5 Insane Strategies That Won Elections (and Changed History)
The coliseum of politics sees all sorts of gladiators. Some of them battle their enemies with the bow and arrow of argument. Some employ the trident of backstabbing and bribery. Some even choose the blunt, broken sword of Doing the Right Thing. But sometimes, just sometimes, a politician gleefully ignores all the conventional weaponry and wins the battle by slapping the enemy down with the rubber chicken of batshit insanity.
Ronald Reagan Steals Debate Notes from Jimmy Carter
On paper, the U.S. presidential election of 1980 seemed like an absurdly unfair fight: Incumbent Jimmy Carter was facing some semi-retired B-movie actor called Ronald Reagan. Yet the campaigning proved fierce, thanks to Carter's less than successful first term and Reagan pulling a stunt that you'd expect to see in an election for middle school class president.
Late in the race, Carter and Reagan were virtually tied. But there was one major event left: The one and only debate between the major candidates. The event was hyped up like a Muhammad Ali match. Carter prepared his notes accordingly: He had his people painstakingly create a book of briefing papers that included his entire debate strategy, complete with zingers he was to memorize.
Mostly "yo mama" jokes.
However, in the days before the debate, team Carter found that a copy of the papers was missing. This was bad. The beating that Reagan gave Carter in the actual debate was even worse. The Republican methodically decimated Carter on all fronts, leaving him and his campaign little more than a greasy puddle on the studio floor. It was almost as if (foreshadowing!) Reagan knew exactly what Carter was going to say, word for word. Which, of course, was the case.
One of Reagan's staffers had "found" the missing strategy book and brought it to his boss. Offered this window into Carter's head, Reagan instantly adapted a new strategy: cheating like a boss. Reagan studied the material and rehearsed with a Carter stand-in until he knew precisely what Carter would say and how he should respond.
It made for a much more elegant debate than the cock-punch Reagan had planned to open with.
And it worked -- the Gipper tore through his opponent with a torrent of well-timed quips and counters. A week later, Reagan won the election. Although the truth of "Debategate" eventually came out, it never caused lasting harm to Reagan. Meanwhile, Jimmy Carter still maintains the claim that this one lost book totally cost him the election, and presumably keeps his library in a locked vault.
Francois Hollande Wins the Presidency With an Insanely Offensive Rap Song
In politics, there are some phrases that you never, ever say out loud. You know the ones: "My opponent is a fucktard." "Sure, campaign donations are sort of bribery." "I'm actually doing what I promised to do." But seeing as the majority of politicians are pasty white guys, the biggest no-no would be the N-word. If you don't see the problem, think of what would happen if literally any white politician uttered it in public: The media would tear him or her apart, instantly sending them careening toward career death. You just don't do that shit.
That is, unless you're in France.
Francois Hollande was running against Nicolas Sarkozy in France's 2012 presidential election. Hollande's campaign machine was modeled after the strategies used by Obama in 2008, with an emphasis on voter registration, knocking on doors, and appealing to minority voters. Only at some point of the process they remembered that the guy they were passing off as the cool, minority-friendly candidate was the most "I'm a white, balding bureaucrat" looking man in existence.
This man bleeds red tape.
They realized they had to go street, man. So they put out a campaign ad featuring the uncensored version of the Jay-Z/Kanye West song "Niggas in Paris."
Hollande knew that Sarkozy had in the past stated that the suburbs need washing with a high-powered hose. As the suburbs were largely comprised of ethnic minorities, Hollande decided to take those voters under his wing by adapting the exact opposite attitude. Appropriately, his soundtrack of choice was dirty -- you may recognize "Niggas in Paris" as a song that consists mostly of swearing, boasting, and slurs that would be career-ending if they weren't coming from a rap song.
The ad starts with Hollande thrusting a ballot at the camera, followed by three straight minutes of him immersing himself in the lives of ethnic minorities, shaking hands and doing his level best to woo anyone on the tan side of an eggshell. All along, Jay and Kanye do their level best to hammer home Hollande's message of niggas, motherfuckers, and what they enjoy doing in Paris. (It's ballin' hard.)
Ballin' like only a middle-aged dude with a potato-shaped head can ball.
