The chain of command in any campaign, from President to town alderman, is one of the most important aspects of a campaign. It also happens to be one of the most under-appreciated and undervalued aspects of a campaign. Enduring months on end of an election cycle, a campaign tends to develop a degree of camaraderie and fraternity among the staff and with the candidate that can leave a campaign in turmoil unless the staff and candidate know the chain of command. At some point, someone has to be the adult and take charge.
Generally, a campaign has a campaign manager and underneath the manager come others. The campaign manager is the one who makes sure the consultants are working – not just bleeding the campaign dry. The manager oversees everyone else and it is the campaign manager who lays down the law. As a rule, campaign managers are in charge and the candidate should act like a lump of meat, posed in a way designed by the campaign staff and approved by the campaign manager. Candidates who run their own campaign, ignoring their campaign manager, head rapidly toward disaster. Likewise, candidates who let too many people run their campaign at the expense of a final arbiter head rapidly toward disaster.
Problems occur when there are others on the campaign staff who do not respect and do not like the campaign manager. These people, taking advantage of the camaraderie and fraternity, can whisper sweet nothings into the ear of the candidate, his wife, and low level staffers. They can go behind the back of the campaign manager, who rarely is in the field, and tweak the campaign to prove their worth. This problem usually spirals out of the control and has the effect of making the candidate listen to an unfocused and undisciplined message of mixed signals and divergent advice.
In the Bush campaign, we are pretty clear that Karl Rove calls the overall shots. Ken Mehlman directs the troops on the ground. Matthew Dowd conducts the polling that helps Karl tweak the message so he can tell Ken where to send the troops. Terry Holt handles the communications for the campaign and coordinates Rove’s message, based on Matt’s polling to the surrogates who are sent out by Ken. It is a well oiled and focused machine.
Compare that to Kerry’s campaign. Bob Shrum is suppose to be the Karl Rove of the Kerry campaign. Mary Beth Cahill should be Ken Mehlman to the campaign. But, then there is Joe Lockhardt and Mike McCurry and Paul Begala and James Carville and Tad Devine and John Sasso and Michael Whourley and Stephany Cutter, and, and, and . . . The Kerry campaign is a vision of what the Democrats want government to look like – overstaffed, too much bureaucracy, too many egos, and a lack of message focus and discipline.
Kerry’s problem is a fundamental campaign problem. He has brought on people to serve duplicative functions and these people do not see eye to eye. Kerry has not put out a consistent campaign message because his message makers are not consistent. Unless Kerry starts shedding and retooling, he will not be able to make up lost ground. Kerry cannot tell us where he stands because no one in his campaign knows where they stand.
In the end, whether Bush wins or loses, the textbook example of how not to run a campaign will be John Kerry’s campaign. Intra-campaign warfare will destroy a campaign faster than any made for television scandal. That is what is happening before our eyes. Enjoy the show.