Jeff Smith: Do As I Say — A Political Advice Column

Q: How do I prevent this total douche bag I hate, who I worked with on a campaign, from getting a sweet political appointment?
I.H., Washington, D.C.

First, I will try to answer your question. Years ago there was a guy in Missouri who was the leading candidate to run the state Democratic Party. He was an unadulterated piece of sh–. Consequently, along with a few others who had worked with him, I decided to sh–can him. But then I realized that the powerful Carnahan family, who disliked me after my campaign against family scion Russ, would influence the selection. So I “let slip” to a close ally of the Carnahans that I strongly supported the candidate, because I suspected he’d go back and tell the Carnahans that the candidate was a “Jeff Smith guy.” A week later we found out that the guy’s candidacy had been scuttled.

And second, I will quote Nelson Mandela, who said, “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping that it kills your enemies.” In other words, let it go. If he’s really that big of a douche bag, people will soon catch on. Since it’s Washington, I guess that means he’ll soon be someone’s chief of staff.

Jeff SmithQ: I’ve worked in politics for about five years. And I’m doing fine—progressively more responsibility in each position, yada yada—but given that I have a law degree, I haven’t really gotten where I want to be. I want to work on a ’16 presidential campaign in a senior position. What would you suggest I do in the next two years to help make that happen?
C.J., Washington, D.C.

Two-part answer here. The first is simple: Raise money, and raise it big and early. Few do it, and if you’re young and do it well, you can write your ticket. It’s the best way to stand out and distinguish yourself early in the party and to the campaign. If your candidate loses in the primary, you’re sought after by the nominee, which can’t be said of most campaign staff. They’re usually left out in the cold.

The second is a different approach: Learn how to do something important that only a few people in politics understand. Two possible areas come to mind where candidates are going to want people with cutting-edge expertise. The first is hardcore quantitative analysis similar to that which powered the Obama re-election campaign. The second is knowledge about state delegate laws, which helped Obama make a series of savvy (and rather counterintuitive) targeting decisions in 2008, allocating resources to small states, some of which held caucuses which advantaged Obama’s zealous supporters. Since the media is currently focused on the former area, I’d probably choose the latter, and get to work memorizing the complex patchwork of state delegate selection laws.

Q: Did Mike Bloomberg raise the bar to a level that none of the current candidates [for mayor] could ever meet? Considering that all of these candidates are career politicians, is the next mayor doomed to one term and a place in history’s dustbin?
Name withheld due to job security concerns, New York City

I’m guessing that if you asked that question, the mayoral candidate for whom you work does not in fact compare to Mike Bloomberg. But no, I don’t think the next mayor is doomed to one term and a place in history’s dustbin. Some candidates disappoint and others exceed expectations once they reach office, and although none of the current crop seems to compare, it is often difficult to envision candidates filling larger-than-life shoes. (What does Mike wear anyway, a 7?) There’s always a chance that one of these candidates will rise to the occasion and emulate Bloomberg’s managerial competence, adjust some of his controversial policies such as stop-and-frisk to address crime more holistically, and in achieving success on those levels, establish a national platform in the way Bloomberg has done on immigration, gun safety and climate change.

Q: So what’s the big deal with Libertarian men, anyway? I hear once you go Libertarian, you never go back. I’m a liberal Democrat and I’m bored with the angry, predictable sex Republican men offer.
Bipartisan/TriCurious in Washington, D.C.

Based on what I’ve heard, Libertarians can have a wild streak, which means anything can happen. But it also means that there may be an element of detachment with Libertarians; you may get hurt if feelings are involved. Also, you should bring a condom, as the Libertarian may leave that outcome to the market, and in any case would only pay for the condom if he could offset the price by spending less on dinner.

(Cross-posted, with permission of the author, from


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