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What General Giap Can Teach Republicans About Winning in November

The wily old Vietnamese general knows something about beating superior forces.

by
J. Robert Smith

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May 31, 2010 - 12:00 am
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Here’s an unconventional tip for the GOP. Learn some valuable lessons from Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap about how to win political campaigns via the lessons of war.

But from a communist and an old enemy, you say? Well, yes, as a matter of fact. To put a stop to the madness of Obama, the GOP needs to gobble up as many congressional seats as possible this November. House Minority Leader John Boehner said recently that there are possibly one hundred seats in play in Congress’ lower chamber. Not all are top-tier opportunities for Republicans. Many are marginally good opportunities against well-entrenched incumbent Democrats. Whatever the GOP can learn and employ to give its second-tier challengers a fighting chance is worth examining.

So let’s give Giap a chance to help conservatives and Republicans reclaim a fuller measure of American liberty.

Giap and the Communists were underdogs not once but twice, first against the French and then against the United States.  The wily old general knows something about beating superior forces. Giap’s lessons, properly adapted, may prove a boon to Republicans.

An avid student of Sun Tzu, Giap would undoubtedly first counsel Republican challengers to:

[K]now your enemies and know yourself, [so] you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.

Translated to politics, that means that GOP challengers need to make frank assessments of their strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of their Democratic opponents, and plan scrupulously based on those facts. That extends to the election environment — national and local — in which campaigns are taking place.  And that would also mean avoiding one big complacency-inducing assumption: weaker Republican challengers need only wait for a November electoral wave to sweep them into office.

However favorable the election environment is for the GOP, understand that wave elections rarely happen, they can’t be predicted, and they can’t be planned for.  Republican challengers who are banking on an electoral tsunami to wash them onto the beach across the finish line may find themselves thrashing in the surf when all the votes are counted.

Challengers are typically underfunded — or incumbents will almost always out-fundraise and outspend challengers. No candidate wants this, but that’s the reality in most challenger contests.

But here’s what Giap says about winning a war:

We know it’s the human factor, and not material resources, which decide the outcome of war.

For political campaigns, that means GOP challengers need to bring passion, an unflagging commitment to victory, and compelling messaging to recruit supporters, attract money, and win over voters. Campaign underdogs win when the people are engaged and motivated. A challenger with a stronger, thorough network of support can defeat an incumbent despite the incumbent’s superior resources.

Tactically in Vietnam, when engaging American forces, who possessed superior firepower, it was important to get close to them and grab them by the belt. Doing so would neutralize the Americans’ big guns and air cover, Giap argued. (Okay, that tactic had mixed results, at best, for Giap. See the battle in the la Drang Valley at LZ X-Ray — but it has good application in political campaigns.)

Countering Democratic incumbents’ money advantages can be accomplished through labor-intensive grassroots organization and by identifying and pouring into those niches that comprise modern communities. Many niches may either be overlooked or under-engaged by money-flush Democrats.

Those niches run the gambit, from moms’ clubs to trade groups, garden clubs to professional associations. Relationships with tea parties can definitely help identify and network into niches.

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