The 2016 presidential campaign has already begun in earnest, and I have been thinking there are three strategic approaches that the campaigns have a choice in making. And while each one has its benefits and risks, only one has the chance of really moving us forward as a country to a new and better place.
The first strategic approach a campaign can take is basically following the strategy and tactics of the last campaigns. I call this the historic or prerevolutionary approach. You look back at the successful campaigns of the past and basically follow their structure and plan. In this prerevolutionary strategy you don't really update your efforts to fit the current dynamic and environment. You actually don't even take the time to see what the political environment is and if it has really changed. You merely adopt the "winning" tactics of a previous campaign and move forward.
This historic approach is fundamentally based in the past. And I have watched many losing campaigns follow this pattern. While a campaign in the past might have been successful at that time, it no longer fits today's political environment, and thus is bound to lose unless it is up against another campaign following a prerevolutionary model. Why do candidates and campaigns choose this one? Because it is safe and because candidates and operatives are risk-averse. In their mind it is better to go with what worked before, and then you won't be blamed if you mess up because you merely followed a previous winning playbook.
The next strategic approach is based in the present. It is a model I will call the evolutionary strategy. One examines and understands the current ecosystem of politics very well, and composes a strategy, which updates old models and innovates tactically so that you can increase the likelihood of success. This is a model that is Darwinian in approach where the survival of the fittest wins out.
This evolutionary approach is what gave us political advertising, Internet campaigns, soccer mom strategy, micro-targeting, big data, etc. It is a model we successfully put together in the 2004 Bush re-election campaign, and the Obama folks updated in the 2008 and 2012 campaigns. It is an approach that is innovative and incremental in modernization of politics by creating strategy and tactics that fit today's environment perfectly. It is a strategy that fundamentally has an ends justify the means approach and one in which winning an electoral victory is the main goal. This evolutionary strategy is one desired by most candidates and operatives because it gives them the greatest opportunity for winning an election. There is more risk here than the prerevolutionary or historic approach, but a thorough understanding of the political environment and dynamics mitigates this risk.
The third model a campaign could pick, but one in which is seldom chosen, is the revolutionary approach. This strategy knows the lessons of the past, understands very well the present moment and environment, but seeks not to just win, but to change the way politics is practiced. It is a strategic approach that doesn't have winning the election as the end point, but it is a model that wants to show a whole new and better way to engage politically.
It takes the Darwinian theory of evolution, stands it on its head, and says we can control our own destiny. It is not just up to natural selection, but a political selection process we now have some ability to alter. Rather than an ends-justify-the-means dynamic, it is a means-justify-the-ends mode. Where creating a different means of politics and campaigning (and ultimately governing), will give us a better end. And the ends being a different community we all live, work and prosper in.
The revolutionary approach is high risk, but it has tremendous high reward. It is one where by losing with a new model, you actually might be creating a win for society as a whole. It is not just a model of dreamers because one needs to understand the past and present strategically, but it is one that sees a better future and the only way to get there is practicing the campaign in alignment with the future desired. A campaign where what is thought, said, and done is in alignment
We can't say we want the end of big money in politics or eliminate of Super Pacs, and then use big money to win, and then think we are changing the system. We can't say we want open and transparent government and campaigns, and then play hide the ball with and manipulate the media and voters, and think we are creating a more open and transparent society. We can't say we want the country to be unified and come together and get past divisiveness, and then put together campaign tactics and speeches that see the public in segments and microgroups and pit these groups against each other, and think we are building an interconnected community where we all share in the country's prosperity.
In my previous life as a campaign operative, I prided myself on being so smart in knowing the current political environment, and adopting the evolutionary campaign model, and as a result, winning on Election Day. I was very successful, and I was wrong. I lost sight of the real goal and mission of why I loved politics. It became about winning elections, and not creating a new way to live and building a community for the future. I now believe the only way to get out of this cycle is to choose the revolutionary approach. Instead of being successful in today's environment, let us take the power away from "nature" and begin to direct it in a way that serves a higher purpose. And create a whole new ecosystem. We have the power to choose a different way.
And the fascinating thing is that we also have the option to make this choice in our personal relations. Do we want to base our interactions in our beliefs of the past because it is known and safer, do we want to be as successful as we can be in the present and just winning in the moment and being controlled by our nature, or do we want to set a mission of what we most want to model in our relationships, and then practice that today?
It is time we throw away the false choices of the past, put evolutionary models in their place, and choose a revolutionary approach that will change our own worlds, the political world, and the world as a whole.
There you have it.
Matthew Dowd, founder of ListenTo.Us, is an ABC News analyst and special correspondent. Opinions expressed in this column do not reflect the views of ABC News.
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