Do not neglect the opportunity to deceive your enemy. Make him think of you as a friend. Let him think of you as weak. Let him act prematurely. And never tell him anything.

Wess Roberts[1]

[Hello, folks; this is Phil, again! Hopefully you weren’t waiting for someone else. I’m here because I found another book, and it was free!. Wait, let me rephrase that. If you’re a part of Generation X[2], or a Millennial[3], I know you’re confused about the current state of our politics, and normally I would be, also; but the book I found explains everything. Well, maybe not everything; it doesn’t have much to say about astrophysics, global warming, or economic cycles; but it does provide a useful way to sort through the controversies our “leaders” have produced for us to admire this election season. It’s a book of strategy and tactics, produced by a management guru of 30 years ago, and avidly consumed by your parents and other baby boomers, when they were younger. And it’s relevant today because, guess what? While you follow events, and some of you are greatly concerned with politics, the boomers are still in charge. Your job is to respond to stimuli and vote, not to manage or understand.

So, if you really want to understand what’s going on, you need to look at your parent’s playbook, and, I would submit, that means you have to read Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun.[4] Now, don’t make fun of me just because my copy was free. I’m sure that, if you research the internet, you can find someone to sell you one for good money. The fact is, it was a big seller back in the 1980s, and was endorsed by lots of important people [Tom Peters, Wayne Dyer and Bob Crandall[5] come to mind] even though you might not recognize their names today. More to the point, it’s an easy book to read and fun to quote.]

Now let’s talk about fiction versus reality. Attila was a real character[6], also called the Flagellum Dei[7], who lived in the Fifth century A.D. His tribe was the Huns, a nomadic people who had invaded a good part of Europe in the previous century, and attempted to expand westward.[8] His great adversary was the Roman Empire, or more precisely, the Eastern and Western halves of it, which he invaded, made and broke treaties with, and generally made war on during his lifetime. Nevertheless, he died in his sleep [or “woke up dead,” as some say] following his wedding in 454 A.D. It’s said that those who buried him were killed by the Huns “so that his grave might never be discovered.”[9] He was succeeded by his sons, who divided his empire.

It’s pretty clear that Wess Roberts wasn’t really quoting Attila when he wrote Leadership Secrets. I don’t think Attila wrote a lot in his lifetime. He was simply a metaphor Roberts used to describe how to be a successful leader in the 20th Century.[10] So let’s look at some of the principles espoused by Roberts [and possibly by Attila] to see how they play in today’s political campaigns.

The quote that begins this piece sums up the basics: If you have enemies, be sure to lie to and deceive them, pretend to be their friend, act weak, and never tell them anything that’s true. When in doubt, goad them into acting prematurely. Both Democrats and Republicans understand and practice the basics, but with some important differences.

The Democrats seem to have read other parts of the book, for example, the ones that say (i) don’t mistake every opponent for an enemy[11], and (ii) don’t try to destroy people who aren’t worth the effort.[12] Although Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have traded sharp words, neither seems bent on utterly destroying – or neutralizing – the other. This is good, because each appeals to a different voting demographic: Sanders to old line socialists, working class whites, the young, and possibly to independent voters; Clinton to blacks, women and other older, possibly more mainstream Democrats. The fact that they haven’t declared a blood feud means, theoretically at least, that they may be able to cooperate once the primaries are over.

Republicans, on the other hand, have a more fundamentalist approach. Of course they started with 14 [or possibly more] candidates who had to do some outrageous things in order to stand out from the pack. Donald Trump was an early standout, and remains the leader today. This is in part because he fully understands the core Roberts/Attila tactic: If your enemy has a weakness, never fail to take advantage of it.[13] So, if Jeb Bush looked pale and washed out, Trump called him “low energy.” If Marco Rubio was insulting, Trump called him “Little Marco.”

Marco Rubio was especially interesting, until he dropped out of the race. At one point, goaded by the press, Rubio let loose of a series of personal insults, all directed against Trump, the strangest of which was that Trump had small hands, which implied that another part of his anatomy was small as well. When Trump replied that he wasn’t small anywhere, he was roundly criticized for saying something off color. In that sense I guess you could say that Rubio’s attack was noteworthy, but not really effective. And it violated yet another of the Roberts/ Attila rules: i.e., to avoid insults unless you mean them[14]; which, I think, today means avoid insults unless you can make them stick.

