As someone who trains people in the art of successful negotiating, I had some professional reservations about the selection of Gov. Sarah Palin as John McCain’s running mate. It wasn’t that I knew anything more about her than anyone else, but I knew that the first image she created in the voter’s mind and the time remaining in the campaign were going to be essential factors if they were to succeed.
Recall that President-elect Obama had been campaigning for well over a year and a half by the time the nation learned about Gov. Palin’s choice. Consider, too, that he created a "vision" in the voter’s minds of international expertise by choosing a vice presidential running mate who had a long history in foreign affairs and was already well known.
In any negotiation, time plays a very important role in creating the vision that drives decisions that lead to the desired outcome. In my book, "Start with No", I used the example of the 1974 Paris peace negotiations between Ho Chi Minh’s team representing Vietnam and the team of Nixon and Kissinger. The North Vietnamese had been fighting the French for a generation and they knew that neither Nixon, nor Kissinger had the luxury of time on their side.
The McCain-Palin ticket did not have time in their favor. Gov. Palin arrived on stage at the Republican convention as a comparative unknown. There were other factors, too. Despite an excellent speech at the convention that energized the delegates, it rapidly became known that her oldest daughter, age 17, was pregnant. Many families face this situation, but only one had a "Hockey Mom" who was running for the second highest office in the nation. Her conservative rhetoric and credentials took a hit.
Then, too, Alaska is America’s far north; geographically cut off from the lower 49 States. It has a population of about 670,000 people, the smallest population density of any State. There are many cities in America whose mayors oversee the administration of local governments affecting twice, triple or more than Alaska’s entire population.
The vision of that small population drove voters to wonder if the leap was too great for Governor Palin and her lack of preparedness in her initial interviews with television network anchors confirmed their doubts. They evoked fears about her readiness and competence, and compounded concerns that Governor Palin, if elected, would be one heart beat from the presidency.
If you look at the campaign as a negotiation between the candidates and the voters, the choice of Gov. Palin with barely weeks to go before Election Day has proven to be an exceptionally bad one. I teach "Mission and Purpose" as a driving force in excellent decision making and it appears it was not employed here.
Moreover, from a negotiation point of view, one goes into it with an agenda that includes knowing what problems will need to be overcome, what baggage you bring to the table, what baggage the other side brings, knowing what you want, and finally knowing what happens next in the course of the negotiation so that it moves along smoothly.
McCain entered the negotiation with the voters as a known quantity with a very good resume. He was a genuine war hero and had a long record of public service. If anything, as a negotiator himself he was known for his flexibility, positive energy, and his willingness to reach across the aisle.
Gov. Palin turned out to be the opposite of everything candidate McCain was portrayed to be. It turned out that she was the true "maverick", a politician who had actually gone up against the entrenched interests of her own party to become Alaska’s Governor. The vision of "Sarah Barracuda" was created when she raised the specter of "a pit bull in lipstick."
That is the classic version of mixed signals and, for many voters, it turned out to be a turn-off. She wasn’t going to attract Democrats to defect and she generated an embarrassing vision for Republicans who already were struggling to learn who she was and what she stood for. In a negotiation vision drives decisions and, in this case, it proved to be a deal-killer.
There will be many post-election analyses that will seek to place blame on the candidates themselves, their campaign teams, their strategies, and other reasons for the lose, but from a negotiation coach’s point of view the election was lost when Gov. Palin was introduced—surprise—at the Republican convention. Like so many decisions that look good early on, but don’t fit the Mission and Purpose, that was the ultimate mistake.
If I were hired to lead the Republican Party my first job effort would be to identify and attract the best and brightest of a new generation of Republicans and to coach them in my system whose first lesson is the importance of Mission and Purpose. The GOP must now rejuvenate itself until it can say once again, "Our team is the one you want running the affairs of the nation."
Notes: Jim Camp is CEO of the Camp Negotiation Systems, www.startwithno.com, and the author of two best selling books on the science of negotiation.
Biography - Jim Camp
Jim Camp, best-selling author of negotiation books Start with No and No: The Only System Of Negotiation You Need For Work and Home, is chairman of The Jim Camp Group, founder, CEO.
Camp and his negotiation training have been featured on CNN, CNBC, numerous radio shows, and in The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, Inc., Cosmopolitan, San Francisco Chronicle, The Columbus Dispatch, The Christian Science Monitor, and San Jose Mercury News. Knight-Ridder Publications declared his negotiation book "must reading." Camp has lectured on negotiation at many prestigious graduate schools, is a frequent conference keynoter on negotiation, and has taught his negotiation training methods in nine countries on three continents.
Camp served his country for seven years. He is a Vietnam Veteran and Air Force pilot. He holds a degree from Ohio State University in Education, Biological Sciences, and Health and Physical Education.
Camp lives in Austin, Texas, Vero Beach, Florida and Dublin, Ohio with his wife Patty. They have five children and six grandchildren.