When the Circus Leaves Town
Wednesday January 6, 2012
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A political campaign is like a wedding or the launch of a space vehicle in that the planning and activity starts sometimes years in advance, reaches a frenzied pitch in the last days before the event, then it all stops with "I do," the "The vehicles has cleared the tower," or, "We're reassessing."
We assume, if none of the parties to the marriage are named Kardashian, the happy couple will settle down to years of house holding and child rearing while the florists, caterers, drivers, and bride's maids go back to their regular lives.
Having handed control of a space launch over to mission control in Houston, the launch planners likewise turn in their three-ring binders and start the count-down clock for the next mission.
A political campaign that ends, often ends suddenly, and completely.
In the case of Rep. Michele Bachmann, there will be a few weeks of winding down; collecting cell phones and matching rental car records to states in which staffers were supposed to have been working but, that will be handled by the back office staff.
For the political staff - media, organization, strategy, and advance - for them it goes from Overdrive to Park in the blink of an eye. It's over.
I was around some Rick Perry supporters in Des Moines the other night when he announced he would be going back to Austin, instead of South Carolina to do the deadly "reassessment." They looked shocked and wounded.
That reassessment lasted about 10 hours before he decided that the remaining field wasn't strong enough to force him out so he saddled up and headed back out.
I hadn't known that Bachmann had called a press conference Wednesday morning until I got calls from a number of reporters in my hotel room asking what I thought. I had been on the set of a morning news program so, of course, I had no idea what was going on.
Similarly, I wasn't aware that Perry had finished that reassessin' thang when, while changing planes in Atlanta en route home to Reagan National when I had about 13 missed calls from reporters asking me what I thought.
Here's what I said:
I lived in Dallas for most of the 90's. Texans don't go in much for navel-gazing. Reassessing to a Texan means throwing open the swinging doors to the saloon; ambling in, spurs a-jingling; sitting down; telling the other players you found a fella who paid you cash money for your horse; so, "Deal."
A staffer for one of the other campaigns told me the night of the caucuses that they were committed to staying in the contest through January. That's 25 days away and plenty of time to make plans to get the staff home from Tallahassee or Palm Beach.
In fact the rules of the game - although there is certainly no law - is that you make money available to get all of the staff back to their home bases. A 23-year-old press wrangler was probably making about $2,500 a month for the previous six months and left a job on the Hill or K Street to join the campaign may not have the credit limit on his VISA to front the cost of a plane ticket.
It would not go down well for word to go forth that a Presidential candidate or manager of that candidate's campaigns didn't help the campaign kids get home.
The in-state staff and volunteers know the date of the election or caucuses and as long as they hadn't tried to convince themselves that they, among the entire staff, were going to be asked to stay with the campaign, they will have made appropriate post-election plans.
But, for the next 30 years they will be able to tell the story about the night they ran into David Gregory or Sean Hannity at the 801 Steakhouse.
Some staffers do hook up with another campaign. The most often quoted example is Ari Fleisher who left a senior Hill job - communications director for the House Ways & Means Committee, if I remember correctly.
Fleischer joined the campaign of Elizabeth Dole as the senior press guy in the 2000 cycle . When the Dole campaign folded George W. Bush snapped him up to do media for him and he ended up as White House Press Secretary.
Which points out the best advice I give to young people wanting to get into politics:
There are a lot of reasons why a campaign wins or loses. It is not likely to be your fault either way. Professionals will not care as much about the success of failure of the campaign you worked on; what they will be interested in knowing is how well you did your job within that campaign.
That's when you get invited to join the circus as it pulls up stakes and moves on.
On the Secret Decoder Ring today: A link to Kim Kardashian; an explanation of the 801 Steakhouse; and a link to Ari Fleischer. Also a Mullfoto from presenting a moral dilemma and a Catchy Caption of the Day.
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