategy; a revolving door of pollsters and chiefs of staff; and a candidate who changed tactics in the heat of battle without telling his staff. As was my custom, I tried to reassess what I had learned from Gore’s campaign—but I was unable to achieve closure. For more than a decade I tried to make sense of that disastrous campaign. This book is the result. As I began to write, I soon realized that there were no standards with which to assess campaigns. To use a golf analogy, did Gore’s double bogey lose to George W. Bush’s bogey, or did Bush’s birdie beat Gore’s par? To answer, I had to look at more campaigns. To my astonishment, the boondoggles, blowups, ego clashes, and turf battles I had seen with the McGovern, Carter, Clinton, and Gore campaigns were part of many other campaigns. Slowly but surely I realized that the casts of characters were as predictable as the stock characters in a television sitcom. I started with the Truman and Dewey archives to see if campaign experience combined with rigorous research would shed new light on this mostexamined campaign. From the first day in the Dewey archive I saw there was more to be said. And my initial hunch was confirmed that critical campaign decisions depend not on the technology around the team but on the team around the candidate. I also realized that Dewey and many of his top strategists were brilliant, and that Truman beat him by using the tools of incumbency against the Republican Party, not by being a better campaigner. That gave me confidence that the first step in analyzing campaigns was the insight that challengers, incumbents, and successors are not playing the same hand; they have different options and different challenges. The next steps came courtesy of Roger Noll, a policy-oriented economist at Stanford, and Peter Hart, a well-respected pollster. Roger, ever practical, challenged me to explain why campaign strategy wasn’t just a standard business school exercise in planning. Peter, a closet academician with a love of teaching, urged me to describe a day in the life of a candidate to show the complexities of his world. Describing a typical day for
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a challenger, an incumbent, and a successor helped me to explain why planning strategy is harder for a candidate than for a corporation. Slowly and inevitably I realized that what an intellectually prepared candidate needs isn’t a perfect strategy or up-to-date technology, or even the best strategist, speechwriter, or pollster; winning depends upon a candidate’s ability to fashion a team that can work with him and his family, and keep them agile and resilient through the next presidential campaign. This book is my attempt to explain the intricacies of a presidential campaign by examining the winners and the losers, the small details and the big picture, the surprising mistakes and the predictable miscues. My goal is to provide a view of what goes on inside a campaign that makes a candidate into a president.
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