I worry that our candidates, desperate to differentiate themselves from their Republican rivals, will succumb to the temptation to tear each down rather than build themselves up.
I also worry that they’ll focus too much on what differentiates them and not what they have in common.
To the point of exaggerating or even making up differences that don’t actually exist.
This is more dangerous to their political success than I suspect they’re aware.
As talented a bunch as we have among this season’s Republican presidential candidates, none of them will get to the White House without each others’ help—and with the enthusiasm of their followers.
Once there, the new president is going to need his former rivals’ help in crafting policy, legislation, political strategy.
Personally, I think they need to begin now.
And we need to help them.
The art of finding common ground
Political evangelism, like gospel evangelism, is the art of finding common ground with a person who doesn’t agree with you—then leveraging what you have in common to demonstrate why what you believe is better news for him than what he believes.
- It’s risky (you have to give him the opportunity to convert you).
- And hard (you have to invest a lot of energy into understanding where he’s coming from, why he came to where he is, and where he ultimately wants to go).
- It’s inefficient (you can’t just plow through his prejudices on some pre-ordained schedule).
- But it’s effective (in fact, it’s the only approach to deep body persuasion that ultimately works).
I remember heated discussions I had on Twitter with a few of my national security hawk friends—some of them mentors of mine.
The subject was Rand Paul’s drone filibuster.
They were so (rightfully) distrustful of Paul’s non-interventionist foreign policy philosophy that they wouldn’t even listen to his arguments against using drones domestically against American citizens.
The ridicule was reminiscent of the treatment they and others would later bring against Ted Cruz.
Neither Cruz nor Marco Rubio agree with the foreign policy world view of Paul, and yet—
There they were, along with their ally Mike Lee, on the Senate floor supporting Paul’s filibuster.
Here’s what I said to my Twitter friends way back in 2013:
- Refusing to agree with a foe where he is obviously right undermines you in the eyes of the audience, not him.
- A skilled persuader eagerly sets aside all areas of disagreement if he can find one point on which he and his audience agree.
- Agreement is a form of congruence. Congruence is a powerful means of persuasion. So agree when you can and disagree when you must.
- Sadly, most politicians are more interested in differentiation than in agreement. So they focus on making their opponent look bad.
- Most politicians, like most religious movements, are far more clearly defined by what they’re against than what they’re for.
- All else being equal, the first politician to develop the power of agreement into a campaign technique is going to be unbeatable.
Here’s what I’m saying now:
What do you think?