Team Manassas with their candidate on Election Night. (They lost)
Daniel Heffington is Generation Joshua’s Communications Manager and was the director of the Manassas team during the 2019 Student Action Teams. Despite a brilliant effort by the team, their candidate lost on election night. Here are Daniel’s thoughts on dealing with moments like these in politics:
How do we handle political loss?
Though not a given, it’s fairly easy to be a good winner in politics. You celebrate the victory, say some respectful words about your opponent, and get down to the task of governing. It’s a great feeling because you see a clear link between your hard work and the outcome you wanted.
But having a healthy response when the vote doesn’t go our way is much harder.
When facing an undesired outcome in politics, I try to avoid two extremes: First, it’s important to avoid the temptation to act as though it doesn’t really matter, or that we never really cared in the first place. That’s ridiculous. Of course it matters. It’s always mattered. That’s why we all work so very hard to knock on thousands of doors, make hundreds of thousands of phone calls, etc.
There will likely be votes taken by our new pro-abortion legislature that will break my heart on behalf of the unborn children across my state. So don’t try to take the sting out of a loss by suddenly assuming a disinterested, apathetic attitude. That won’t help your mindset or the issues you care about.
The second extreme to avoid is the downward spiral of despair. This reaction is kind of the opposite of the first extreme and it can feel like the more correct or noble path—especially when the issues motivating us are so very real and important. The thinking goes something like this: If our issues really matter (and they do), and the other side won this round (which they did), then how can we go about our daily lives and act like everything is okay?? How can we ever feel alright while governmental injustice gets its way??
You can probably see how this thinking quickly leads to worry and burnout. (It’s also incredibly hard to win anyone to your cause if frenzied overwhelm is what you’re offering). And to follow this thinking to its full impact, it would be literally impossible for anyone to not be constantly downtrodden since we live in a broken world with plenty of pain and a lot of injustice. So how do we avoid this despair?
It comes down to a question of where our hope is anchored.
If we believe in the love and power of God, we don’t have to panic when elections don’t go the way we want them to. It’s not that elections don’t matter—as I said above, they most certainly do. It’s that our hope is not anchored in politics, government, or leaders. If Jesus is the source of our hope and peace, then the outcome of a political race does not shake our foundation. We can “be okay” even in the midst of less than ideal circumstances.
And even on the very basic, political level, we’ve got to remember that to be involved in politics is to have some victories and some setbacks. A given election is not the end of a story—it’s a chapter. That’s why we keep showing up, keep honing our skills, and play the long game.
In closing, here are a few things I try to remember when facing a political setback. Maybe they’ll help you too:
- Don’t stop showing up.
If a bad vote is enough to take us out of the game, then were we really in the game to begin with? The future belongs to those who show up and that’s what we need to keep doing.
- Build in the offseason.
So your party/idea/person isn’t in power right now? Fine. You’re instantly spared the headache and time that the other side will spend governing. Use that extra energy to build into your cause today. Don’t just sit back and chill until next time.
- Learn, grow, and update your strategies and tactics as necessary.
Don’t just pack everything away and pull it out next election cycle. Do your best to figure out what worked, what didn’t, and then make changes for next time.
- Pray for your leaders (even the ones who just beat your candidate).
We are called to this as Christians. And our prayers shouldn’t be the “please let this person fall in a hole” type of prayers. Praying for the ultimate good and blessing of our leaders is important and will help us keep a Christ-honoring attitude toward them.
- Hold your leaders accountable.
This is actually part of wishing for the ultimate good of your leaders. You don’t want them to be instruments of injustice or evil—so let them know that. But take the time to build genuine relationships and show sincere care for them as people. They’ll never listen to you if you are hateful.
- Take care of yourself. Make time for fun and healthy human life.
There is (thank heavens) much more to life than politics. Don’t forget that. Before you approach burnout, regularly make time to rest, hang out with friends, exercise, go to church, etc.
- Make new friends for your cause.
Don’t shut up just because you didn’t win an election. The fact is, many people get dissatisfied with whichever party or policy is in power. Use this as an opportunity to have conversations that matter. As you share your principles, you might find that they resonate with someone new.
- Don’t look to the next election as your savior.
We have a much better Savior who doesn’t just come around on Election Day.