Craig Copland is steeped in contradictions.
He’s a Toronto native who considers the U.S. government “by far the most influential, most powerful body of decision-makers on Earth.”
He grew up a liberal, only to work on Republican politics today, including writing a game plan for GOP campaigns at the local, state, and federal levels called the 2012 Conservative Election Handbook.
He loves arts and culture, living part of the year in Manhattan because, as he says, “It’s the center of the world for things like that,” but he doesn’t shy away from sports metaphors when it comes to politicking.
And his philosophy on political strategy seems like a contradiction. Despite the proliferation of campaigns shaped by social media, donations by text message, Skyped stump speeches, and political iPhone apps, Copland recommends an old-school approach to all the candidates he advises: “Host dessert parties, coffee parties, speak to every rubber-chicken Rotary meeting.”
“People are far, far more influenced by a personal connection than they are by being bombarded with e-mails,” he explained. “Politics is still personal.”
Politics is personal indeed for Copland. Although he grew up interested in politics, Copland wasn’t politically active for much of his life. Working initially as an environmental-science teacher for grades K-12 in Canada, he had few political aspirations until well into his second career, working with humanitarian-aid organizations around the world. During Copland’s time with the Christian Children’s Fund of Canada and Feed the Children, he was able to travel to more than 100 countries and visit all the continents but Antarctica.
Perhaps—as Copland says jokingly—he’s had career attention deficit disorder. Although his work with aid groups offered him the opportunity to work with a host of different cultures, he began the shift to political consulting about two decades into his career. Copland started out as a “liberal do-gooder,” he said, but his experience in developing countries convinced him that the progressive way of doing things, which he defines as government-based solutions, is not always the best way.
“I basically concluded that government-run solutions—which are, basically, take money from the taxpayer and pay people to set up solutions run and monitored by the state—really have failed. And the more traditional solutions, trying to assist individuals and families and communities to take responsibility for their own actions and to provide them with fair jobs and fair wages at market value, is what helps us achieve our goals,” he said.
Haiti in particular illustrated for Copland the value of market-oriented solutions over government aid. He described securing government grants to educate and improve communities in the country as a slow struggle, a stark contrast to the rapid improvement in the region when a bottling factory opened near one of the towns where he worked. Reality reinforced the creeping suspicion that the beliefs held by the former liberal do-gooder may have been based on faulty premises.
And so, in between humanitarian trips to other nations, Copland became involved in conservative Canadian politics, serving as the president of a local conservative party apparatus in his home country and using the skills for politics he had learned while fundraising and marketing for humanitarian organizations. Copland now consults for a number of candidates running for local and state offices, mainly in the U.S., because, he says, “more-experienced candidates are more likely to win reelection than less-experienced candidates.
“It really is the down-ballot elections that are critical to building a conservative political force throughout the country,” he said. This is why he wrote the 2012 Conservative Election Handbook, already in the hands of about 1,000 campaigns, he said.
The Handbook, along with Copland’s website ConservaWiki.com, where conservatives can share best practices for their campaigns, are his attempt to gather into one place all the tried-and-true wisdom already amassed by conservative campaign after conservative campaign.
“When I got involved with the campaigns, I realized that people always seemed to be reinventing the wheel, and that there was no one simple manual” on running a campaign, he said. Copland is now planning another book on winning over liberals’ hearts, he said.
As stated on ConservaWiki.com, the goal of these endeavors is to “elect 600,000 conservatives to public office” across America, because, as Copland says, that’s the only way to win.
“Rule No. 1 of basketball or football is, you can’t win if you ain’t got the ball,” he said.
This article appears in the June 19, 2012 edition of NJ Daily.