“One of the reasons people hate politics is that truth is rarely a politician’s objective. Election and power are.” –Cal Thomas
This article may be of interest to those aspiring for public office.
Before Rome’s greatest orator, Marcus Cicero, became consul, the highest elected political office in the Roman Republic, a then-42-year-old son of a wealthy businessman was given advice on how to win the election by his younger brother Quintus. He penned a short pamphlet on electioneering called “Commentariolum Petitionis,” which was later translated by Philip Freedman in his 2012 book “How to Win an Election: An Ancient Guide for Modern Politicians (Ancient Wisdom for Modern Readers).”
Much like in “The Prince” by Niccolò Machiavelli, the short essay provides timeless and no-nonsense advice for those who seek power.
Idealism and naiveté are left by the wayside as Quintus informed his brother (and all of us) on how the down-and-dirty business of successful campaigning really works. Among his tips included:
Make sure you have the backing of your family and friends
Loyalty begins at home. If your spouse and children aren’t behind you, not only will you have a hard time winning but it will look bad to voters. Quintus warned Marcus, the most destructive rumors about a candidate begin among closest to him.
Surround yourself with the right people
Build a talented staff you can trust. You can’t be everywhere at once, so find those who will represent you as if they were trying to be elected themselves.
Call in all favors
It’s time to gently (or not so gently) remind everyone you have ever helped that they owe you. If someone isn’t under obligation to you, let them know their support will put you in their debt in the future. As an elected official, you will be well placed to help them in time of need.
Build a wide base of support
For Marcus Cicero, this meant appealing primarily to the traditional power brokers both in the Roman Senate and the wealthy business community – no easy task since the groups were often at odds with each other. Quintus urged his brother, as an outsider to the political game, to go further and win over the various special interest groups, local organizations, and rural populations often ignored by traditional candidates.
Young voters should be courted as well, along with anyone else who might be of use. As Quintus noted, even people no decent person would associate with in normal life should become the closest of friends during a campaign. Restricting yourself to a narrow base guarantees failure.
Promise everything to everybody
Except in the most extreme cases, candidates should say whatever a particular crowd wants to hear. Tell traditionalists you have consistently supported conservative values. Tell progressives you have always been on their side. After the election, you can explain how you would love to help them but, unfortunately, circumstances beyond your control have intervened. Quintus assured his brother that voters will be much angrier if he refused to promise than to back out later.
Communication skills are key
In ancient Rome, the art of public speaking was studied diligently by all who aspired to political careers. In spite of new and varied forms of media today, a poor communicator is still unlikely to win an election.
Don’t leave town
In Marcus Cicero’s day, this meant staying close to Rome. For modern politicians, it means being on the ground and pressing the flesh wherever key voters are at any particular moment. There is no such thing as a day off for a serious candidate. You can take a vacation after you win.
Know your opponents’ weaknesses and exploit them
Just as Quintus took a hard look at those running against his brother, all candidates should do an honest inventory of both vulnerabilities and strengths of their rivals. Winning candidates do their best to distract voters from any positive aspects of their opponents by emphasizing the negative. Rumors of corruption are prime fodder – sex scandals are even better.
Flatter voters shamelessly
Marcus Cicero was always courteous but he could be formal and distant. Quintus warned him that he needed to warm up to voters; look them in the eye, pat them on the back, and tell them they matter. Make voters believe you genuinely care.
Give people hope
Even the most cynical voters want to believe in someone. Give the people a sense that you can make their world better and they will become your most devoted followers – at least until after the election, when you will inevitably let them down (but, by then, it won’t matter because you already won)./WDJ