“You work 18 hour days, 7 days a week for close to two years, and then it just comes to a grinding halt?” This is how former Romney communications director Kevin Madden describes the end of an election campaign, and he’s not alone. Like Kevin, thousands of campaign workers around the country will soon be suffering from the debilitating effects of a condition known as “Post Election Depression” (P.E.D.). In fact, it is almost certain that you or someone you know will be afflicted with P.E.D. this year. “It's the equivalent of competing in the Daytona 500 where you're racing around the track for hours at speeds of 250 mph,” he said, “but then after the race you get stuck in traffic on the way home. It's tough to get used to.”
If you have ever seen the 1982 Sylvester Stallone movie First Blood, you know that the film is about the struggles of a former Green Beret who has trouble adjusting to civilian life after the Vietnam War. The point with that film is that the U.S. military trains people to do these very difficult jobs and then expects them to completely resume normal civilian life after their service is completed.
I don’t want to compare what political operatives do to war – obviously the two are not the same thing. Still, politics has been called a “bloodless war,” and it strikes me that it is unreasonable to expect a person to go straight from the maelstrom of political war, to being a normal functioning adult.
Whether your candidate won or lost the election – and whether your campaign experience was a stressful 24-hour-a-day pace – or a fun-filled orgy of campaign debauchery and greasy food – or both – the odds are it was not easy to adjust to civilized life after the campaign ended.
In preparation for this article, I spoke to many different political operatives and consultants. And every single one admitted some level of difficulty in segueing from campaign life into the normal world. A few of them agreed to share their struggles, as well as their secrets for coming off the campaign trail. Here’s what I learned:
The first thing usually mentioned is family. While political practitioners are political junkies, their families are usually not. As you can imagine, politics is not a normal 9-to-5 job, so spouses and other relatives often do not understand the life of a political operative. And even if they do, there is still a period of adjustment that occurs when a spouse is suddenly around the house again.
Gary Marx, who served as conservative coalitions director for Bush Cheney ’04, and consulted for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, believes political operatives must go through what he calls “political detox.”