The year was 1948, and our character was running for the Senate.
His opponent, Coke Stevenson, legendary former Governor of Texas, was as high-integrity as they come. He was an open book and had built an honorable reputation through decades of public service.
But in this race, none of that mattered. For Coke's opponent wanted to win. And in order to win, Lyndon Baines Johnson had to adopt the morality of the ballot box.
LBJ purposed to discredit Stevenson. To do this, he needed to find a topic that resonated with the public. And he found exactly that in the American Federation of Labor's (AFL) surprising endorsement of Stevenson.
And it was in this surprise that Johnson saw his opportunity.
Johnson immediately accused Stevenson of working out a "secret deal" with state labor leaders, ultimately alleging that the conditions of the deal were that Stevenson would repeal the anti-labor Taft-Hartley Act in exchange for the AFL's support.
Over the previous few months, Johnson had tried dozens of other issues in his statewide campaign that included 3 daily radio appearances, daily newspaper stories, campaign-produced periodicals and brochures, helicopter rides between his campaign stops, as well as typical political speeches. But none of those issues had worked.
But this one did.
Soon enough, nearly everyone in Texas had heard about Coke's "secret deal". And the polls were starting to show it.
But there was one problem. Johnson's accusations weren't true. And Coke tried to make it known.
Stevenson retaliated with his strongest speech of the campaign. He "lambasted" LBJ, demanding him to bring forth "one single bill" he had ever introduced during his time as a Texas congressman.
LBJ couldn't. He knew it. Stevenson knew it. But that didn't matter.
Because even though Stevenson had the truth, very few people heard it.
LBJ had 3 daily radio appearances. Stevenson did not.
LBJ produced articles for placement in Texas' many newspapers. Stevenson did not.
LBJ decorated Texas' small towns with brochures, pamphlets, and posters with his face on it. Stevenson did not.
LBJ had repetition. Stevenson did not.
I'll spare you the rest of the story (we'd be here for a while if I tried). All you need to know is that Johnson won the race through a host of other nefarious means.
While it's impossible to isolate one variable to his win, there's a principle here that we can use. That principle?
The repeated message gets remembered.
"Repetition--that was the thing," remarked Johnson's speechwriter Paul Bolton years later when asked about the campaign.
He understood that one of the most important things when it comes to influencing people is repeating yourself time-and-time again. A good rule of thumb is that if you're not sick of talking about it, you haven't talked about it enough.
I hesitated to write about this, because as we see with LBJ, the principle can be exploited for personal gain.
But for coaches who are trying to do the right thing, coaches who are trying to find a way to make things stick with those they lead, coaches who are trying to make a change, we can learn a lot from this story.
I just hope you'll use it for good.
Source: Means of Ascent by Robert A. Caro (Affiliate link)