The Leaked Nunn Campaign Memo Shows Why You Should Not Run for Office

On Sunday, The New York Times Magazine took an especially harsh look at the leaked Michelle Nunn campaign memo. (Truly the 144-page document is the gift that keeps on giving). I only read dead-tree editions of newspapers, so I saw this after finishing my morning reads.

Writing for the magazine, Mark Leibovich takes issue with the candidate, the memo itself and its implications. 

To wit!

The content of the memo is even more dispiriting. I read every word, and my main “takeaway” — as we helpfully summarizing reporters like to say — is that a political campaign today is a soul-killing pursuit and would generate the precise opposite of the “joy in my heart” that Jeb Bush says he would wish to bring to a presidential campaign if he were to undertake one in 2016. (Memo to Jeb: Do not read this memo.) In other words, this document confirms every worst suspicion that people tend to have about campaigns.

And this!

Suspicion: Sometimes when a member of a campaign’s communications staff is nice to me, it is not because he likes me as a person; it is because he is trying to manipulate me.

Confirmation: It made me very sad to read one particular portion of the memo. “Being able to interact with the press on the campaign’s terms is the most important way campaigns can guide reporters’ coverage,” the document says. The authors also believe that Nunn’s media team should “leverage relationships” with the press in a way that will help them “kill or muddy” bad stories. So much for love and poetry. But presumably this will also highlight what the authors hail as one of Nunn’s biggest assets — her “authenticity.”

That last line has to sting.


  1. penguin says:

    maybe if she had hired some “outsiders” to run her campaign… then they wouldn’t be so cynical, and it would be a more soul-full campaign. Jeb Bush is hoarding all such campaign staff outsiders.

    But really, these critiques of the Nunn campaign seem to just be a critique of politics qua politics, not of anything unique to Nunn. And the media has zero accountability for the dispiriting nature of campaigns and perpetuating most of the attitudes criticized here.

    Also, I have to say this is a pretty liberal interpretation of the word “suspicion.” When you get dozens of emails a day asking for campaign donations, how dense must you be to merely suspect that campaigns are about money?

  2. Ralph says:

    No doubt most politicians get similar tactical advice. Some eschew the more nefarious parts, but Nunn confirmed a lack of “authenticity” with her new Pillowtex ad. This is from today’s AJC Poltical Insider blog about that ad: “reminded us of the Super PAC hits on Mitt Romney in 2012. The Washington Post explains just how familiar it is — almost a shot-by-shot replica of an ad called ‘Stage’ paid for by Priorities USA. The firm behind both of the ads is Shorr Johnson Magnus, of Philadelphia. The Nunn campaign had paid the firm $237,059 for media consulting and ad production as of the end of June.”

    • Three Jack says:

      I saw that comparison earlier, good job by the AJC. Missed opportunity for the dems as the GOP was either going to have a lifelong politician or a Perdue which opened the door for them to take this seat if they put forth an exciting candidate. So far Nunn has proven to be anything but exciting as she signs off on an apparently endless stream of stale, re-used negative ads.

      • John Konop says:


        I do not think the Dems have a chance…..the numbers are not right yet….Perdue running as an outsider who has never been in office helps the GOP…..Nunn is running for the future….that is why she will play her hand very close and say very little about real policy….this is about setting up a future statewide network for Nunn…BTW just my 10 cents….I have never met Nunn nor even know anyone in her camp….just looking at the numbers, trends and speculation…..

        • Three Jack says:


          Based on the detailed campaign plan with millions pouring in from outside sources, this campaign is about now. And if the candidate ran on something other than her last name, I believe she would have a real chance at winning. Voters are looking for somebody who stands out, not just another puppet being lead along by a bunch of professional handlers. Unfortunately this race features two puppets, neither of whom have offered anything beyond the usual loathsome soundbites.

  3. tribeca says:

    Speaking for myself, having worked on campaigns and been around political candidates… these are not the kind of people you’d actually want “leading” anything. The act of running for high office (Congress, statewide offices, President) takes either 1) a monumentally large ego or 2) the ability to suppress whatever logic, reason, and intellect you posses in the name of getting elected.

    To suggest that so-and-so is running for cushy political office because they a) love their country; b) are fed up with Washington; c) want to help people; d) God told them is nonsense. We all love America and, hopefully, all of us are smart enough to realize there are better/more productive way to better serve this country than sitting in DC and attending fundraisers. All of us are fed up with Washington, and we’re also smart enough to know that 1 person can’t change the culture there, how many of the Tea Partiers sent to “send a message” have done anything but stick fingers up their noses? The people with the “heart to serve” are already doing so by working for non-profits, NGOs, charities, or in other positions where they can actually have a direct impact on someone’s life.

    I’m offering my vote to the first candidate to admit the obvious: “I’m running for Senate/Governor because the title sounds nice and the perks aint too shabby.”

  4. Stefan says:

    The practiced naivete of the New York Times Magazine never ceases to delight. There are two ways to write a piece on the Nunn memo. One is surprised and disheartened, the other is super-cynical and obvious. Neither contribute anything to the general knowledge of a campaign. The reality is that campaign communications staff are OF COURSE trying to leverage their press relationships to push their own message. So are the PR people that do press events for books or restaurants. Are they leveraging relationships? Yeah, but because lobster mac and cheese and a signed book are in the offing it’s a different vehicle?

    The reality is that the relationship between press and journalist is both cynical and uplifting. It is in furtherance of the great debate and it is an opportunity to dull the attacks of the opponent while pressing your own. It is also an attempt to swing the coverage toward your side. These aren’t mutually exclusive. To attempt to portray this memo as proof positive of one view or the other misses the complexity inherent in reality. But then again, the New York Times Magazine’s reality ends at the Hudson.

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