(5 of 12)
Starting from scratch, Gorton calmly explained to Dyachenko that she and her colleagues must suspend their beliefs. "You live in Moscow and travel in the most elite circles," he said. "Because you're smart, you are used to trusting your instincts. You can't do that in this kind of work. You have to know what the people you don't know are thinking."
And then the team went to work. A great deal of their communication with Dyachenko and Yeltsin's other aides was conducted by written memorandums. "Translation was a constant problem," says Dresner. "We spent a full day trying to convey what we meant by having Yeltsin stay 'on message.'" Minister Borodin says, "Having the memos let the President consider them calmly. We had many discussions about the recommendations and in the end adopted most everything the Americans advised."
One of the team's first memos, designed to buy time for the Americans as they gave themselves a crash course on Russia, was titled "Why Bush Lost." Actually, the parallels were eerie. George Bush's complacency almost exactly resembled Yeltsin's. Like Bush's, the Yeltsin team thought the nation's economy was improving and that the President would receive credit for it; in fact, only a small segment of the population enjoys whatever progress there has been. Like Bush, Yeltsin simply refused to believe that the voters would elect his opponent. Like Bush's, the Yeltsin campaign was in disarray as factions fought for control. And also as with Bush, there was no clearly focused Yeltsin message, just a melange of ideas--and even then, no disciplined plan for their delivery or appreciation of the need for such a plan.
Even a cursory reading of the Russian press quickly convinced the Americans that virtually the entire nation was furious about the salaries government workers had been owed for months on end. When Yeltsin's aides explained that the President had already promised to correct the back-pay problem, the droopy-eyed Dresner shook his head in disbelief. "You can't just promise these things," he told Dyachenko. "You have to do them. And then you have to make sure the people know what you've done."
That remark presaged a campaign-long insistence on a standard American campaign practice--repetition. "Whatever it is that we're going to say and do," Gorton explained to Yeltsin's aides, "we have to repeat it between eight and 12 times." Those numbers were invented. "The Russians believe that anything that's worthwhile is scientifically based," says Shumate. "This gave us a leg up when we started to seriously use focus groups to guide campaign policy, but right at the start it let us pretend that we knew more than we really did. There's no data supporting how many times something needs to be repeated, but the Russians bought it as gospel."
With back pay identified as among the most irksome issues, the team advised that Yeltsin haul officials on the carpet for failing to distribute the cash as he'd directed. The President embraced that suggestion with relish, and the press eagerly reported the boss's taking his subordinates to task.