Primo and I were at a concert last night. While the band sang, "You Sexy Thing," he showed me the emails that had bugged him so much, giving the feedback not to him but to his campaign manager, Bruno, that Primo was "demotivating" people.
I read the emails. Gwyneth had written to Bruno (and then Bruno forwarded the note to Primo), after telling Primo to his face that he had done such a great job, a rather tactful note (I thought) that perhaps Primo shouldn't admit in the first few minutes of a speech that he wasn't going to win. "I could see peoples' facing falling," she wrote.
I asked Primo what he had said. "I didn't say I wasn't going to win! I said we needed to talk about what winning was!"
"Hmmm," I replied. "So it wasn't your intention to communicate that you can't win but to talk about the bigger picture. You didn't want to promise something that can't happen because you don't want to lie but you wanted to talk about how you fit into the bigger picture."
"Yes," he said. "I can't say I am going to win this race because I am not going to win this race."
"But they thought that's what you said."
"But I didn't!" he protested.
"I know," I said. "But somehow, that's what they got. And then Bruno writes to you that people want to have hope. Except anyone who can look at the data knows there is no chance at all that you will win this election. None."
Primo shook his head. "If I had known that they wanted me to tell people I was going to win, I never would have agreed to do this."
I nodded. "You don't want to lie. I don't want you to lie. You have to live with yourself when this is all over, so you want to conduct yourself with integrity. But you still want people to be motivated to work for the party overall, right?"
[Then we went through a lot of back and forth about how he was despondent over this and how being criticized for something you didn't think you had done wrong and then criticized via email is very hard to take and the band went through, "Play That Funky Music" and "The Night Chicago Died" and four other songs I can't remember.]
I rubbed the back of his head. He dropped his chin and sighed. "I wish I had never done this," he admitted. "It's just too hard. And now they are telling me things that I didn't think were part of the deal. I can't tell people to donate money to my campaign because they will be wasting their money. I don't want to do that. I don't want to mislead people."
[NB And that is why Primo is a very bad politician. He is not willing to lie to get what he wants.]
"They don't know any more than you do," I said. "None of them are political experts. And it's your name and your face out there. So you get to make the decisions. It's your reputation, not theirs. Everyone has their own agenda. There's nothing wrong with that. The people on the campaign team might want to be able to put on their resumes that they did X with this campaign. And that's fine. But in the end, you get to decide. And you don't have to feel bad about that."
"You need to be more like Bill Clinton."
"Not the sleeping around and the sexual harassment part. Not the perjury part. But the motivating people part. He is good at connecting with people and getting them excited. So how do you do that?"
"I have an idea," I said. "Voters need to be motivated. But you can't motivate them by telling them you are going to win. What about this? When someone asks if you are going to win, you say, 'I would love to win and represent you in Congress. If I am elected' -- see, you are saying 'if.' You are not promising anything. 'If I am elected, I will work on these three issues.' Just change the subject. Focus on what you want to talk about. You do that with me all the time."
He smiled. "I wouldn't say that I would 'love' to win."
"Whatever. Use whatever words you want. But use that question to re-direct the conversation."
"But what if they keep asking? I can't keep doing that."
"Sure you can. And besides, remember, you are with people who are on your side. They are not trying to trip you up. You are not being interviewed by the opposition."
Then I had a brilliant idea. "Here's what you need to say! You need to own it. You need to be authentic. You don't need to dance around the issue. Just admit it! Just tell the truth. People want someone who is honest and authentic and it has already worked for you. Remember when I suggested you change your speech to admit you are not a storyteller, you are an engineer and you deal in facts? Well, here is another chance to own the issue. When someone asks if you can win, you tell them, 'This is a David and Goliath race. I am David. I am hoping for a miracle.'"
"I can't say 'miracle' because that implies I believe in God and I don't."
I rolled my eyes. "Whatever! Mr Can't See the Forest for the Trees! Use whatever words you want to express the idea. But David and Goliath is a great image and it works. Americans love the underdog."
"Maybe," he admitted.
"I think this could work. It is absolutely truthful. It would take a miracle for you to win. But if you did win, then you would do a, b, and c. Just tell them that. You are not lying. You are giving people hope, even though anyone with a brain can see that there is no chance that you would win. But you deflect the question with that answer and then move on to what people actually can do, which is to be sure to vote, to work for other candidates who do have a chance of winning, etcetera."
He smiled. "Maybe." Then we left so he could get a beer and he was not so cranky.
I don't think I could be a full-time political spouse. This is way too hard.