There is now less than one year left until the next general election, and Carter is right that the men and women working in the campaigns deserve a moment of recognition. But for most of the GOP operatives we are not at the one-year mark on the calendar.
Among Republicans, most of the staff and consultants will lose their current jobs within six months. Some have already survived layoffs and purges, and are working with reduced pay, diminished enthusiasm and increasing doubt. Of the four to six credible campaigns, it is a safe bet that all but one will be gone by the middle of March of next year. One or two campaigns may not make it to the Iowa caucuses or the New Hampshire primary. It is likely that only one campaign will be standing a few weeks after that primary.
I have a vivid memory of flying on Air Force II from Iowa to New Hampshire in 1988 after Vice President Bush had finished in an embarrassing third place in the Iowa caucus behind Bob Dole and Pat Robertson. The political obituaries were being written. I sat there with my check book and the balance from my savings account to determine how long I could keep going until I had to show up back at my parents’ door in Alabama. That campaign achieved a remarkable turnaround, and my fortunes went with it. So far I haven’t had to admit that my parents where right and that I should have gotten a “real job.”
A lot of clichés are applicable here, and I will resist the urge to be nostalgic. But, suffice it to say, in politics, you win some, you lose a lot. The winning team will never forget the near-career-death experiences. In fact, they will become war stories, polished and embellished over time. For the losers, some are headed home, a few will join the nominee’s campaign, others will find something to do to stay in the game until the next chance to work on a presidential campaign comes along.
Carter is right about the friendships that are formed in a campaign. It is a powerful alumni bond. The relationships last forever and even grow closer over time. In fact, as your tenure in the campaign becomes more distant in time, the space between you and others on the organization chart becomes much closer. In the1984 Reagan reelection campaign, I had assorted responsibilities, but, for certain, I had to make sure President Reagan’s campaign manager, Ed Rollins, had fresh ice in his hotel room when we traveled. Now he treats me like we were arm-in-arm preparing Reagan for the debates with Mondale and steering that campaign to a historic 49-state victory.
Anyway, from this point the Republican campaign for the nomination isn’t really a marathon measured in days but a series of exhausting sprints that happen too fast, and the loser of each sprint is out of the race and the team is disbanded. It is pretty cruel and not for everybody. But it is meaningful work, and it is public service. Good for you.