Since last Friday I’ve run about 10 different campaigns of different lengths for various candidates, and various political parties. I’ve put my candidate on rip offs of The Late Show, sent them zig zagging across the country, and just lied through my teeth to get past that magical 270 line. Through it all I learned that elections can be terrifyingly simple.
Stardock’s The Political Machine really drives that point home. Winning the election is just a matter following a simple formula. Drive the point that you favor or oppose a thing early, make token appearances in your firewall states and make some money, and always play to your strengths.
If you want to get a little bit tricky than there’s plenty of room for sabotage and intrigue. You can hire operatives or send surrogates to wreck all kinds of havoc. Ultimately, though, it comes down to you. Rally the base as well as a few independents with some token platitudes about ISIS or NASA and you’ve got it in the bag.
It shouldn’t be this easy to win, but that’s the landscape we built. It’s not even really our fault, we’re just American humans. We’re susceptible to pithy ads, we get our news from comedians and demagogues, and many of us have be indoctrinated by capitalism without ever realizing it.
What’s sad is that that the deeper one dives into The Political Machine, the more perfect an allegory for our political apparatus it becomes. I had Mitt Romney lock up several states by giving salvos of speeches in favor of same sex marriage while totally ignoring the issue in any state that might not like that.
Why did this work? Because people are dumb. Some states just hate the things Democrats stand for, especially if it’s Hillary Clinton standing for them. I never had to worry about losing the Deep South no matter how liberal Romney’s views became. They were just happy that I kept promising to get ISIS good.
Want to dig a little deeper than that? Make an issue out of something. I helped usher Michelle Obama to the presidency by totally ignoring ISIS, borders, and Israel in favor of the environment and the wealth gap.
What was her opponent’s stance on either? Doesn’t matter, I got to those first, and loudest. Sure, I had to give up large swaths of Great Plains, but elections are a zero sum game and the coasts love them some environment.
Any candidate becomes beatable when you constantly change the conversation.
Trump nailing you on ISIS? Talk about Zika. Sanders torching you over emails? Hire a consultant and pivot to, well, anything. Just like us, the people of The Political Machine can barely muster a five-minute attention span. They’ll move to the issues; you just have to give them a reason to.
As of today, on the 3D, real life, planet Earth, the Real Clear Politics average puts Clinton ahead by 2.8. Pollster extraordinaire Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight gives Clinton a 57.5% chance of winning. With each passing day the two candidates run more ads, trade barbs, and tweet their little hearts out desperately trying to sway the election their way. They’ve already built the campaign HQs, the outreach offices, and the ads are in full swing.
The only difference between those campaigns (besides the actual, real world consequences) and my little simulated ones is execution. It takes time and logistical skill to run an ad, make a speech, or hold a fundraiser. Writers have to be hired, space has to be rented, balloons have to be filled. In The Political Machine, it’s all just a click away. Sow and then reap. And that’s terrifying.