Lee Atwater’s 5 rules of politics

Everyone who reads this blog knows I have my own Rules of Politics.

Lee Atwater, the GOP supremo also has 5 rules of politics.

He had five rules of politics that he would playfully (or not) repeat to those around him.  Even though they are a little coarse and not particularly idealistic, in the real world — or at least in the real Washington — there might still be some applicability to the rules.

Rule #1.  Be for what is going to happen.  Simply put, always try to pick the winner. If you’re a selfishly motivated, hyper-ambitious career-manager, it helps a lot to work on the campaign of the winning candidate. Enough said. 

Rule #2.  Never kick a man when he is up.  Atwater always thought to do so would be stupid.  When somebody is riding high in Washington, leave them alone.  And anyway, if someone is on a roll, rule #3 is probably applicable.

Rule #3.  Suck up to big shots.  Atwater never quite said it the way Benjamin Disraeli did, but I’m sure he would agree with the former British prime minister’s quip, “Everyone likes flattery; and when you come to Royalty you should lay it on with a trowel.”  Atwater would just substitute “Washington big shots” for “royalty.”  Mark Leibovich’s recent revelations in “This Town” about the propensity of people in Washington to suck up to big shots seems to confirm that Atwater’s observations are timeless.

Rule #4.  Take total credit.  Atwater used to say this all the time.  He wouldn’t be bashful or even artful about taking credit for the good things that happened around him.  And he would be silent — or “play dumb and keep moving,” as he would say — when things did not go according to plan.  Generally speaking, Atwater was of the impression that in Washington, gall pays off.

Rule #5.  At last resort, deny the obvious. It may produce a moment of confusion where you catch a break.  This rule is consistent with two more of Atwater’s corollaries: “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it, no matter what” and, as I remember him saying, “Every now and then, Ed, they’re on to me.” Atwater would always fight to the bitter end.  If his words ever came back to haunt him, he would put up a brave front, stick to his guns and his story, and hope for the best.  Today’s formulaic revelation, denial, confession and comeback cycle would have thrilled Atwater.


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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

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