Only the wisest and stupidest of men never change. – Confucius
Ah yes! It’s late springtime when the Midwestern weather finally rises above the freezing mark and a young man’s (or woman’s) fancy lightly turns to thoughts of winning an even-year election. And one of the few benefits of the social media scourge is, like eyes are the window to the soul, Facebook provides some fascinating insights into a variety campaign mindsets – which are at least 30 years behind the post-COVID era times.
Don’t get me wrong, the missives Cicero sent little brother Quintus explaining those basic campaign tenets hold every bit as true as they did 2,073 years ago. Some things never change, but more things do, and most candidates fail to understand that that the means to an electoral end tend to shift in the blink of a cybernetic eye.
with that in mind, let’s take a look at the messaging mistakes that’ve made me wince in just the last two weeks.
1. Endorsements DON’T matter!
In fact, in today’s hyper-partisan times, they can actually hurt a candidate.
Doubt me? Please note how the Grand Cheeto’s support frequently falls on deaf voter ears – even in GOP primaries – and only the most rabid Trumpers are seeking his royal nod these days.
Endorsements mattered when there were five TV channels, the Internet was a gleam in Al Gore’s eye, politicians were respected, newspapers were the primary source of candidate coverage, and the campaign process was more civil. That lighter news cycle forced voters to rely on trusted newspapers and politicians to help them make election day choices.
But now we have hundreds of cable channels, social media dominates the Internet, there’s a 24/7 news cycle, candidates love to go off the deep end, newspapers are a shadow of what they were, and today’s campaigns would make Machiavelli wince. With every bit of candidate data – true or false – available at our fingertips, we don’t need anyone to help us make up our minds.
Worse yet, with identity and party politics reigning supreme and political reputations ranked a step above pond scum, an endorsement can cost a candidate more votes than it will bring in. And any endorsement that might help you win a primary race will reap the polar opposite response in the general.
That’s why Republicans are avoiding Agent Orange’s involvement and Democrats are starting to shun labor union endorsements.
Perhaps the bigger problem is that, along with their support, you’re taking on all of the endorser’s past and potential future baggage by association. Illinois comptroller Susana Mendoza actively sought and trumpeted legendary Chicago Alderman Ed Burke’s blessing until he was indicted in a bribery scandal. Then she acted like she barely knew him. Mendoza managed to survive it, but she had an awful lot of media ‘splaining to do at a time when her energy would’ve been better spent campaigning.
Just like we cling to obsolete contrivances like cursive and AM car radios, I understand how difficult it is to let go of the old campaign ways, but endorsements don’t matter anymore – and that includes the newspaper variety. So, stop putting so much time and effort into a non-starter that will likely have an overall negative effect on your campaign.
On a final note, judicial, sheriff, and state’s attorney candidates should NEVER accept or bestow endorsements for all of the obvious conflict of interest issues.
In part 2 we’ll discuss how social media, a staple of the post-COVID era campaign process, is so badly misused.
Jeff Ward is a sought-after campaign manager with a 75 percent winning track record. He’s the author of So You Want to Win a Local Election? a comprehensive manual covering all aspects of the campaign process. You can purchase the full color, monochrome, or eBook version on Amazon. If you’re interested in a campaign consultation, or you simply want to reach Jeff, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org