Roger Stone, longtime political consultant and adviser to Donald Trump during his 2016 campaign for president, stated in a 2008 New Yorker magazine interview, “Politics is not about uniting people. It’s about dividing people and getting your 51 percent.”
That’s a cynical way to view the political process, but there are many who take this view to heart. One can run a campaign aimed at dividing people, with the ultimate goal of getting 51 percent of the vote, but as we’ve seen things play out on the national level, such a strategy can lead to toxic and very negative results.
A leader can divide, but it doesn’t mean they will conquer. A Pandora’s box of bad outcomes is loosed when a candidate has divided the populace in order to get to 51 percent. Of course, getting the majority of votes is the goal of any political campaign, but how a candidate achieves that is just as important as achieving it.
This was very evident in Mobile’s recent mayoral election. Mayor Sandy Stimpson ended up winning the election handily, but unfortunately — and not due to Stimpson — it became a divisive campaign. I frequently saw social media posts stating blacks now make up slightly over half of the electorate in Mobile. As a result of this slim demographic edge, it was constantly stated that if solidarity were practiced by the black electorate in Mobile, Sam Jones was assured victory.
Putting aside the fact that you never, in any election, get 100 percent turnout of any voting age demographic, there was a fatal lack of understanding that when the racial makeup of a city is that close, almost 50-50, a mayoral candidate can only win by building a racial coalition, not by trying to appeal to mainly one racial demographic. The demographics are just too close.
A candidate for mayor of Mobile will not win by strictly appealing to all whites, nor will he or she achieve victory by trying to appeal only to blacks. It’s a strategy that for the foreseeable future will only result in failure. A candidate will only make it to 51 percent by turning out whites and blacks to vote for him or her. A coalition has to be formed, maintained and energized to get out and vote. Stimpson did the better job of this, just as he did in 2013, and it showed in the results.
Sadly, post-election there were a plethora of social media posts castigating and labeling blacks who voted for Stimpson as traitorous. Why? I truly believe if Sam Jones were the better candidate and had run a better campaign, blacks would have voted for him in larger numbers. But he was not the better candidate, and just like the last time his campaign strategy was faulty and not well executed.
If a candidate fails to motivate people to vote for him or her, it’s not the fault of the voters — it’s the fault of the candidate. Period. Campaigning is about connecting with people, it’s about constantly communicating with people, it’s about the ability to inspire and get voters to buy into the belief that as an office holder you will continually put the best interests of one’s constituency first. As with the first mayoral election between the two, Stimpson did a much better job of this than Jones. You can’t blame the voters.
Contrary to one social media post I saw, we are not “at war” in Mobile. Stimpson’s victory does not mean blacks in Mobile are under siege, as another social media post intimated. I have not agreed with everything Stimpson has done as mayor, but I don’t think there is any way one can deny that he has tried to have an inclusive and forward-thinking administration.
Also, it’s hard to deny that he has been a tireless worker. The man pops up everywhere. He has shown a willingness to engage with citizens regardless of race or socioeconomic standing, which is exactly what you want a political leader to do. From my vantage point, he has done so with sincerity.
Community is built and strengthened through consensus and by various parts of the community meeting on common ground and agreeing to move forward for the benefit of all. A mayor can be the catalyst for and help facilitate this process, or he or she can be an obstacle to and impede this process. That’s why it’s important that whoever seeks or holds that office — or any political office, for that matter — does not do so by dividing people to get and maintain that magic 51 percent. A candidate may win by following such a strategy, but you’d better believe at the end of the day it will be the people who end up losing.