Advice to K Street: Keep revising the 2008 strategy memo

No one is saying it publicly yet, but I suspect my colleagues on K Street are planning for a Rudy or Hillary presidency. My words of advice to them: Not so fast.

Case in point: A memo recently crossed my desk from a leading industry power player, which advised people within this leader’s industry to prepare for a Hillary Clinton White House.

ADVERTISEMENT
“Hillary is a forgone conclusion,” stated the memo. “Our priorities will have to change.”

My point is not a commentary on Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) as a presidential contender. But I would caution against picking a winner this far out. This sense of caution is especially prudent when so many lobbying groups have to deal with both sides of the aisle to get things done.

Nearly all of us on K Street understand that politics is an ever-changing business, and yet that memo made me realize that even political veterans still need a warning about being cautious when building toward 2008. As savvy as we might be politically, I still have the strong sense that many lobbying advocates may be telling their folks it is either Rudy or Hillary in ’08. I would advise my colleagues to take a different approach.  

In the political business, 11 or 12 months is a lifetime. The threat or realization of terrorism, the economy, the performance of the stock market and the congressional make-up can all change dramatically. Sure, pundits can get on the talk shows and prognosticate all Sunday long about what will be. But those of us who spend our days and nights on Capitol Hill should at a bare minimum adopt a more nuanced approach and certainly double-check and analyze the facts on a regular basis.

History shows that early conventional wisdom in presidential and congressional races can be wrong. Today’s front-runner could be tomorrow’s “What’s-his-name.” So-called no-names and underdogs are now firmly embedded in the history books. Early on, President Carter was “Jimmy who?” Bill Clinton was written off because he came from a small state. Ronald Reagan was deemed unelectable.

Conversely, Ed Muskie was once considered the Democratic front-runner. Then President George H.W. Bush had a 90 percent approval rating when Bill Clinton began his campaign for president.  

Naturally, I have my own personal opinions about who might win next year. However, I also know from personal experience that those opinions could become irrelevant tomorrow.

When I was a young staffer for my mentor, then-Rep. Paul Rogers (D-Fla.), I was asked to write a detailed memo analyzing the Florida U.S. Senate race. I went right to work. I researched fundraising details. I examined the electability of various candidates. I then presented what I thought of as a work of art to the congressman, with a firm prediction of who would win. But, by Election Day, the candidate I had selected was caught up in scandal. His support vaporized.

Congressman Rogers tacked the memo above my desk, gave me a big smile and said, “Dan, let this be a lesson to you. Never make predictions.”  

I also remember as a staffer watching a key committee chairman warn a lobbying association not to take a certain position. They decided to ignore the warning and responded with, “We’re not listening to you. We’ve got Nixon on our side.” Watergate, of course, changed that.

I am not suggesting there is anything wrong with examining different scenarios and forming lobbying priorities based on potential electoral outcomes.

Indeed, during this period of congressional paralysis and partisanship when everyone is focused on the elections, it is absolutely critical to assess strengths and weaknesses. It is a time to meet with leadership and consider how partisan one’s organization should be.

In our case, of course, that is a given. The credit union movement includes people of all political stripes, and we constantly are working with both sides of the aisle. But even so, we still need to look and consider various strategies in the months and year ahead.

The point is that now is a time for cautious reassessment, with “cautious” being the operative word. We can predict. We can dream. We can even be excited about working with old friends or new ones. But we cannot yet know the outcome of the election.

We need to expect the unexpected and make the sure the people we represent do the same for 2008.

Mica is the president and CEO of the Credit Union National Association (CUNA), which represents nearly 8,500 credit unions with 90 million members. He served in the House from 1979-1989 as a Florida Democrat.