So I ball so hard mothafuckas wanna fine me, first niggas gotta find me
What's 50 grand to a mothafucka like me, can you please remind me
Ball so hard, I'm shocked too, I'm supposed to be locked up too
If you escaped what I've escaped, you'd be in Paris getting fucked up too
American political ads so rarely espouse the benefits of gettin' fucked up.
She said, "'Ye, can we get married at the mall?"
I said, "Look, you need to crawl 'fore you ball
Come and meet me in the bathroom stall
And show me why you deserve to have it all."
You can tell these guys really get the song.
What's Gucci, my nigga? What's Louis, my killa?
What's drugs, my dealer? What's that jacket, Margiela?
Doctors say I'm the illest, cause I'm suffering from realness
Got my niggas in Paris and they going gorillas
Wow! Hollande can certainly keep it real. Or, as the song puts it:
These other niggas is lyin', actin' like the summer ain't mine
I got that hot bitch in my home
You know how many hot bitches I own?
Wait, no, that actually says the very opposite of "trustworthy politician keeping things real." That sounds like Kanye West spouting gibberish, because that's what it is.
But Hollande's stage is lit up like a rock concert, so it has to mean something.
Still, Hollande knew what he was doing. In a country previously dominated by a conservative president with a reputation as a racist, Hollande's ad was seen as an edgy breath of fresh air. As he took the election, he was met with overwhelming glee and a ready-made reputation as Mr. Modern France. The moral of the story: No matter the odds, you can't lose with Jay-Z in your corner.
Jon Gnarr Gets Elected With a Stephen Colbert-Style Campaign
Every year, thousands of voters write in candidates that they know can't actually win. The protest votes are usually flippant jokes like "Mickey Mouse" or "Ron Paul" and only exist as a big fat "fuck you" to the system -- a mockery of the actual candidates that political parties scrounge up for the elections. But what if one of those protest votes was an actual, living person? A person that is so utterly ridiculous that he couldn't possibly win? And what if that person somehow won?
In 2010, comedian Jon Gnarr was the official "that guy" of Reykjavik's (the capital of Iceland, before you Wikipedia it) city council elections. He had taken it upon himself to mock politics with a torrent of Stephen Colbert-type antics, dealing gigantic middle fingers to everyone else running ... and, for that matter, voting.
He ran under the flag of his own party called (no shit) "Best Party." He laid out a campaign platform that consisted of key issues like building a Disneyland at the city's airport, getting free towels at all spas, and a refreshingly honest promise to break all of his promises. Best Party's campaign slogan was "We promise to stop corruption. We'll accomplish this by participating in it openly."
You get the idea -- Gnarr was in the race as a comedian, not a politician. Consequently, he was treated as such. People pointed, laughed, and made derisive comments. Some of them jokingly voted for him, either in protest or to ensure that the little guy would get at least one or two votes. Which made it all the more awesome when Gnarr's party won the whole goddamn thing. Not only was Gnarr himself elected, but Best Party ended up getting a majority of the council seats. This meant that they also got to pick the next mayor of Reykjavik. Two guesses as to whom they chose.
Gnarr is not a bad mayor. He's actually pretty awesome: He appears in holiday greetings dressed up as Darth Vader and heads parades dressed up in full drag.
Nope, not a metaphor.
His actual political maneuvers are even better. For instance, when he needs to form coalitions to get the majority of the council's votes, he disregards all petty bickering between parties and actively encourages alliances between all political factions ... but only accepts people who agree that The Wire is the greatest show in the history of television. And really, can you come up with a better way to judge someone's character?
William Hale Thompson Stages a Political Comeback by Debating Rats
Ah, Illinois! It's easy to pick on a state where four out of the last seven governors have gone to jail and the largest city's nickname is a jab at how corrupt it is ("Windy City" refers to Chicago's politicians, not weather).
This is the canvas William Hale Thompson painted his political career on. Dubbed "the worst mayor in American history" by later generations, a close ally of Al Capone, a staunch anti-Prohibition advocate, and a happy-go-lucky eccentric who liked to style himself as a cowboy (up to and including riding a horse into the town hall), "Big Bill" served as the city's mayor from 1915 to 1923. After eight years of running the town really badly, he finally had to step down due to campaign shenanigans.
Mostly involving that top hat.
