The key to success for a political strategist is to appear innocent and to have a reputation for honesty and benevolence. He or she who attempts to appear Machiavellian simply is not. At least this is what Machiavelli said. On voting last Sunday, the PANists would not have disappointed him.
The internal contest of PAN, the party in power, ended up as it had to and along the way yielded many lessons that merit analysis. Here are some that I observed.
Before anything else, the notion that opinion surveys are not relevant is a primitivism that is even touching. Worse yet, the systematic argumentation that the PANists are aliens, that their party roster is esoteric, and that the responses given to surveyors are not reliable all bit the dust. That those governing in the XXI Century continue to argue like the PRIists of thirty years ago is astounding.
The dynamic of the internal joust was in the end marked by the circumstances, as well as by the strategies and personalities of the contenders. The three (Santiago Creel, Ernesto Cordero and Josefina Vázquez-Mota) had (almost) the same conditions of entry and the three were free to decide on their action strategy. Each had successes and errors, but the result makes it evident that not all strategies are equal.
Josefina Vázquez-Mota concentrated on PANism and played this out in an environment of hostility generated by the governmental machine. Clearly, her strategy consisted of cozying up to the PANists, containing the government-controlled structures that favored one of her contenders, and avoiding a confrontation with the President. Her strategic playing field was determined by the need to avoid generating extreme reactions, a circumstance that eventually exacted a high level of generality of discourse.
Santiago Creel possessed the freedom of not being the favorite, but also of openly being the president’s opposition candidate. His strategy concentrated on differentiating himself from the government, posing alternative public policies, above all in the field of security, and on attempting to attract the PAN members lacerated by the way the present administration has conducted itself. Perhaps his main error consisted of not taking advantage of his trump card as tiebreaker: instead of becoming an independent force, he concentrated on attacking the leading candidate, at least speech-wise, thus being unable to be differentiated from Cordero and to emerge as the balance beam (even-steven). He inevitably ended up in third place.
Ernesto Cordero demonstrated that a candidacy cannot be constructed by dint of force and even less so by one whose offer consists of being the co-pilot. His strategy concentrated on attacking the lead candidate instead of approaching the PANists as a credible alternative. Still worse, utilizing unlimited amounts of resources, he wagered everything on the capacity of the party hacks to manipulate the PANists, whose DNA has historically been characterized by repudiating the imposition from above (a legacy of their decades in opposition to PRI that has remained in place with the last two PAN presidents). The country needs strong leadership and Cordero’s offer was to be an economist in turbulent times when at present, and different from twenty or thirty years ago, there are many competent economists among whom the next president could choose without difficulty.
The PANists demonstrated a great capacity for maintaining themselves above the petty struggles among aspirants to the candidacy and, much more importantly, above the flagrant attempts to manipulate the result. Perhaps what was most impacting was the abysmal difference between the PAN’s citizen base and the party leadership: the former stayed faithful to the history and traditions of the party; the latter acquired all of the vices and deviousness for which they have always criticized the PRI. And yet, they all put an extraordinary show of unity at the end.
For me, most noteworthy of the entire process that took place over the past several months was the astounding lack of strategic vision of the party’s leadership, beginning with the president and on down. For months I have attempted to understand the logic of president Calderon in this process. The evidence leads me to the following hypothesis: right from the death of the original dauphin (Juan CamiloMouriño), the president was unable to construct a strong candidacy as his PRIsts predecessors had in the past. When he no longer had time on his side, he opted for an alliance with Marcelo Ebrard. Independently of the costs and risks that this strategy could have implied for the future of the PAN, the strategy persisted despite that the Left nominated a distinct candidate: the president’s Nemesis.
Following this logic, no one can believe that the president really imagined that Ernesto Cordero would win the constitutional election. Resorting to him had to have been the product of the president’s hope that Cordero would be the most faithful thrasher of the PRI candidate in favor of Ebrard. However, in a world in which the candidate of the Left was not Ebrard, this strategy was absolute suicide for the PAN but, above all, for the president himself. The absence of strategic vision and the inflexibility in the political operation was impacting. Strange like the dog ending up biting his own tail.
The strategy of the winning candidate was very much criticized in the so-called “red circle”, what the British call “chattering classes”, for following a script, for ignoring attacks, and for maintaining a general and vague discourse level. In the world of substantive debates in which the members of that “circle” presumably would have liked to see the candidates engaged, this comprised a real deficit. However, the measure of a strategy is not satisfying the critics, but rather achieving the objective at the least possible cost. From this perspective, the strategy followed by Vázquez-Mota was impeccable. There she is.
On the next stage of this succession process, the three candidates –Vazquez-Mota for PAN, Peña-Nieto for PRI, and López-Obrador for PRD- will have to convince the electorate of what they are made of, of their vision for the future and of their ability to bring it to life. The dynamic of that contest will thus be very different from what the PANists just went through. Logically, their strategies will equally have to be very different. Nothing new under the sun.
Elections are won or lost by the combination of four factors: strategy; organization; discipline, and candidate. Some strategies are excellent but the candidate is a dud. In some cases the candidate so excels that he/she overcomes the strategic failures. Sometimes neither the strategy nor the candidate makes the cut. Last Sunday’s result gives due credit to this series of permutations. Each will evaluate what worked and what failed in this contest, but there is no doubt that the sum of strategy and candidate, on the winner’s as well as on the loser’s side, made the difference. Machiavelli would have recognized it as such.