5 Books to Consider When Shaping Your Campaign Strategy

by Elena Veatch

campaign strategy books

Read up to inform your Campaign Strategy 

A summer lull in campaign action means extra time to gear up for the electoral battles ahead of this fall, in 2018, and beyond. As Democrats across the country deliberate party priorities and the best ways to communicate our values after a series of losses, you can sit back and do the same with these porch reads. Whether you’re a casual observer of the circus that is the Trump administration or a seasoned strategist plotting next steps, these five books can help inform your campaign strategy.

1. Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign (Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes)

Most of us have long since exited the fetal position that November 8 left us in, but only a thorough examination of the 2016 election will set Democrats up for success at the polls in years to come. Shattered is the ultimate campaign post-mortem; a narrative bolstered by anonymous insight from Clinton staffers with little to lose. The authors build a persuasive case that high-level staff in-fighting, excessive trust in analytics over direct voter contact, and above all else, the absence of a clear message plagued the Clinton campaign from the start and turned manageable problems into insurmountable obstacles. The authors’ take on the campaign should be required reading for anyone looking to shape campaign strategy on the left in state, local, and national contexts.

2. Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 (Hunter Thompson)

Thompson’s vivid, rambling account of the 1972 election is endlessly entertaining in its scathing critiques of Nixon and the slate of Democrats looking to challenge his re-election bid. The gonzo journalist laments that candidates too often fail to present voters with a real choice, leading them to resort to voting against someone rather than voting for someone. After the Clinton campaign focused on convincing voters to reject Trump rather than giving them a clear reason to embrace Hillary, Fear and Loathing serves as a timeless reminder for any candidate to know why they’re running for office and to be able to authentically articulate what they stand for.

3. Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? (Thomas Frank)

In 2004, Thomas Frank published What’s the Matter with Kansas? about how conservatives persuaded rural voters from lower socioeconomic backgrounds to vote against their interests by prioritizing their stake in the culture war over their economic circumstances. In Listen Liberal, Frank elaborates on the notion that by failing to continue fighting for the working class in recent decades, Democrats have allowed Middle America to turn solidly red. He charts the changes in liberal ideology over the years and emphasizes the alienating nature of elitism on the left, helping to explain why Trump won. If you’re looking to craft your campaign strategy with an eye toward reeling in folks the party has lost, this is a must read.

4. Losers: The Road to Everyplace but the White House (Michael Lewis)

With hilarious anecdotes from the 1996 Republican presidential primary, Michael Lewis makes lovable heroes out of the lower-tier candidates who never had a real shot at the presidency (namely Morry “The Grizz” Taylor). Aside from inspiring my undergraduate thesis on the presidential nomination process, Lewis’s account highlights the absurdities of American presidential primaries to get at the reasons why voters grow apathetic and disengage, serving as another campaign strategy reminder that only authenticity will generate real enthusiasm.

5. Primary Colors (Joe Klein)

The initially anonymously published Primary Colors is a classic novel based on Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign. The struggle between idealistic rhetoric and political reality is at the heart of Klein’s work as campaign staff characters seek to reconcile the idea of Bill Clinton as the candidate they revere with the flawed human being behind the facade. With its James Carville-like character frequently crying out that they’re “flying blind” into Clinton’s scandals, Primary Colors provides the ultimate reminder to do thorough opposition- and self-research in any campaign.

Need some more political books to put on your summer reading list? Check out 6 Political Memoirs to Inspire You to Effect Positive Social Change