Sunday, December 9, 2018

Post-Election/Pre-Election Reading Recommendation

One of my favorite campaign books of all time was penned by the journalist, author, and playwright Arthur T. Hadley, who, three years ago, passed at the age of 91.  He lived a full and remarkable life, having served his country in World War II in the European theatre, for which he was awarded the Purple Heart and Silver Star, before entering the realm of journalism, where he continued his public service.  He was also briefly an operative, laboring mightily on behalf of Adlai Stevenson as his press secretary in the ’56 presidential campaign.  So he had experience working both for and against Eisenhower, albeit in considerably different capacities.

The book is entitled, “The Invisible Primary,” and sub-titled, “The Inside Story of the Other Presidential Race: The Making of the Candidate” and it was published in 1976, the first Post-Watergate presidential election cycle.  While Teddy White had already written multiple “The Making of the President” tomes by the time Hadley began work on his analysis, it is important to note the distinctions.  White focused largely, but not entirely, on the delegate-selection stages of the campaigns (primaries, caucuses, etc…), the Conventions, and the General Election whereas Hadley emphasized the time before the primary season began…when many potential campaigns are in the formative, pre-announcement stage and are concerned with chasing after the best talent and locking in key donors.  Hadley argued that the success of campaigns was determined, in large measure, by what occurs during this time…with actions that took place outside of the public gaze (hence: “Invisible” Primary).  For the time, Hadley's exploration was ground-breaking.

Of course, that "Invisible" descriptor seems rather quaint to the modern ear.  Hadley’s work came out before CNN and the 24-hour news cycle, before the Internet, and before social media and its implications for transparency and the immediate dissemination of news to a global audience.   

By my count, there are at least 94 potential Democratic presidential candidates whose names have been at least whispered by the Great Mentioner. Some of those, of course, have already announced their intentions to not run in 2020 (Patrick, Cuomo, and Avenatti to name three).  And others have already crossed the threshold as declared candidates (most notably Delaney and less notably – based on traditional viability metrics – Ojeda and Yang). 

I believe the field will winnow itself down to approximately 18 active and at least semi-major Democratic candidates by this time next year.  One hears talk of 30+ but even with present-day information and communications technology and its ability to help connect candidates, quickly and affordably, with prospective voters and donors, it is challenging to see how that many serious campaigns could run truly nation-wide efforts (aka the classic “Carter” model).  Of course, some might opt to compete in only certain states, concentrating on districts where they can make the best use of limited resources and gather delegates to wield clout at a, dare I say it, contested Convention.

A very large field could mean that 23% of the vote in the Iowa Democratic caucuses is good enough for a win in that state – which is good news for a candidate with a very dedicated following who can dominate a “lane” (such as Sanders).  Of course early states like Iowa and New Hampshire will likely have to compete for attention with Early Voting in larger states with more delegates, depending on the final primary calendar.  

There is time to game this out later. In any event, if you enjoyed Richard Ben Cramer’s What It Takes or the Jack Germond and Jules Witcover books that covered the American presidential campaigns in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and are looking for a good December 2018 read in order to better understand 2020, I highly recommend Hadley's The Invisible Primary.

In solidarity.

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