Truly successful politicians are more alike than we think
How does Rishi Sunak do it? They don’t have to spend their summer somewhere on the beach or in the company of their friends and family, but instead smothering meat among members of the Conservative Party, knowing that their chances of victory are slim.
Still, he serves red meat to Tory workers with the full confidence and enthusiasm of a teenager working at a concession stand.
He does not need to do this: in almost every way possible he will damage his credibility and continue running than achieve an incredible victory.
But while, of course, it is unlikely that the elections – all of which suggest he will receive a massive defeat from Foreign Secretary Liz Truss – are wrong, it is not impossible. A campaign that has been widely written off as unprofessional and ineffective can still be reconstituted as brutal and gloriously cynical.
It’s certainly not a particularly likely outcome, but the only reason Sunak has it is that she hasn’t thrown in the towel yet and decided to spend August at the beach. In it, he decides to put aside his personal troubles, and the prospect of defeat and humiliation, as many politicians as he can, hoping that the long odds will be in his favor. That’s why Hillary Clinton kept running in 2008, long after the point when it became highly improbable that she would overhaul Barack Obama. But that’s why Bill Clinton ran for president at all in 1992, when George HW Bush’s approval ratings in the wake of the first Gulf War made many other plausible candidates afraid to run.
And once you’ve decided to stay in the race, whatever the political incentive to present yourself as the right amount of change, a logical progression on voters’ previous choices rather than a disapproval, always gets stronger. Even candidates giving a big break with the consensus, for example, Emmanuel Macron or Margaret Thatcher, promise to deliver reforms that previous candidates failed to do.
One consequence of that electoral imperative is that it is tempting to view the top of politics as a series of opposite personality types. The cool and scholarly Obama replaced the homespun George W. Bush, and was instead replaced by Donald Trump, who was neither cool nor scholarly. David Cameron, a clever PR type, was replaced by Theresa May, a dodgy Trier, who was in turn replaced by Boris Johnson. What this means for Truss, who has deliberately tailored his image and social media profile, or the fad, who is certainly the epitome of cunning himself, is unclear.
You can spot a lot of flaws in these characterizations: Bush went to Harvard, while May was hardly interested in his image or presentation. All they reflect is, in fact, the political success of those involved. Obama would hardly have been elected in 2008 if he had been seen as providing continuity with the unpopular incumbent, while neither May nor Johnson would have appealed to Tory lawmakers if they were clearly running as him. Were. But the reality is that what unites all these politicians is one quality of perseverance. It was an act of great political risk for Obama to try to obstruct Hillary Clinton’s path to the Democratic nomination: as it was, to put it mildly, there was no guarantee that Bush would win. Gore, as the rosy state of America’s economy, or that Trump emerges from a fiercely contested Republican primary. It was an act of political risk for Johnson to believe that politics would turn his way after May resigned from the cabinet.
The appetite for risk is one reason why most top-level politicians have more in common with each other, even with politicians who don’t quite make it. Politicians whose reaction to Jeremy Corbyn’s handling of the Labor Party would be what I didn’t like: to quietly find another job in a different industry, as both Jamie Reid (Nuclear Power) and Tristram Hunt (Museum) did. Or to retire quietly, as Johnson’s most committed political opponents did in 2019.
Nearly every truly successful politician has endured some sort of political setback before rising to the top: whoever emerges as the winner in a race for cynicism or truce Tory leadership, writing it down multiple times in 2022 alone Will go This is one reason why they will have more in common with the person they want to succeed – and, in fact, with each other – than with a large number of politicians who have less appetite to face bad odds than theirs. .