Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of sports metaphors used to describe politics. Yes, I’ve done it myself, and I’m going to do it again. I’ve also noticed that the extremes in both parties tend to believe in a “Great Leader” scenario. “Elect X and they will do all these wonderful things!” When you point out that it doesn’t work that way, you’ll get dismissed as being an “in name only,” and not understanding that the Great Leader will make a speech and all will go their way. They’re thinking that politics is a one-on-one sport, like tennis, boxing, or mixed martial arts. They’re continually disappointed if the person they’ve designated as the next “Great Leader” is elected and fails to accomplish what they thought would happen. The problem is they didn’t realize that politics are a team sport.
Think about the greatest players in sports you’ve heard of. Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson in basketball. Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Joe Montana, John Elway in football. Players who are acknowledged as some of or even the best ever in their sport, with championship rings to go along with it. But you know what? They all had more years without a championship than they did with one, and had their share of bad years. Why? Because they weren’t playing a one-on-one sport, they were part of a team. It didn’t matter how great they were personally, if the team they were playing on didn’t have a good or even great supporting cast, they couldn’t get to the top. That’s because they had to face another team, and that team wanted to stop them. Just look back at the last Super Bowl. The Carolina Panthers have one of the best quarterbacks in the league, and he didn’t do much. Why? Because he spent most of his time on the field flat on his back or running for his life. The team around him couldn’t give him the time to do what he does best.
In politics, what the extremes tend to focus on is that “one player,” the President, just as in sports they’ll focus on the one great player. The reality is that it doesn’t matter how much the President exemplifies their ideal ideology if there is “no team” to support them. As much power as a President has, there are still many limits to it, and those limits mean that much of their agenda depends on other branches of government having a great deal of impact on whether it gets done or not. You need to have Congress and often the states on the President’s side, and that means “controlled by the same party.”
That’s what experienced politicians and the often derided “Establishment” of each party understand, and concern themselves with. Yes, absolutely, they want to win the White House, but they also know that if they can’t win Congress, and control of state governments, they’re going to end up with the other party dictating a good portion of what can be done, no matter what the candidate promised. So they’re thinking of the down ticket races, and how to win them. Like it or not, that means endorsements and money. While everyone can complain about how much money gets spent or its influence on politics, and they do, the reality is that even in a “cheap election” there are costs. All those bumper stickers, yard signs, t-shirts, buttons, car magnets, and mailings cost money. If you’re looking at a larger area with the need for media ads, it’s going to cost even more.
Which is why you so often see better-known, or the top candidates doing fundraising in coordination with the national party, as well as working with local parties to combine efforts. It means endorsing other candidates in your party, and giving them a hand getting them elected. It’s not “buying loyalty,” it’s enabling your team to win, so you can succeed as well. It’s what gets missed by the extremes among supporters, and is even missed by some of the candidates. It’s why you see the Republican establishment cringing about Donald Trump as their presumptive nominee, and not very happy about Ted Cruz as an alternative. On the Democratic side, it’s been one of the knocks on Bernie Sanders. It’s not because they’re not “pure enough,” or that they’re “disturbing the establishment,” but because their campaigns are “all about them,” and ignoring the down-ticket races – or even harming them – that would enable them to succeed if they were to be elected President. Their more … enthusiastic … supporters miss that as well. Which is why they’re doomed to disappointment if their candidate wins. Both they and their candidates forgot that politics is a team sport, and without a team around them, it doesn’t matter what they wanted to accomplish. It’s the candidate that knows that that will succeed, because they built a team around them.