COLORADO SPRINGS , Colo., May 18, 2016 — This morning on Fox News, Republican strategist Karl Rove gave probable Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton a piece of advice about dealing with presumptive Republican candidate Donald Trump, or as she’s taken to calling him lately, “Loose Cannon”:
“Do not telegraph what you will do or say in advance. By doing so, you lose the element of surprise and give your opponent time to prepare his counter attack.”
As “Crooked Hillary” and “Loose Cannon” prepare to engage in perhaps the world’s largest and meanest democratic contest, both would do well to consult the ancient Chinese Art of War for advice.
This work of Chinese military advice dates to the 5th century BC, but many of its strategies make sense today. Attributed to the military strategist Sun Tzu, the text has long influenced Eastern and Western military thinking, business tactics, legal strategy and more.
Mao Zedong famously said, “Politics is war without bloodshed while war is politics with bloodshed.”
You might recognize some of Sun Tzu’s advice:
“Kill with a borrowed sword”;
“Create something from nothing”;
“Hide a knife behind a smile”; and,
“Feign madness but keep your balance.”
Rove advises stealth. He was prompted to share his advice by Politico’s Gabriel Debenedetti and Guy Cecil, who joined Candidate Clinton in letting her proverbial cats out of the bag early. They said,
“The campaign plans a three-pronged attack against Trump. The first theme—that he’s too divisive—focuses on Trump’s harsh rhetoric for distinct segments of the electorate: women, Hispanics, Muslims, African-Americans.
“The second—that he’s dangerous—takes a national security tack.
“And the final prong, that he has been basically pulling a con job on people, will dive into his economic positions—like on trade, where he sounds a populist tone … and his own business record, including how he refused to release his tax returns.”
Trump—aside from naming his opponent “Crooked Hillary,” thus telegraphing a strategy to attack her on her record at the State Department and her Clinton Foundation activities—has held his own war plans under wraps for now.
Trump’s early comments about President Obama’s open sharing of U.S. troop movements before the fact, however, give us a clue about his approach against Crooked Hillary. Trump opined that he wouldn’t reveal his plan to defeat terrorism to maintain “the element of surprise.”
“I do have a plan, I actually have a number of different plans because you need alternatives and you want to be unpredictable. This country is so predictable,” said Trump, who then explained that Obama announces his battle plans ahead of time.
“We need the element of surprise. Do you think Gen. George Patton or Gen. MacArthur, do you think they would have … said what they wanna do?”
America’s “smooth transitions of power”? Not even close!
Americans like to boast about our smooth transition of power every four years. Those who do must live and operate outside of the world politics. America has a long history of waging vicious political campaigns.
Up close and personal, our national political campaigns are blood sport; only the strong survive to the very end.
Among the most famous examples were the dirty tricks played on Democrats by the Nixon re-election campaign. Reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward reported that Nixon aides had sabotaged democrats in the national campaign:
“FBI agents have established that the Watergate bugging incident stemmed from a massive campaign of political spying and sabotage conducted on behalf of President Nixon’s re-election and directed by officials of the White House and the Committee for the Re-election of the President.”
The tricks included:
“Political operatives engaged in following members of Democratic candidates’ families and assembling dossiers on their personal lives; forging letters and distributing them under the candidates’ letterheads; leaking false and manufactured items to the press; throwing campaign schedules into disarray; seizing confidential campaign files; and investigating the lives of dozens of Democratic campaign workers.”
A now-famous political trick had to do with a letter that was written by a Nixon aide and posted to the Manchester Union Leader, alleging that Senator Edmund Muskie, D-Maine, condoned a racial slur on Americans of French-Canadian descent as “Canucks.” The letter triggered Muskie’s politically damaging crying speech in front of the newspaper’s office.
Other Chinese Art of War tactics we might watch for this summer include:
“Cross the sea without the emperor’s knowledge”;
“Wait at leisure while the enemy labors”;
“Make a sound in the east, then strike in the west”; and,
“Remove the ladder when the enemy has ascended the roof.”
Finally, Sun Tzu even advises losers:
“If all else fails, retreat.”