Are All the Presidential Campaigns Dysfunctional?

If you wanted to start, say, a software company, you could do it with a little bit of money borrowed from your uncle, and then spend a lot of time working on your product; if things go well, you can hire a second employee, then a third, and slowly build your way up. Starting a nonprofit isn't all that different -- there are lots of nonprofits that start with a person or two, and then gradually grow (or not), but take in enough money to sustain themselves. In either case, there won't be reporters poking around your office saying, "So, how does everyone feel about the CEO? Any tension there?"-- with the results splashed on the pages of Politico.

A presidential campaign, on the other hand, has to start quickly and move in a highly competitive environment, where rapid growth is vital to maintaining its viability. It's like a business that has to show smashing sales within its first few months, or everyone will start saying it's doomed. Imagine if there were stories on the business page of the paper reading, "In its first few months of business, Bob's Hardware has failed to catch on with the public, with the Ace on Maple Street still far outselling Bob's. 'They just don't really excite me,' said one hardware customer, 'I guess I'll probably get my next hammer at Ace.' Analysts expect Bob's to go under by the fall."

And the people who run these enterprises are required to have strategic acumen, understand a set of very different sub-domains (advertising, press relations, ground organizing, fundraising), and also be able to manage an organization that, if things go well, will go from a dozen employees to a couple of hundred within a matter of weeks. There are very few people who can do all that well -- far fewer than actually do it. For a number of reasons, furthermore (mostly having to do with the incestuous nature of hiring in politics), previous failure is little bar to getting a job managing a campaign.

So many campaigns end up being poorly run, chaotic, and beset by internal dissension. One of the reasons I'm sorry that Sarah Palin isn't running next year is that her campaign would almost certainly have been a clusterfrack* so monumental that it would have been the most entertaining show of 2012. But even the best ones can't help but be a bit of a mess. Of course, that's true to a degree of any sizeable enterprise -- I don't think I've ever worked in an organization (and that includes the for-profit, nonprofit, and education sectors) where people didn't regularly say, after witnessing some intra-office kerfuffle, "Man, this place is so screwed up."

So it shouldn't be all that surprising when we hear another story of a campaign beset by internal problems. Not many could match that of Newt Gingrich, who saw his entire senior staff quit in disgust -- I think that now it's just him, Callista, and a travelling assistant from Tiffany's. And now Jon Huntsman's campaign, we learn, is a pit of staff despair, ruled over by an abusive and capricious campaign manager, legendary operative John Weaver. The reason why we know this is that a disgruntled former adviser spilled the beans to a reporter. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Bachmann headquarters is like Lord of the Flies, complete with body paint and mob killings of the weak, while over at the Santorum campaign, fistfights break out over who ate whose Lean Cuisine. At the moment, Mitt Romney's looks like the most smoothly running operation, but for all we know, it could be a hellish place to come to work. The only reason we don't know is that no one has talked.

*You'll have to forgive me -- the missus and I are almost done watching the entire Battlestar Galactica series streaming on Netflix. Brief review: 80 hours of awesome. Frackin' awesome.