As journalists have their mandated meltdown that Doug Ford won a very simple game, and became the new Ontario PC leader despite a well-crafted narrative that was supposed to put a woman in that position, it is time to look at two of those women to see how is it possible for a female candidate to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Christine Elliott was channelling Hillary Clinton in so many ways that it was truly breath-taking. She was not the gracious loser, taking a long time to concede defeat. She has more votes, but as I have repeatedly said, campaigns are not about getting more votes, but strategic ones. It is a game of skill and tricks, many of which are dirty. It is campaign warfare in the truest sense of the word.
But in 2018, just like 2016, there is some mistaken notion that you have to (a) be “inclusive”, and (b) be non-offensive. As Donald Trump proved, those are the first two steps to defeat.
You are not supposed to be all things to all of the people. You have to pick a few demographics and psychographics, push the right buttons, and get enough of them to vote. You do not need a majority. How many times do we have to have elections before the public comprehend it is not about a majority. It doesn’t matter if it took place 1984 or 2016 or 1900 — you do not win campaigns courting a majority.
It doesn’t matter what the general consensus is — what matters is what the primary targeted blocs that vote come Election Day, and often, those groups deliberately hold their cards close to their chests.
There are ways to get voters, and ways to repel them away from marking your name on the ballot. Men such as Ford and Trump understand enough to say “I am running for the public/common voter” and “I will bring change” that implies the change will benefit the targeted groups for the better because under the current regime, they are being ignored.
For all the prattle that Trump and Barak Obama are nothing alike, they campaigned using that same winning strategy — the only difference was who were the target groups. Trump went to the Right. Obama went to the Left. Same structure, but different content of message.
But journalists have a true blindness when it comes to seeing structure. They only see content.
To them, they think Obama and Trump are different. If they looked at structure of thought, they’d realize they are the same.
Ford won because his structure of campaign aligns with what successful candidates do: have you-focussed messages that promise a positive reward for the vote. Target certain groups, and they will hedge their bets on you. You focus without being all over the place, saving your enemies for other tactics.
Elliott had a me-focussed message — she ran twice before, and thus, it was, “her turn” to lead. The backdrop of #MeToo implied it was the natural conclusion to have a woman in charge.
Clinton’s defeat was a factor in creating a fertile ground for #MeToo, but her message was equally me-focussed — it was her turn to lead because it was a “woman’s” turn to run. That doesn’t explain to voters what is in it for them to vote for her. That, coupled with the unfocussed bid to get as many voters as possible, meant she set herself up to lose.
A candidate needs more than just confidence in being able to do the job: you must have the confidence in your own targeted groups to give you their goodwill. If you know a good percentage of Group A will have your back because you made it clear you’ll have theirs, you don’t do desperate things and overwork your campaign.
This isn’t to say the entire campaign is above board — you’ll have private investigators going through rivals’ garbage for dirt. You’ll have people play dirty tricks to keep certain votes away — but any of that can backfire.
You also cannot worry about offending people outside your targeted groups because you cannot please all of the people all of the time. In fact, upsetting one faction turns you into irresistible forbidden fruit that your group will vote for just to stick it to the rival faction. For Anti-Establishment candidates, they absolutely have to be ready to thumb their nose at sanctioned beliefs. It’s why activist groups are often unwitting pawns in campaigns — the second they howl, they send a signal to the offending candidates’ potential voters that their person is brave enough to stand up to those lines drawn in the sand.
Clinton played it safe, and she paid the price. Elliott took from Clinton’s playbook and suffered the same fate.
Caroline Mulroney’s case of the Clinton Syndrome was more subtle, but her problem was that she also lacked a you-focussed message. She was a legacy candidate, which gave her an initial edge, and she would have been a natural choice in the light of #MeToo, but when asked why she was running, she didn’t have the answer. She also couldn’t handle softball questions about her children being in private school — all she had to say was she wasn’t happy with the current public system — but if she was elected, she’d make sure education improved for everyone…
Or something along the lines. It wasn’t as if she was getting tough questions, but she came off as someone who didn’t think she had to answer to anyone, and when you are running to be in charge of other people’s money and hold their fate in your hands, you need to be somewhat accessible. Clinton had the same problems, and it was what always made her a problematic candidate.
But with Clinton, she became senator right after her husband’s presidency, when she was seen as forging her own way right after her husband’s infidelity nearly got him impeached. There were other reasons why she was voted in back then — but that kind of support was time sensitive. By the time she ran for president, she got no lift in support by it because by then, it was a different ballgame.
Men like Ford and Trump get it. They use playbooks that brought others victory. Elliott and Mulroney didn’t, and it cost them both the paper crown.
As for the provincial election, Kathleen Wynne is also someone who gets it — she is a polarizing figure. She is disliked by the majority.
And yet she knows how to connect to the right coalition of groups with strategic promises to get herself elected. She is focussed, understands you-centred messages, and is not afraid to offend a majority. She knows how to tussle with the big boys, and it is one of the reasons she earns her victories.
Very rarely do you see two candidates vying for the same coveted position who are equally structurally savvy in that regard. You either have a candidate who was in power for so long that they think they don’t have to fight like a newcomer — or a candidate who sees an incumbent is disliked, and then thinks they will win by default. This is first major election that I can remember where the candidates are truly equally matched in every way.
Some people think that may give NDP’s Andrea Horwath the same kind of default victory Bob Rae got and then fumbled, but it is not a foregone conclusion that Ford and Wynne will cancel each other out. Ford can easily turn an Orange Hamilton area Blue, for instance. Wynne can also pull a rabbit out of her hat. She is not suffering from the Clinton Syndrome, and she is someone who can get results even when the odds look bleak. Anyone who looks at her polling numbers is missing the big picture.
Who ultimately wins depends on which targeted groups get the most inspired to go out an vote, and this is a rare case where both Wynne and Ford can raid the NDP’s seats to eke out a victory.
Hamilton and Toronto are going to be big battlegrounds. Ford and Wynne both have strong support in Hogtown. Neither is well-liked as a general consensus — but are both beloved by very loyal core groups of voting blocks.
While the leadership race was a replay of the Trump-Clinton match, the election is anything but, and it will make a very good comparison to see whose you-focussed message will be most effective this time around.