The Law & Order Campaign

Is your campaign ready for a "law & order" election year?

Is your campaign ready for a "law & order" election year?

I want to walk through an issue that may be important in your election this year, particularly if you're running in a city. It's relevant if you consider yourself a "law and order" candidate, or if your opponent does. 

And its timely because Donald Trump pushed this issue to the front of his campaign a few weeks ago, so you'll have a chance to watch it play out on the national stage. 

There is an old quote that goes something this: 

When a family has food on the table, there are many problems. When a family has no food on the table, there's one problem.

That one problem, of course, is that there is no food on the table. "Law & Order" as a campaign issue works in a similar way.

When voters feel safe, there are lots of things about the government to criticize. When voters do not feel safe, there is one issue above all else: law & order. 

Voters have a very low tolerance for a lack of law & order in their community. 

The most compelling case study for a law & order candidacy is Richard Nixon in 1968. Nixon promised to return law & order to the country when voters felt particularly unsafe. 

Here's a short timeline of the events of 1968:

  • January 23: North Korea captures the USS Pueblo
  • January 30: North Vietnam launches the TET Offensive against the U.S. 
  • March 16: Bobby Kennedy jumps into the Democratic primary, challenging President Lyndon Johnson
  • March 31: President Lyndon Johnson announces he won't run for re-election
  • April 4: Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated in Memphis
  • June 5: Bobby Kennedy is assassinated in Los Angeles
  • August 26: The Democratic convention opens in Chicago; violent protests and responses from police follow

It was a tumultuous year. And Nixon took advantage of the chaos to run a campaign based on restoring law & order. Below are a few of the ads Nixon ran, promising to restore order. These ads are intentionally jarring, so you might want to turn the volume down. 

The ads worked, and Nixon's "vote like your whole world depended on it" theme was compelling. Nixon defeated Humphrey in November.

Why does this matter in a down-ballot race in 2016? This year, much of the perceived chaos is happening in our cities. Our local elected officials have a serious role to play in addressing concerns on both sides of the law & order issue. 

If you view yourself as a law & order candidate, know that voters may be open to such a message. If your opponent views himself as the law & order candidate, you will have to make a compelling case to voters that your city isn't as chaotic as the media presents it. Know that "chaos" gets clicks and views, so journalists will exaggerate both non-issues and legitimate concerns.

Be sure to have a plan to deal with this issue, because it is likely to be front and center as the presidential campaign progresses.