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A tactical guide to healing our political divisions (opinion)


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Submitted by Adam J. Czajkowski

A simple Google search on Jan. 5, 2021 would have brought up countless articles, studies and polls illustrating just how divided America has become. These divisions were on full display to the entire world the following day as protests in Washington D.C. descended into riots. Americans agree we are divided but many of us struggle on how to overcome these divisions.

I don’t have all the answers. In fact, I probably have very few of the answers.

Having worked on dozens of political campaigns in five states, I do have a unique perspective and would like to offer a tactical guide to aspiring and current political candidates and operatives on how to behave on the campaign trail if you would like to try and heal some of these divisions. I want to reiterate, I don’t have all the answers. I don’t always live up to these values all the time. I can certainly do better myself.

First, preempt conflict and set the stage from the beginning of the race by exchanging contact information and creating a culture of open communications among your political opponents.

The best example I have seen of this over my 10-year career is the Reno Municipal Court Judge, Department Two race in 2016. There were four outstanding attorneys running in that race, they all knew each other, and all had mutual respect for one another. That situation made this tactic much easier. The candidate I worked for talked to the three other candidates on the phone no less than a dozen times throughout the campaign trail. Sometimes the conversations were light and easy and other times involved political attacks—those conversations were a little more dicey.

A candidate needs to remember that not all political attacks are dirty; in fact, some are legitimate. This culture requires candidates to have some self-confidence and thick skin but is incredibly helpful in healing political divisions after the election is certified and the voters have spoken.

Next, call off your supporters when they go “off the rails.”

The best example of this that I have seen is not from my career but has certainly influenced it, and that is the late Sen. John McCain’s run for president in 2008. I tried to find the YouTube video of the most profound exchange only to find several other instances where Sen. McCain told his supporters, essentially, “Sen. Obama is not a Muslim, an Arab or a terrorist but a decent American and a family man whom I just happened to disagree with on almost every issue.” Standing up to your own supporters feels incredibly risky to candidates and it probably is, but if you want to heal the deep social divisions in this country, have the courage to do it.

The last two paragraphs might feel like political handcuffs and one interpretation might be that, in my opinion, the way to heal political divisions is to go easy on your opponent. Absolutely not; in fact, quite the opposite. Respect your opponent by going as hard as you possibly can.

To illustrate this, I am going to leave the political arena and head to the soccer pitch. On June 11, 2019, America’s women’s national soccer team beat Thailand’s women’s national team 13-0 in a World Cup Match. There was a debate if this was poor sportsmanship, if the Americans should have gone easier after a win was almost certain. I believe the opposite is true, that going easy on Thailand’s team would have been disrespectful. In the same way part of respecting your political opposition is giving them everything you have.

My last bit of advice in my tactical guide to healing our political divisions is the most important: be humble. The American political system is much bigger than you, much bigger than a campaign, or an election cycle. It is an honor and privilege just to participate in it. Remember that.

I suggest all candidates have three speeches ready on Election Day: one for an overwhelming and obvious victory, one for if the result is truly uncertain, and one in case of an obvious loss. If you listen to my first piece of advice you will know your opponent’s phone number. If the voters have spoken and chosen your opponent, call them and congratulate them. Be willing to help that person succeed and offer your assistance where possible.

None of this is easy, I know. I have learned these lessons not through rigorous and successful practice of these concepts but by too often failing to deploy these tactics myself and on the campaigns I am a part of. In fact, I would like to offer a sincere apology to my fellow citizens where I have failed in this pursuit and made our political divisions worse. However, moving forward I am committed to redoubling my efforts and hope that you will join me wherever your political or partisan loyalties lie.

Adam Czajkowski is a political strategist and managing partner at Tallac Strategies, a full service political consulting firm based in Reno, Nevada.

Submitted opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of This Is Reno. Have something to say? Submit an opinion article or letter to the editor here.

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