“You need a political consultant.”
That sounds like telling an 18 year old high school senior “you need to major in sociology.” Sure, somebody is making a living doing it. But they’re filling a niche, running a racket, or both. So don’t bet on either long term.
When I was a high school senior, my father gave me one condition on college. “You have to major in something that existed 100 years ago.” So History it was.
Political consulting, though, is where I ended up. While practiced since the Greeks first cast ballots instead of drawing swords, it is only a generation or two old as a serious profession.
Like jazz and baseball, political consulting is one of the few genuinely American inventions. That means salesmanship and improvisation and outcomes are rewarded, lineage and qualification and process are diminished.
What makes a good political consultant? Same stuff that makes a jazz musician or a first-ball-fastball hitter. An ability to turn observations and orientations into decisions and actions. A good ear, a good eye. An ability to make one dugout trust you and another dugout fear you, all while you command an audience of interested third parties.
Now, in a world where there’s one dugout, there’s another dugout, and a very interested public watching intently from the (social media) stands, political consultants aren’t optional for brands.
Fact is, the fastballs are faster than ever. Just ask Facebook. Brands now play to partisan crowds, without necessarily being partisan themselves.
And they need to make arguments by their very appearance, image, and broader visual presentation. Bill Clinton’s saxophone…. George W. Bush’s stetson…. Barack Obama’s cool demeanor. These sold to more Americans, faster and with more staying power than anything Tide or Ford ever created.
Then, of course, came Donald Trump and HIllary Clinton. If any distinction between the pull of divided culture and partisan politics was left before them, none will follow 2016’s presidential election.
Thank you, in each case, to political consultants. Leveraging cultural cues to attract new audiences is our craft. It’s where trust is formed instantly… and sales are made.