Trump also has his own money and, more to the point, understands and knows how to exploit the media. This has made him supremely confident, to the extent that he violates yet another of the Roberts/ Attila rules, i.e., to never underestimate one’s opponents. “Do not underestimate the power of an enemy, no matter how great or small, to rise against you on another day.”[15]

Trump’s principal opponent, Senator Ted Cruz, does exactly that, by manipulating post-election events at the state level. Apparently his people, or their sympathizers, often are selected as delegates to the Republican convention, regardless of the popular vote. The media explain this by saying that while Trump gets the votes, Cruz has the better “ground game.” This isn’t really a moral justification, you understand; if it were, it would be like saying that a burglar may break into a home, simply because the homeowner forgot to lock the front door. Any lawyer who defended a client that way would lose, unless, of course, there were psychopaths on the jury.

Trump’s adversaries fully understand King Attila’s other rule; if the enemy is too strong, regroup and come back another day;[16] but why are they so persistent? Why have they coalesced behind a single candidate – Senator Ted Cruz – whom they may dislike, simply to defeat Donald Trump? What’s the reason for the “Anybody but Trump!” phenomenon? Well, I have a theory, but it’s only that. There are no guarantees here at Elemental Zoo Two.

My theory is that the Republican conflagration this year is all about power, and only about that. Conservatives are firmly in control of the party, and its fund-raising apparatus. They haven’t won a Presidential election in years, but that doesn’t matter. Donald Trump, on the other hand, represents change. He threatens to bring a whole bunch of new voters into the fold, so many that the balance of power in his party may be changed. That would be very inconvenient for the think tanks, PACs and pundits who prosper today. Some might have to find other work.

New Presidents bring new faces; the new people replace old luminaries; Rolodexes and friends lists have to be updated; and, my goodness, existing power relationships are disrupted. Suppose you are a lobbyist or a reporter, and your best friend on the Hill, or in the Administration, or in a think tank leaves town? What will you do? Why wouldn’t you be afraid? So you see, the opposition to Donald Trump isn’t about winning elections. It’s more basic than that. The Conservatives in charge of the Republican Party just don’t want to give up their perquisites. And why should they? After all, they’ve done a wonderful job and the voters know that, don’t they?

 

 

 

 

[1] See Roberts, Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun (Warner, 1989) at p. 58. Henceforth, the book will be cited as Attila at __.

[2] Generally these are thought to be people born from the mid-1960s through the mid-1980s. See the Wikipedia entry at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generation_X .

[3] Wikipedia is of the opinion that there is no precise definition of who falls in the Millennial demographic. Generally Millennials [or “Generation Y”} come after Generation X. See the Wikipedia entry on Millennials at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Millennials .

[4] See n. 1.

[5] Trust me, I’ve done my research; these guys are listed on the back cover of the dust jacket.

[6] See the biography at Encyclopedia Britannica, Thompson, Attila, King of the Huns (11/04/2014), available at http://www.britannica.com/biography/Attila-king-of-the-Huns

[7] That’s Latin for “Scourge of God.”

[8] See the entry at Encyclopedia Britannica, The Editors, Hun People (11/18/2014), available at http://www.britannica.com/topic/Hun-people

[9] See n. 6.

[10] He calls Attila the book’s “metaphoric leader.” See Attila at p. 1.

[11] See Attila at p. 57: “Do not consider all opponents to be enemies. You may have productive, friendly confrontations, with others inside and outside your tribe.”

[12] See Attila at p. 58: “Do not make enemies who are not worthy of your every effort to render them into a state of complete ineffectiveness.”

[13] See Attila at p. 58:”Do not fail to use an enemy’s weakness to your advantage.”

[14] See Attila at p. 58: “Do not insult unless you mean it.”

[15] Id.

[16] Id. “… [W]hen it becomes apparent that an enemy is too formidable, retreat and return another day when you can conquer him.”

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