Kill or Be Killed , Military Strategies Can Help Win Campaigns , by "Doc" Sweitzer

Winston Churchill wrote ."Politics are as exiting as war and quite as dangerous . In war you can only be killed once , but in politics , many times ".

Politics and war follow the same principles : armies face off in battle , each with different plans , different strengths and weaknesses , limited resources , general with different styles , and all sharing the same goal of crushing the enemy . All the planning ,training and strategy collide at a single place and time . In war , the battlefield is Waterloo or Gettysburg , In politics , the battle field is the voter's mind .

Military academies spell out the war principles in a simple acronym "MOOSEMUSS . These principles , when applied to politics , are invaluable. When all hell breaks loose in a campaign , they help you focus on what is important and guide you through your battle . 


The first principle of war , according to Klaus von Clausewitz , is to " Keep your forces concentrated in an overpowering mass ". Put another way , CONCENTRATE YOUR STRENGTH AGAINST AN OPPONENT WEAKNESS ,  In Desert Storm , the US amassed its superior air forces and technological advances  at the border before a concentrated attack on Irak . In 1994 , the Clinton campaign;s mantra , "It's the economy stupid " , guided them to concentrate their attacks on George Bush weakness . 

In 1984 , pollster Pat Caddell used the same principle to devise Gary Hart's primary strategy against Walter Mondale . He focused on Hart's independence against the Mondale line up of " special interest " supporters and compare the attack to the German Blitzkrieg of the French Maginot Line of World War II .

In designing and delivering your message , direct your strength at your opponent's weakness . As Napoleon believe , " God is on the side of big battalions ". 


" The first principle of the general-in-chief is to calculate what he must do to see if he has all the means to surmount the obstacle with which the enemy can oppose him ,and when he has made a decision , do everything to overcome him ." It was much of the genius of Robert E, Lee , to engage the North on the turf he choose and in the battles he wanted to fight , and to run when he faced insurmountable odds only to regroup and fight another day . Sun Tzu believe that the smartest generals only fought wars they could win .

Bush campaign manager Lee Atwater had a clear objective in 1988 when he said , "I am going to scrape the bark of Michael Dukakis . The winning campaign scored more points by knocking down Dukakis than by building up Bush .

Pick your fights. Throw everything at the objective : every handshake , every dollar , every minute .


Defense may win football games but offense wins wars and political campaigns .there are few fortifications  or candidates that can withstand continuous assaults  without falling , so the goal is to constantly take turf from the opponent . Observe President Clinton, who is now seizing every opportunity to cannibalize potential Republican messages . School uniforms , welfare reform ,tax cuts . Sure been there, done that . " Getting there first with the most " would make Napoleon proud .

Stay on the attack , because each day a different set of voters are either making up their minds or preparing to make a decision . Be the aggressor . as James Carville observes , " It is hard for someone to hit you when you have your fist in their face ".


Clausewitz said , " In war everything is very simple , but the simplest thing is difficult ". In a campaign , it is simple to say the candidates will knock on doors as part of the strategy . But whose doors ? Republicans , Independents , or Democrats ? Where will they knock ?In rural or urban ?In the base or in the area with the most undecideds or ticket splitters ? Will they leave any literature behind ? If so , what will it say ? Will volunteers assist ?What will be the follow up , if any ? Knocking on doors is simple . knocking on doors in a systematic and effective way is difficult .

The chief job of any campaign strategist is to take what appears complex and then simplify it .How will we use our time ?How will we raise and spend money ?What will the candidate say and do ? What is our message and how will we deliver it ?Answering these simple questions can turn the complex into simple , achievable goals .


I learned about campaigns from Tom Tully , a talented Democratic campaign pro whose untimely passing several years ago was a great loss to the whole process . When I was working with him as a fundraiser , I asked if I could rent a desk so I could have drawers for all the paperwork  I was accumulating . Paul , in his unimitable style , said , " Desk cost $10 per month, tables cost $5 ." Translated , it meant we needed to save all the money we could to buy media and persuade voters . Indeed , with or without drawers , desks do not persuade voters .

Economy of force means using the fewest possible resources to keep the operation going while concentrating the bulk of the resources on the objective . Don't spend money on fancy offices at headquarters , but rather give the troops good shoes , good food , and plenty of bullets .

I am often asked , " How much of the budget should be spent on media ? The answer is as much as possible . What is the goal of the campaign ?To talk to voters . and how do voters get the information ? depends . In most districts the best way to reach voters is through broadcast or cable television , newspapers , direct mail , , or radio . In other districts voters may get their information from a sample ballot . The goal is to get to the voters the right information in the most effective and efficient way .


In any campaign you will use a combination of three or more strategies . Here are eleven that are commonly use . 1 -POSITIVE . If people are favorable to your candidacy , they are more likely to vote for you . 2-You can wage a WAR OF ATTRITION , if you have the assets you can swamp your opponent . 3- If you REPRESENT AN ISSUE , you equate a vote for you as a vote for that issue .4- DIVIDING VOTERS ON IDEOLOGICAL LINES  , is a potential strategy .It's a tactic that Jesse Helms has emplyed so successfully .5-WIN YOUR BASE . 6 .PUT TOGETHER A WINNING COALITION 7- CHANGE THE NATURE OF THE ELECTORATE . In a low turn out election , who turns out is important ..8- DRAW DIFFERENCES WITH YOUR OPPONENT . 9-DRAW BLOOD FROM YOUR OPPONENT WITH MEGATIVE ATTACK . 10- DIVERSION . 11-MAKE IT A REFERDUM ON LARGER ISUUE.



Napoleon believe there is nothing more important than unity of command .Campaigns should be run by dictatorships , not Committees . Time is everything , and decision making moves much too quickly for you to sit around and get everybody's input .Few statues were ever built to honor a committee .

This principle is illustrated bu comparing George Bush's two presidential bids .His 1998 campaign , under the unified command of Atwater , Ailes and Baker , triumphed . The 1992 campaign , in which no one knew who was in charge , failed miserably .



War is based on deception ."When able to attack , we must seem unable .When we are near , we must make the enemy believe we are far away . When we are far away , we must make the enemy believe we are near . Hold on to entice the enemy , feign disorder , and crush him .

The years was 1988 . The scene , Boston Harbor . Candidate Michael Dukakis , who spent a lifetime as an environmentalist , quietly tried to sit on a lead in the race for President .Then , in one of many surprise attacks , the Bush armada , along with the national press , cruised into Boston Harbor  to attack Dukakis' environmental record . In his best Captain Reno , Bush said " I am shocked " at the pollution in Boston Harbor . It was a surprised attack that forced the Dukakis campaign to defend its own turf . The Japanese didn't do it any better at Pearl Harbor .

The elemnt of surprise is one of the greatest tactics , particularly for challengers .Atila the Hun believed , " Perhaps the single most important element of decision making is timing ". And Napoleon declared , " I may lose battles , but I do not lose minutes ".



Secrecy is so necessary for a general that the ancients have said that there was no human able to hold his tongue , " said Frederick the Great  . "But there is a reason for secrecy . If you form the finest plans in the world , they might be divulged ...... then what good are they ".

Political candidates who blab their plans to friends and staffers shouldn't be surprised when it all gets back to the opposition . If a plan is worth the time it takes to develop it , then it is worth keeping from the opponent .

Don't let valuable information fall into the hands of the enemy . Remember , " Loose lips sinks ships ". Or as political analyst Jeff Greenfield said , " There is no such thing as paranoia in politics , because they really are out to get you ".