“What keeps you up at night?” is a standard question asked by management consultants. What if we asked that same question of the campaign managers of the leading candidates in the presidential race? How might they respond? I tried to put myself in their shoes, or rather, in their sheets.
Mitt Romney's team might toss and turn over today’s Union Leader endorsement of Newt Gingrich. The paper usually takes one of two paths; it either endorses strongly or all-out. In the latter scenario, it has been known to run daily front-page editorials trashing their candidate's opponents — essentially becoming a communications arm of their favored candidate's campaign. From the tone of their endorsement, I would bet on shock and awe for Romney from New Hampshire’s leading newspaper.
Now I could try to ease my insomnia by remembering that the paper once endorsed President Steve Forbes and that newspapers aren’t what they used to be, and southern New Hampshire reads the Globe, and the Union Leader is seen as whacky, but man oh man, this is bad.
If the paper goes nuclear on my guy, then the other guys don't have to go negative on me and risk the backlash. They can stay positive and let the paper do all the dirty work. When they get through with my candidate, he's going to stink so bad, they’ll have to wrap him in . . . well..newspaper! The reason I can't sleep isn’t that this stupid endorsement is going to help Gingrich — Gingrich! Can you believe it? — but that it is going to kill my guy. You tell me how to win this thing without New Hampshire. Maybe double-down in Iowa? Get a grip. I need an options memo sent to Mitt by 7 a.m. That's in three hours!
Meanwhile, in another crummy motel room — you can't get a decent hotel anywhere in the early primary states — Gingrich’s manager (that is, Newt himself) is up late as usual, not fighting sleeplessness but embracing it. Others have weighed in on the meaning of the endorsement and other campaign matters over the last 24 hours. As usual, they have seen little pieces, not the whole.
“The FUNDAMENTAL — God I love that word, even though Callista says I use it too much — question facing my campaign is whether you need ‘bricks and clicks’ to win a presidential campaign, or will ‘clicks’ suffice. I predicted many years ago that the Internet would fundamentally change the way politics gets conducted in this country by removing the barriers to participation and empowering insurgents. My candidacy is positioned now to test my theory. The ‘clicks’ — along with the idiocy of my opponents and my own intellect — have made it possible to realize what I always believed is my destiny: the presidency. (By the way, those guys who ditched me when Callista and I took that little cruise — what party do you think they’ll be working in the next eight years? ) But, and this is the question. Can I get my people to turn out at the Iowa caucuses without a traditional organization to pull them in-- the ‘bricks.’ A leader has to stand up in rooms on a cold night all over Iowa and be a Gingrich captain and inspire, count and hold my supporters. That isn’t virtual; it's real, and it secretly worries me. The press misses everything as usual — the guy I have to worry about in Iowa and New Hampshire is Ron Paul. He's got an awesome network of supporters in both states, and they are going to blow some people away.”
Rick Perry's managers, by all accounts very competent professionals with no long ties to Perry, might be tempted to pop an Ambien because of the anxiety that can plague those who do this for money and glory, rather than loyalty: “How is this failure going to look on my résumé? When we came in, this guy was already falling. . . . We’ve made some good ads, given him some good days, but he keeps screwing up. A jockey’s only as good as his horse, and this guy can't run on a national track. Now, let's see how he races in the mud. I should have listened to the Bush guys! Well, at least we’ve got some money to rock-and-roll in Iowa and New Hampshire. If we could freeze our candidate for the next 45 days, we might just surprise some people. Where is he tomorrow, by the way?”
Herman Cain’s manager Mark Block is planning the comeback. The Boss called last night and told him to get a whole new focus on 9-9-9: “You saw the Crowley interview, right? We can ride this congressional debate, and refocus on the jobs and growth issue. Which is mine. Forget unemployment benefits and payroll taxes— they are Band-Aids; I'm the only guy with a plan.” Maybe, Mark thinks, but every time before, whenever we got a little traction, I got another kind of late-night phone call with some more embarrassing allegations. “Hey, I need a cigarette, but it's 20 degrees outside. I want to live in a country where you can still smoke indoors.”
Tomorrow afternoon, I will try to imagine what keeps the Obama campaign team up at night.