Thursday, February 2, 2017


Strategy of Campaigning, B. de Mesquita

Ronald Reagan's basic views and the principles from which they were derived stayed much the same through his presidential campaigns described in this book. The fascinating point is the way he put them to the electorate in his dramatically successful 1980 campaign. Basically, he didn't change, but he changed the way the electorate saw issues [..]. The reason is that Reagan took positions in the campaign based on principles that he well understood, and he stuck to those principles during his presidency.  His rhetoric came from the strength of his ideas [..].

Reagan's rise to the presidency in 1981 followed on his failed 1968 campaign for the Republican nomination and his close defeat by Gerald Ford at the Republican convention. In the 1980 election, Republican candidates benefited from Carter’s bad luck in being saddled with a hostage crisis and a weak economy (if those were matters of luck). But, as we will show, Reagan’s successful strategy was taking clear shape well before these fortunate breaks came his way. He capitalized on the opportunity when his Republican rivals failed to do so. Success depended on his creativity in redefining issues, rather than on his convincing voters that he had the right position on issues as they had previously been understood [..].

We will see how Reagan progressed in his politicking, from a candidate in 1976 who made rhetorical arguments about well-defined issues, to a more sophisticated strategist who recast political debate in order to construct a coalition that could win him the nomination without weakening his prospects in the race against Jimmy Carter. Chapter 5 continues this theme, turning attention to Reagan’s successful bid during the 1980 presidential election. Here we see that luck played a part—he could not have anticipated that Jimmy Carter would face a disastrous Iranian hostage crisis or a Soviet invasion of Afghanistan—but also that Reagan laid out his winning strategy well before Carter’s woes set in [..].

Reagan emphasized an unprecedented view that linked growth-oriented economic policies with greatly increased military spending intended to provoke a peaceful end to the Cold War. Reagan argued vigorously that these policies could be linked to forge a stronger America, and by doing so he built a coalition of voters that included socially conservative, hawkish, blue-collar workers and socially conservative conventional Republicans. That coalition persists to this day as central to the Republican Party.


The power of the Presidency does not reside in the executive's ability to issue orders - which are heavily constrained against unilateral action. The power comes from President's ability to convince others to join him in a coalition. In other words, Reagan did not cause change after he became President, he did it beforehand, worked on it for many years.

Can Trump convince others to join him? It seems instead of ideas, he uses cheap stunts to affect change. Can this strategy work?