My non-political friends are always asking me, “So… is working in politics like House of Cards?” My immediate answer of course is, “No.” I always follow it up with, “It’s more like Game of Thrones. But ya know how people are always getting killed in House of Cards? No one dies in real life, but folks are definitely out for blood.”
Working in politics is a war of attrition. Survival is winning. Hours are long. People are thankless. And as the saying goes, “If you’re looking for a friend –get a dog.”
So how do you survive? How do you manage to navigate the difficult scenarios and personalities that come from working in a genuine blood sport?
Here’s what I’ve learned over the past 15 years and try to practice:
1.Tell The Truth
This one seems easy, but it is probably the hardest for politicos. All that time spent crafting savvy messages and weaving narrative to fit your position, can sometimes come at the expense of your own honesty. Whether it’s with candidates, campaign staff, other vendors, or my own team at Push Digital, I want what I say to be impeccable. Here’s why: You only get one shot at being dishonest. Get caught and then you’re just a liar. Who is going to trust your strategy or decision making? In my experience, lying is the quickest way to get marginalized or cut from a political team.
If you promise something, do it. Here’s why: Politics is full of people who talk a big game, but are actually skill-less losers. WE ALL KNOW THESE FOLKS. When you can’t deliver on what you’ve promised you’ve joined their ranks and word gets around. Also, this is the most fulfilling aspect of my job… Saying I can do something amazing and then getting it done! If you’re not delivering, you’re missing out and will likely be done for.
3. Don’t take Anything Personally
It isn’t about you. When things happen in politics, more often than not, there’s more to it than just your piece of the pie. Life is too short and memories are too long. Plus, who wants to work with someone narcissistic enough to trace every campaign decision back to their own personal situation? Grow up.
4. Assume Everything.
I get a lot of grief for this rule because it’s pretty cynical. But lets be real, there are bad actors out there. Malicious people exist. Donald Rumsfeld taught us about “failure of imagination” after 9/11. It’s an important lesson for everyone in the political space. If you can’t see it coming, you can’t mitigate the problem or protect yourself. This means anticipating even the most unlikely scenarios. Im not saying be conspiratorial or ridiculous. But fighting every battle in your mind, prepares you to pick the right strategy for the battle that eventually comes.
5. Stay in Your Lane
If you’re an expert on everything, you’re an expert at nothing. This is a huge issue in politics. I’m a digital guy. I don’t do polling. I don’t do tv. I don’t do mail. I know really great people who do all of those things and I’m happy to work with them. Can’t tell you how much I learn from attentively watching really talented people operate in their space. Likewise, I’ve learned to contribute as much as I’m asked to, to the best of my ability, within my competency. I know what I know. I also know what I don’t know.
BONUS TIP: Be Nice.
Don’t be a dick. This is a small business and Phil’s gonna be around along time. He doesn’t forget shit.