Romney and the Frick and Frack Rule

 By Ken Feltman
One of the worst habits of political consultants is our tendency to criticize other consultants. This is especially true when the criticism involves a candidate’s behavior. Often, no matter what the consultant advises, the candidate does something else. If disaster results, media coverage zooms in on the candidate. But we consultants tend to rip into our consulting competitors.
Legendary political consultant Joseph Napolitan, co-founder of the International Association of Political Consultants, once remarked on the “vulture inside every consultant.” He and I sometimes did a “Frick and Frack” show in presidential election years. First, he discussed the Democratic candidates and appraised their chances and I examined the Republicans. Then, we switched and he took after the Republicans and their campaigns while I dissected the Democrats.
We noticed that both of us were more brutal in blaming our own party’s consultants for what may have been sins of the candidates. Initially, we concluded that this was a result of familiarity: We knew the consultants in our own party better than those of the other party and, therefore, could make more insightful judgments about practitioners from our own party. Soon, we concluded that we were wrong.
Within a few days, we gave very similar presentations to a group of young corporate CEOs in New York and then to our consulting peers at a meeting in Europe. The CEOs focused on issues and the candidates. In a dispassionate and analytical way, they probed what we knew about the budgets, fundraising, advertising and strategies of the candidates. The CEOs wanted to find out which candidates, because of their skills at building strong campaign staffs, had the inside track on victory.
The European meeting was different. Almost immediately, the consultants – from all across the world – delved into the personalities and past successes and failures of the consultants for the various campaigns. The consultants at the international meeting from parties on the left were much harsher on American Democratic consultants. Those from right-leaning parties were tough on Republican consultants. Whether from actual knowledge or just plain jealousy, the folks on both the left and the right bashed their ideological counterparts in the United States. Joe and I decided that competitive juices were at work. Joe commented that there is a vulture inside each of us. We cannot help ourselves. But each of us can be aware of our own frailties and our own human nature.
I was reminded of this a few days ago when I joined some GOP political consultants, media producers and pollsters gathered in a Washington watering hole with a couple of political reporters. Quickly, the discussion was directed by the reporters to what they called the troubles with Mitt Romney’s campaign. Like vultures, the Republican consultants descended on their prey.
Wait a minute! These Romney consultants did not just happen to fall off a turnip truck as Romney was driving by thinking that he needed to hire a few folks. They are seasoned, capable, respected men and women. Maybe Romney is making their job harder. We have all had our share of “difficult” candidates. Maybe Romney is a dream to work with. In the end, that does not matter. Only the winner from among all the candidates who had the nerve to put his or her name on the ballot will be sworn in next January. The consultants do not even hold the Bible or stand beaming close by as the oath is administered. At best, they are in the background and usually not even there.
Some of them will move on into the White House with their winner. All of them – whether with the winner or one of the many losers – will have learned a great deal during this cycle’s campaign. They will know things that cannot be taught in grad school. They will know people who you meet only on the campaign trail. They will get the phone calls in four years from wannabe candidates.
The Frick and Frank rule applies: Candidates win or lose but political consultants gain invaluable experience no matter what happens on election day.

About Radnor Reports

Ken Feltman is past-president of the International Association of Political Consultants and the American League of Lobbyists. He is retired chairman of Radnor Inc., an international political consulting and government relations firm in Washington, D.C. Known as a coalition builder, he has participated in election campaigns and legislative efforts in the United States and several other countries.
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