The Candidate | Samuel L. Popkin

Summary of: The Candidate
By: Samuel L. Popkin


Welcome to the enlightening world of presidential campaigns as we dive into ‘The Candidate’ by Samuel L. Popkin. This book dissects the intricacies and strategies involved in the race to the White House, shedding light on the factors that determine electoral success or defeat. Through this summary, grasp the three crucial goals every candidate must achieve, the importance of a well-crafted message box, and the various roles and responsibilities undertaken during a campaign. Understand the particular challenges faced by challengers, incumbents, and successors, and discover the often-contradictory expectations of voters. With this guide, transform your perspective on presidential elections and witness the complexity and unpredictability that drive the path to victory.

Winning the White House

Winning the US presidential race is not solely dependent on a candidate’s resources or popularity. Candidates must understand the different types of campaigns- challenger, incumbent, or successor- and undertake the one that suits them. To achieve victory, presidential candidates must convince voters that they can relate to their struggles, share a vision for America, and manage their campaign well. They must also establish a public identity, develop a future vision, preside over their campaign, be consistent and coherent, and plan for chaos.

The United States presidential race is widely viewed as a competition between candidates with the biggest bank account and the most supporters. However, the reality is different; having resources and supporters does not translate to victory. The 1948 presidential race between President Harry S. Truman and New York governor Thomas Dewey and the 2008 race between New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani and US senator Hillary Clinton serve as classic examples. They were considered shoo-ins for their parties’ respective nominations but made strategic mistakes that undermined their campaigns. The lesson from these campaigns is that understanding the different types of campaigns- challenger, incumbent, or successor- is critical.

Presidential candidates must secure three crucial goals to win the race. Firstly, they must prove to the voters that they can relate to their challenges and struggles. Secondly, they must share a clear vision for America with the people. Finally, they need to demonstrate their ability to manage their campaigns effectively. Failure in any of these objectives could ensure a loss for the candidate.

In addition, candidates need to establish a public identity, which includes their record and family, and develop a vision for the future that inspires and unites Americans. Candidates must preside over their campaigns like CEOs, delegating tasks while reserving essential work for themselves. It is crucial to keep these tasks in sync to avoid conflicts that may make them appear inauthentic to voters. As unpredictable events may occur, plans for chaos that outline contingencies during the campaign must always be in place.

In conclusion, winning the US presidential race requires more than a substantial bank account and numerous supporters. It takes careful consideration of the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses in the election and the development of a campaign that is suitable for their objectives. With adequate planning and execution, the presidency is within reach.

Mastering the Political Message Box

To effectively run a presidential campaign, one must craft a message box that contains four key sections. The first section outlines how you characterize yourself as a candidate, while the second highlights how you will portray your opponent. The third section focuses on how your opponent will describe themselves, and the fourth on how your rival will describe you. However, authenticity is crucial, and a candidate must persuade people that their claims are genuine. In positioning yourself, you must highlight your strengths and downplay your weaknesses. Define your party’s relationship, and describe your rival’s record and goals in an unfavorable light. When attacked, you can “push back,” “attack the attack,” or “push the envelope.” Choosing the right enemy can make you look heroic. While your message box offers a campaign guide, one must remain flexible enough to adapt to unforeseen events. In 1992, the Bill Clinton team created the “war room” model, which remains a template for today’s campaigns to respond rapidly and stay “on message.”

Presidential Challenger 101

Learn what it takes to challenge a sitting president and win the presidential race.

Challenging a sitting president in a presidential race is not an easy feat, but it is possible. The voters seek contradictory traits in a candidate challenging a sitting president. They want a challenger who is unblemished by inside-the-Beltway problems yet capable of tackling immediately the challenges that entrenched Washington insiders cannot solve. To succeed, you need to be an “experienced virgin,” aligning your conduct with your beliefs, and distancing yourself from the “partisan battles” of the day.

While conducting your campaign, you must also deftly negotiate the messages of “hope and change”: You must inspire disillusioned voters while clearly showing how you intend to bring about change. You need to perform “cultural triangulation” by taking on the interests of various groups, depending on your audiences. Additionally, you must ally yourself with various constituent groups by sharing enemies.

As a challenger, your past opinions and positions can become a liability. If they become ineffective or outdated, publicly amend your previous positions or shift your approach. It is essential to appeal to the goals of diverse “ethnic, religious, economic and cultural” groups.

There are three kinds of presidential challengers: senators, governors, and heroes. Senators are influential inside Washington but may not necessarily be outside it. Governors have the advantage of being elected “executives” and are unencumbered by votes in Congress. On the other hand, heroes have excellent name recognition but need to demonstrate that they can tackle difficulties outside their spheres of influence.

The key to winning the presidential race as a challenger is to amass delegates efficiently, particularly in states that hold caucuses, where Democratic and Republican delegates vote in meetings to name their party’s nominee. It is essential to concentrate on new voters, have a clear message, and make change more important than experience.

Using the internet resourcefully, especially in fundraising, is also crucial. A disciplined team is vital, and infighting among the campaign team should be avoided.

Senator Barack Obama, a challenger, once gave Hillary Clinton, a seasoned political observer, a run for her money in the 2008 Democratic nomination. Although Clinton won the New Hampshire primary, Obama campaigned harder in the caucus states, focusing on new voters, and positioning himself as the alternative to Clinton. He also used the internet resourcefully for fundraising and had a disciplined campaign team. Clinton, on the other hand, was plagued with infighting in her campaign and relied on her celebrity status, campaign war chest, and army of endorsers.

In summary, as a challenger, it takes more than audacity, experience, followers, and money to win the presidential race. You need to adjust your strategy and stay on course constantly. The road is not easy, but it is possible to unseat a sitting president with a well-crafted campaign strategy.

Winning a Second Term

Incumbent presidents face unique challenges while running for a second term, and they must pivot from attacking to defending. They need to change their message box to convince people to stay the course rather than take a chance on an untried challenger. External events can pose both problems and opportunities. The example of Harry S. Truman shows how assembling a trusted team, engaging in long-range preparation, and responding nimbly to attacks can successfully fend off strong challengers. On the other hand, George H. W. Bush coasted into his re-election year appearing invincible but still lost. Bush neglected the domestic side and angered Republicans by breaking his 1988 “no new taxes” vow. Bill Clinton defeated him by casting the race as a referendum on the economy and keeping his message box focused, while the Bush operation struggled with internal squabbles.

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