Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Elements of strategy

Many moons ago I promised to explore the different aspects of my Clausewitzian approach to the Presidential election pausing only for occasional "interruptions for more random musings." I shall now attempt to keep that promise.

Having previously established the 'politcal' and 'military' objects of the struggle for the Presidency and having identified the centres of gravity as the respective campaigns themselves, it is now time to consider the elements of strategy: "the myriad of elements from the minor to major that make up strategy as a whole."

Turning first to Clausewitz who describes the elements as: “The causes which condition the use of the combat in strategy may be easily divided into elements of different kinds, such as the moral, physical, mathematical, geographical, and statistical elements." (Bk III, ch. ii)

Clearly, we'll be using more relevent representations, but the basic idea of Clausewitz's "elements" discourse is to brainstorm the multitude of individual, important elements that help comprise the main aspects of strategy in an effort to understand startegy as a whole. Having done so, Clausewitz advises us to consider each element individually before going on to consider each element in relation to each other. He further warns us however that because each element is active, that is, it changes based upon its relationship with other elements whilst also changing them in turn, we must beware of losing
"ourselves in the most soulless analysis, and as if in a horrid dream, we should be for ever trying in vain to build up an arch to connect this base of abstractions with facts belonging to the real world. Heaven preserve every theorist from such an undertaking!"

(And some of you thought he wasn't readable.)

Having established the theoretical, let us now consider the practical. I've grouped my list of elements into broad catagories which I'll explain in more detail in a subsequent posting.

I) Message

Campaign theme: change versus experience as evidenced by
Obama VS Clinton and Obama versus McCain (my political partner-in-crime Frank Spring considers this the pre-eminent political choice of a campaign)

“The ditch we’re gonna die in”: Campaign legend Lee Atwater's oft-used description for the fundemental message choice of a campaign, most infamously his 1988 uber-negative campaign for George H.W. Bush against Massachusettes Governor Michael Dukakis.

Campaign image: from the brand itself to the details of imagery.

Talking points: Such as those issued to Alaskan delegates during four hour media training sessions to help them celebrate Governor Palin's selection.

TV ads: The biggest single cost centre for a campaign so crucial are they thought of to a candidate's hopes.

Radio ads: A highly effective, below-the-media radar, far-cheaper-then-TV method of dissmentating message, especially favoured as such for attacks.

Earned media: Securing free-media coverage either ranging from local publicity to clever PR stunts.

Issues: The broad topic areas (the economy, healthcare, national security) that McCain camapign manager Rick Davies has deemed irrelvent to the election ("This campaign is not about the issues.")

Policy: The forgotten realm of US “politik.” Despite the lack of coverage, the candidates policy shops are often telling indications of their future governmental approaches.

Public polls: Whilst the national polls are much derided by the Obama campaign, they are never-the-less a source of endless media delight and commentry.

Conventions: From their formal party responsibilities to the blissful media spectacle these quadrennial jamborees are not to be missed.

Vice President: As used by Obama, a message choice about foriegn policy. As used by McCain, a message choice about...something else, I give up.

II) Ground game

GOTV: Get Out the Vote operations.

Voter registration: Ground zero for the Obama's campaign's organising effort and the measure by which Obama campaign chief David Plouffe keeps score.

Voter contacts: The process by which campaigns identify prospective supporters and the source of the Obama campaign's "preternatural self-confidence" an excellent illustartion of which is offered here.

18 Battleground States: As listed by Plouffe: Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Virginia.

Private polls: A vital means by which battleground states, message and resource use is determined.

Electoral votes: The different electoral votes of each state which when combined to 270 votes or more in the electoral college delivers victory.

Demographics: African Americans, hispanics, young voters (Obama's demographic keys), old voters, asians, males, females, whites, blue collar voters, white collar voters etc. Although it is possible to take this a little far...

Single-issue voters: From Democrats fixed upon Roe vs Wade to Republicans who "cling" to guns.

Volunteers: the levee en masse of the campaigns' armies. Excellent information on Obama's efforts from Giordano and Pocket Nines.

Enthusiasm: The measure of the level of engagement by campaign supporters. A key explaination as to why this section is dominated by Obama campaign examples.

III) Candidate

Candidate’s time: The most valuable commodity a campaign has.

Senior staff: The inner circle that makes the key operational and strategic decisions of the campaign whilst also having the candidate's ear. In the begining: Obama's inner circle and its expanded version. A primary version: McCain's former inner circle , a later version and its most recent incarnation.

Candidate spouses: From the challenge of schedules rivalled only by their spouses and vice presidential candidates to the infamous cookie bake-off (still the best predictor of the election's outcome), they play a vital role across the board in campaign strategy as these portraits of Michelle Obama and Cindy McCain make clear.

Surrogates: Ambassadors for the camapaigns who can command media attention, raise coin and campaign in the field for their candidate.

Candidate image: The candidate's personal image which Halperin considers the most important thing a candidate must maintain control of.

Debates: With 2004 bringing in more then sixty million viewers the debates represent the single greatest audience of the election as a whole. The Atlantic's James Fallow's offers an excellent analysis.

Bundler fundraising: The large, combined donations brought in by campaign super-fundraisers - the financial mainstay of the McCain campaign.

Small donor fundraising: Primarily internet driven, the mainstay of the Obama campaign in both the primary and the general election battles.

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