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Machiavelli’s Disciples

carlson CHRIS


There are two prominent governors who are potential standard bearers of their party’s nomination for President in 2016 and are modern reincarnations of the 15th century Italian Renaissance writer’s model “Prince.”

Both are of Italian descent, coincidentally, and both are savvy enough not to claim Machiavelli’s rather brief primer on how to govern and the attributes a prince should have as their bedside reading. Their actions, however, speak loudly that Machiavelli is a mentor.

The Republican is New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. After a landslide re-election in November, he is already thought to be seeking the Republican nomination.

He bears an uncanny resemblance to the late James Gandolfino, the lead actor who played the head of a Mafia family in HBO’s smashingly successful television series, The Sopranos.

If for some reason former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton decides not to seek the Presidency in 2016, some observers expect the Democrats will entice New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to pursue the nomination rather than risk losing with Vice President Joe Biden.

Christie vs. Cuomo would be a donny-brook for many reasons, but consider the similarities through the lens of Machiavelli’s political primer.

Both understand that a leader is to be feared more than loved. Both have tempers and can cut loose in the face of bureaucratic ineptitude or political incompetence. Both no doubt subscribe to the “no surprises” rule. A department head or a staff member best deliver bad news quickly before the governor sees it in a newspaper or is surprised by a media “ambush” question.

Both know the importance of an imperial appearance. When they enter a room one knows it because they sweep in with a phalanx of staff and surrounding security ready to respond to their every whim. Governor Christie recently appeared at a fund-raiser in Coeur d’Alene for Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter.

People in the resort lobby easily contrasted the entrances of each. Christie burst through the entrance surrounded by a dozen aides and security all reflecting the subliminal message that they were part of the big man’s entourage. Folks better take notice and get out of the way.

Five minutes later Governor Otter strolled in with First Lady Lori, both waving at the many folks they recognized, shaking a hand here and there as they proceeded through. Campaign manager Jayson Ronk was walking ten feet behind and the governor’s one-man security detail was another ten feet back.

Governors Christie and Cuomo also understand that friends are not always allies, and allies are not always friends. To expect friends to always support your position is to invite betrayal as self-interest always drives alliances of convenience.

Both understand that those who betray them by lying have to be swiftly and decisively punished, and placed on an enemies list never to be trusted again.

Each governor strongly subscribes to the injunction of the late President Ronald Reagan: trust but verify.

Both prize loyalty as the highest political virtue. Loyalty manifests itself in many ways from raising money for “the horse” to publicly defending the horse and his positions, to proselytizing family and friends.

Both recognize that governors are elected to solve problems and to provide leadership. Christie was criticized by some Tea Party Republicans for embracing President Barack Obama after the President responded promptly to Christie’s request for tons of immediate federal support. His response to his critics was he did what his constituents needed and was not about to let politics enter into and detract from service.

Both governors also are at their best speaking when challenged by someone, especially in the media. Their eyes flash, the scowl on their face is unmistakable, and they launch into a defense or a rebuttal with obvious passion.

While it is nice to be popular both governors prefer respect over adoration.

Both governors no doubt also know that in politics the best interests of the Republic have to be served by less than perfectly legal and or ethical means.

Like Machiavelli’s Prince, they know one can never let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Sometimes one has to dance on the edges of the end result justifying the means. Politics is full of ambiguities; there are few blacks and whites.

Both governors reflect much of what Machiavelli outlined as the attributes of a successful Prince. They are living practitioners of the political art and either could be a successful president, far more so than President Obama who increasingly appears clueless. Someone should send him a copy of The Prince.

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