Still, a good man is hard to keep down, let alone a huge, power-hungry bastard. As 1926 rolled around, Thompson had his eye on the prize again. The only issue was that his reputation had been essentially destroyed by, well, the previous eight years of him being in office. Needing a way to restore his political power and dignity, Thompson initially attempted to lure the public to his side with lavish festivals and fireworks. When this proved ineffective and election day was drawing near, Thompson hurriedly drafted a Plan B: act as crazy as possible. With rodents.
On April 6, 1926, a mere eight days before the Republican primary to decide their next candidate for mayor of Chicago, Thompson arranged a political debate session. He walked onto the stage, in front of thousands of people, holding a caged rat in each hand. After introducing them as his two opponents, Thompson spent the next several minutes debating them, unleashing relentless tirades of rat jokes, along with criticisms of their records.
All in all, not dissimilar to the Kennedy/Nixon debate.
But the ridiculousness hid a deeper meaning. The things Thompson criticized the rats for were actually his own screw-ups from his previous stint as mayor, and his "comebacks" recognized the lessons learned from past mistakes.
And the public ate it up. In a single display of political showmanship, Thompson had gone from the corrupt, disgraced former mayor to the crowd favorite for the next election, winning and taking "his" office back in 1927. Naturally, what followed was the worst mayorship ever. Organized crime and corruption ran rampant, padding Thompson's pockets to an impressive size and allowing Al "the worst gangster in American history" Capone's rise to the height of his power. Hey, if you wanted an inspirational happy ending, you shouldn't be reading about politics.
If it makes you feel better, you could always print out this photo and shit on it or something.
Boris Yeltsin Wins the Election With a Brazilian Soap Opera
In 1996, the freshly un-Sovieted Russia was holding its second presidential election ever. The reigning president, perestroika enthusiast Boris Yeltsin, was running a hard campaign against his close rival, Gennady Zyuganov of the Communist Party. It was such a close race that the government decided to make it a federal holiday to ensure that everyone eligible could exercise their right to vote.
Unfortunately for Yeltsin, the weather was turning out to be very nice, and every single Russian is a gold medal contender in the Not Giving a Fuck Olympics. He realized that an extra day off wouldn't send the city-dwelling constituents -- the vast majority of his supporters -- to the voting booths. Instead, they would just pack their stuff and piss off for a quick holiday in the countryside.
"Eh, what's the worst that can happen? It's not like we live in an unstable country."
After all, Russians were very inexperienced in the finer nuances of democracy (even though a Communist win would mean the return of goods restrictions, poorly built space shuttles, and statues of Lenin dotting the land), and it never occurred to them to give a damn, as long as they had the day off. Yeltsin needed a way to keep his supporters in the city, where the voting booths were, and off the beaches. His solution took the form of a TV show called Tropikanka, a Brazilian telenovela that was inexplicably popular throughout Russia.
The only known time a soap opera has ever held any importance for any situation.
Yeltsin's strategy was brilliant in its simplicity: He contacted the TV station that was airing Tropikanka and convinced them to air three all-new episodes of the soap opera on election day. When the news got out, a whole lot of people suddenly rearranged their holiday plans. You see, most Russian country resorts had no televisions, and there was no way they would miss their triple fix of Brazilians pouting at each other. And since they had nothing much to do until the show came on, they might as well take the opportunity to try this "voting" thing they'd heard about.
Boris Yeltsin went on to rake in 54.4 percent of the vote and retain his presidency. To show his respect to the absurdly melodramatic TV shows that had made his re-election possible, he spent much of his career as a wacky character from one.
Nothing will ever convince us this isn't Yeltsin's O-face.
Evan V. Symon is a Workshop moderator. When he isn't busy falsifying elections, he can be found on Facebook. Xavier Jackson can be reached at XavierJacksonCracked@gmail.com and has a Facebook page to make him feel like he's important. Micah writes more lists here and helps save the world here.
Related Reading: History is FULL of dumb elections, and you can click here to read about them. If insane political ads are more your speed, this link will show you the metalest campaign ad of all time. Need help spotting B.S. political stories in the news? We all do sometimes, and this article will reveal the manipulation in your daily newsgasm. Now- that was a lot of politics. Why not wind things down by reading about political agendas hidden in famous movies. You'll never look at Batman the same way again.