Sheinkopf Speaks: A Political Consultants’ Life & Times

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Hank Sheinkopf

Serious political consultants just finished the last road trip of the season. Eleven months like club-fighters, traveling from city to city to fight in small venues, clubs, sometimes for crumbs and when lucky, for gold.

It feels good to stretch your legs, feels better to know you won’t be sitting in that middle seat, that you’ll sleep in your own bed. And that your hands will stop shaking, your ear will stop vibrating–caused by screechy voice sounds your earbuds can’t kill.

There’s not much healthy about airport food. Or about airports either. You think you caught a break when you had the miles to trade or the cash to buy entry into an airline club. But it’s always filled with people like you who slightly tremble like they’re midpoint through the rinse cycle.

That was your life. About 300,000 miles worth. Get off the plane. Hop in a cab–if there are cabs because they don’t always exist–or rent a car or wait for your ride to get to the meeting where you help decide the fate of someone you hardly know.

It’s a strange business this world of political consultants. Some on the road see themselves as warriors, armed with their brains, experience, computers, and command of the greatest weapon we have, the word.

You got to help organize unions, use your brains to get more people into voting booths, give people on the bottom whatever part of your hand that you still had. 

The adventure. Fly into a Latin American nation and find out that two bodyguards for the guy you’re working for got whacked at an ATM just yesterday. The Southern rainy season has you stuck with no way out for two days and a schedule that can’t be rescheduled. The red-eye delay means you’ll lose part of the day on the other side of the nation. Europe’s cold in October, and it takes four hours in the air to cross Texas, and two to cross Germany. Speak at a conference in Brazil, meet 20 hours later in Philadelphia, finish there, and then onto the west coast and back.

Tell people the stories? They don’t know what to say. They call themselves consultants but you come from a place where there is no guaranteed campaign finance board public taxpayer payday. You get fired a couple of times a year. Win a lot. Get to see America and the world. And lots of bars in lots of places where even if you were interested you wouldn’t want love to walk through the door at 3 a.m.

No one pats you on the back. There are no atta-boys for real warriors, and no guaranteed paychecks from races where there are no races, from candidates whose toughest job is to smile while taking public bucks to take care of friends. 

You see there is a difference between letting them think you are a sucker while they call themselves progressives as they progressively beg for more to stuff their brokerage accounts. 

Big difference. The founder of the profession, Joseph Napolitan, said the job was to spread democracy. He was no sucker, no siree.