TV shows and movies about zombies resonate with people and the reasons, unlike what initiates numerous fictional zombie apocalypses, aren’t difficult to diagnose. We relate to the protagonists, who are the sane few in a post-world infected by insanity. The old see the young as zombies consuming, rather than brains, what’s in their phones. The young see the old as zombies who have long lost the ability to question authority and norms. Old and young, rich and poor, liberal and conservative. The zombie story mirrors the rift between us and them that grows wider and deeper as each side retreats into echo chambers. It mirrors class divide and growing economic inequality. It mirrors a simplicity that we are right and they are wrong.
Although hindsight is 20/20 (I hope political strategists spare us this too easy a slogan), 2020 is Zombieland. From the water cooler, to social media, to presidential debates, most of us will feel we are the sane protagonist in a world of zombies. Everybody is a zombie—besides me, of course—and I’m just trying to survive.
To the many Democratic candidates who will maneuver this zombie hellscape (and on the occasion of the upcoming Zombieland sequel), here are some rules to help you survive:
You’re going to run laps around Iowa. Eat plenty of corn and pie for energy. By the time they vote, you’ll be doing the same in New Hampshire, then Nevada and South Carolina, eating their local foods. By the end of February 2020, zombies will devour many of your opponents. If you have the cardio to survive South Carolina, be prepared for the Super Tuesday sprint.
#2 The Double Tap
Many of your challengers might look dead after Iowa and New Hampshire. If you turn your back on them in Nevada, they may bypass you in South Carolina and leave you for dead. See John McCain in 2008.
#3 Beware of Bathrooms
The other side will try to bait you to energize their base. They’ll use topics like gender-neutral bathrooms. You know, like the ones in our homes! Guaranteeing expanded rights for transgender Americans is essential, but approach this in a way that doesn’t empower bigots via equal-time on news shows. If anybody deserves to be marginalized it’s the bigots behind these bathroom bills.
#4 Seat Belts
Americans who benefit the most from legislation are often the ones who oppose it the most. Too often they see any government action as an affront to some inalienable libertarian principle that is essential to being an American. This idea only enables the powerful to disregard safety for profit. Don’t pander to it. Fight for legislation that improves the lives of citizens and show them how it benefits them.
#6 The Skillet
You’ll be tempted to stir up dirt on your opponents. This is the skillet, the nuclear option. The problem here is that once the debate turns from ideas to personalities it’s nearly impossible to turn it back again. Drama means ratings and TV networks pounce on any opportunity to turn the debates from a TED Talk to Real Housewives.
#7 Travel Light
As you rise in popularity, you’ll be tempted to use surrogates on the campaign trail. Be careful who you allow to speak on your behalf. Any of their controversies become your controversies.
#8 Get a Kickass Partner
Again, be conservative with Rule #6. One of your opponents will need to become your buddy – hopefully a Biden to your Obama and not a Palin to your McCain. People love a good buddy combo. If you’re younger, choose someone with experience; if you’re older, choose a rising star. Go with central casting on this one.
#12 Bounty Paper Towels
If a natural disaster strikes while you’re campaigning, for the love of god, don’t throw papers towels at people. Respond appropriately. Show that you’re presidential. The 3 A.M. Call trope didn’t resonate last time, but it’ll matter this time.
#15 Bowling Ball
You’ll have to show, mostly in the Midwest and South, that you’re an Everyday Joe or Jane. You can end your campaign if you mess this up. If you have a beer at a bowling alley don’t throw a gutter ball. And while I have the platform: we’re not “Indianans”—we’re “Hoosiers.” Get it right! And it’s a basketball hoop, Ted Cruz, not a ring.
#17 Don’t Be a Hero
At some point during the debates, your opponents will dance around a subject. The moderators will keep pressing. Finally, when the other dozen candidates have avoided it you’ll be tempted to say something like, “I’m not afraid to say it.” Be afraid. Be very afraid…or not. It may be your “enough about your damn emails” moment. It may also be your taking-credit-for-the-government-shutdown-like-a-moron moment. Choose wisely.
#18 Limber Up
Get plenty of sleep and brush up on geography – and your own policy. You don’t want to be Gary Johnson or Rick Perry. Oops.
#21 Avoid Strip Clubs
Trump is an anomaly, if you haven’t figured that out yet. Remember the Simpsons episode when the Mayo Clinic doctor diagnosed Mr. Burns with Three Stooges Syndrome and explains that Mr. Burns essentially has every disease, but because of that, no one disease can get through the door and kill him? That’s Trump and his controversies. You’re not Trump. No affairs, no drugs, no secret recordings, no gaffs. Trust me: conservatives will suddenly care and Democrats won’t protect you like Republicans do with their own.
#22 When in Doubt, Know Your Way Out
Moderator ask a substantive question you haven’t prepared for? Pesky town hall guest? Bring out Ol’ Faithful. ‘The system is rigged.’ ‘The 1% need to pay their fair share.’ ‘Lock her up.’ ‘Yes we can.’ Hit up James Carville if you need to.
#29 The Buddy System
You’re going to see two groups emerge: Law and Order Democrats and Economic Equality Democrats. You can adopt both platforms, but you have to lead with one. The Law and Order Democrats will talk more Trump; Economic Equality Democrats will talk more billionaires. I’ll bet Jimi Hendrix could play a mean bass, but he knew where he shined. Stake your bet and stick with your buddies.
#31 Check the Back Seat
Visit the Midwest. Visit the Midwest. Visit the Midwest. Keep your eyes off the red states. Visit the Midwest, early and often.
#32 Enjoy the Little Things
Jon Meacham said on the February 1, 2019 episode of Real Time with Bill Maher, “There is something in the American spirit, where we bounce from guardrail to guardrail. So you go from George H.W. Bush to Bill Clinton, you go from Clinton to Dubya—I didn’t think I’d live to see a bigger/a sharper contrast than Dubya to Obama until [Trump]…so maybe we get Aristotle.” The main takeaway to you, as a candidate, is, this time, don’t run away from policy specifics. Typically, eyes glaze over when a candidate speaks of legislation. American men, specifically, seem to vote for who’d be the best drinking buddy and not the most qualified for public office. If America bounces left off the Trump guardrail, as Meacham suggests, bold and specific policy may win the nomination, and the presidency.
#33 Swiss Army Knife
Be versatile. You may be the sharpest knife in the kitchen, but voters will expect you to be a toothpick and a bottle opener and a screwdriver. The winning candidate will be a multi-tool – not necessarily the best at any one task, but the one who can do the most.
Good luck to the candidates and the American people on surviving Zombieland 2020. We can only hope an antidote will emerge victorious.