On Tuesday I lost my second straight election – another crushing defeat by the raw numbers. David Abroms was unable to get traction in the crowded and ridiculously expensive field of the Georgia 6th congressional special election despite investing a lot of his own money and more importantly being a truly great candidate and fine human being. My last loss was in the presidential election, serving as the campaign manager for Evan McMullin.
I’ve been working in politics long enough to know that you’re going to lose some races. I’ve also won a lot of races over my ten years working in the business. But as a political professional, unless you work in only the most winnable, well-funded campaigns and ignore the principles and deeper motivations for why you’re in this business in the first place, you will almost certainly lose more than you win.
I learned a lot about how to handle losing by playing sports growing up. In both victory and defeat, the key for me has always been to learn. To grow. To get better. You simply can’t guard against losing in elections. It’s a single winner game. But you can control what you do next. In politics, you can also control who you choose to work for.
I’ve been attacked from the left and the right the last 6 months for my work. Those attacks are sure to increase as I keep fighting for what I believe in. The center is a lonely place in professional American politics. I have, of course, made lots of mistakes running campaigns over the years. Some of them contributed to losses. I own those. They have real consequences for people and I take them very personally.
In David and Evan I worked for candidates who were aspiring to VERY difficult change. They were swimming upstream of a powerful current of partisan politics in our nation that works against people like them. People who are open-minded AND principled. Passionate about their causes AND sympathetic to the views of others who disagree. David Abroms and Evan McMullin represent much of what is good and right and true in our country. Men who are willing to make tremendous sacrifices for what they believe in, even knowing the long odds.
I believe we are pioneering a new generation of leaders in this country. I’m proud to be working with the Centrist Project to recruit and elect a new type of independent servant leader from the U.S. Senate down to local offices. Pioneering is always hard. There are always casualties and scars and many difficulties.
But it is in the trials that we learn the most. In fact, it may be the only way we truly learn. Malcom Muggeridge puts it brilliantly:
“Contrary to what might be expected, I look back on experiences that at the time seemed especially desolating and painful with particular satisfaction. Indeed, I can say with complete truthfulness that everything I have learned in my seventy-five years in this world, everything that has truly enhanced and enlightened my existence, has been through affliction and not through happiness, whether pursued or attained. In other words, if it ever were to be possible to eliminate affliction from our earthly existence by means of some drug or other medical mumbo jumbo…the result would not be to make life delectable, but to make it too banal and trivial to be endurable.”
We are formed in the crucible. Shaped in the potter’s hands by force. Sometimes our misshapen pot gets smashed back into a lump of clay to be necessarily remade altogether. Many have asked me the last 24 hours what I learned from the Georgia special election. I get the same question often about Evan’s campaign. As I reflect on it I am focusing on what I can learn – about voters, about candidates, about the system, about the media and about myself.
The sting of defeat is real. You’ll be mocked and scorned. But the only way defeat becomes permanent, instead of temporary, is if you let it define you and refuse to learn from it – if you give up on the reasons and principles that motivated you to try in the first place.
The list of great figures of history who have failed, numerically, way more than they succeeded is a long one. But in learning from their failures they were shaped, “enhanced and enlightened.” I’m trying to stay humble, open and eager to learn. I believe deeply that our country needs a new way, a new approach, new options in our political system. The time is coming. Don’t give up. I’m not.