Newcomers are more closely watched by the public and the media than incumbents. Everyone knows what to expect from incumbents, but newcomers, especially new mayors, are a mystery that needs close observation. In part, it’s because voters want assurances that they made the right decision to put you in office. It’s also the natural suspicion of people towards anyone or anything new.
When you prove yourself capable, Machiavelli writes in his Chapter XXIV: The Princes of Italy Have Lost Their States, you will gain more loyalty than the former incumbents whom you defeated in the last election, in part because you prove the voters made the right choice:
“The actions of a new prince are more closely observed than those of a hereditary one. When his actions are seen to be skillful, they attract more men and bind their supporters far tighter to the prince than does ancient bloodlines…”
One of the things you have to do to get re-elected is, over the rest of your term, make sure everyone knows how good and capable you are. Get your name and face in the media as often as you can, get it on Facebook, blogs and other social media.
“Men are more concerned with the present than with the past. When the present is good for them, they enjoy it and seek no further. The people will then make the utmost defence for a new prince as long as he does not fail them in other things.”
Don’t make waves, don’t raise taxes too much, don’t pass too many restrictive laws or curtail their rights too much, and people will be content. The voters won’t hearken back to the ‘good old days’ under the last council; instead they will be happy to believe you’re doing a good job.
Meanwhile, promote yourself shamelessly and frequently as the best example of good governance and as the people’s champion so you’re always in their minds:
“It will bring twice the glory to the prince who establishes a new principality, and strengthens it with good laws, good arms, reliable allies, and sets a good example…”
Good laws, he wrote in The Discourses, are those which are applied equally, without regard to the merit or status of the offender to mitigate them:
“No well-ordered State ever strikes a balance between the services of its citizens and their misdeeds; but appointing rewards for good actions and punishment for bad, when it has rewarded a man for acting well, will afterwards, should he act ill, chastise him, without regard to his former deserts.“
The Discourses: I, 24
Incumbents who lose their seat in an election suffer the disgrace of having lost with such an advantage over newcomers. This will reflect negatively on their reputation when they try to run again:
“It will be twice the disgrace to him who, although born a prince, loses his state by his lack of wisdom or his incompetence.”
This is why many out-placed incumbents don’t run in a subsequent election: the public has seen them as losers and fools, and they can’t get enough support for their campaign. When they do run again, they usually don’t get re-elected because the other candidates outshine them.
It’s not luck or fate, says Machiavelli, that causes incumbents to lose their seat: it’s their own damned fault. They were lazy, pre-occupied, complacent, and didn’t plan ahead. They didn’t promote themselves enough. They didn’t prepare themselves for challenges, and generally trusted in the ignorance and inertia of voters to return them. They didn’t change with the times. They continued pursuing old school politics and that took them on a short trip to political oblivion.
We all know incumbents who have acted like royalty; l’etat c’est moi. They took their roles and privileges for granted, flaunted their position, and made critical comments about the ideas and goals of others without championing ideas of their own. They left themselves vulnerable to an aggressive, active challenger.
“Our princes…used to believe it was enough for them to know how to … write a beautiful letter, to show wit and promptness in sayings and in his words, know how to weave a deception, ornament himself with gems and gold, to sleep and eat with greater splendor than others, to keep many lascivious persons around, to conduct himself avariciously and haughtily toward his subjects, to become rotten with idleness, hand out appointments at his will, express contempt for anyone who may have demonstrated any praiseworthy manner…These little men were unaware that they were preparing themselves to be the prey of anyone who assaulted them”
The Art of War: VII
The incumbent who just coasted into office, but didn’t work toward a goal or campaign on issues next time, often blames bad luck for his or her failure to be re-elected:
“Princes who lost their principalities should not blame luck for their loss after so many years’ possession, but rather they should blame their own inability and indolence. In quiet times they never imagined there could be a change; it is a common fault in men not to anticipate a storm when the sea is calm. Afterwards, when the bad times came, they thought of escape, instead of defending themselves.”
These politicians often hope that a subsequent election will see them returned to office when people have tired of the uppity newcomers:
“They hoped that the people, disgusted with the insolence of the conquerors, would later recall them.”
Yes, out-placed incumbents can make successful comebacks. Sometimes they do so, riding in on the inability of the current council members to retain their seats for the same reason the former incumbents lost theirs. Sometimes they manage to conduct successful campaign to restore their reputation in the media and on social media while they await the next election. Sometimes the choice of candidates is so awful that the former incumbents actually look good.
Mostly they get back in by depending on others – allies, campaign teams, dissidents in the administration – to rally their support, often in opposition to current incumbents. Voters often vote people out rather than in.
“When all else fail, it may be good to depend on others. But people do not simply fall down because they believe others will help them to stand up again.”
As Machiavelli notes, this is dangerous because by relying on others to restore you, you gather obligations like a rolling snowball, and you make promises that you have to honour later, or else you create new enemies:
“If this happens that others restore you, it will not be for your security. Any deliverance that does not depend on your own skill does not really help you. The only reliable things are your own actions and your own ability.”
In other words: you and your actions get yourself un-elected, and only you can safely make a comeback by proving yourself worthy of being returned. Don’t depend on others to get you there because it will only lead to further obligations and problems.
Previous Chapter – Next Chapter
- Machiavelli and Sejanus - October 14, 2022
- A Meeting of the Minds? - July 3, 2021
- Machiavelli’s Prince as satire - June 8, 2017
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