5. David Axelrod
Not to be confused with Miles Axelrod from Cars 2, or indeed the jazz musician, David Axelrod is President Obama’s campaign manager, and is often credited with getting the president into power. This fits with The Economist’s somewhat cynical view that he specialised in “packaging black candidates for white voters.”
He first served alongside Bill Clinton as his political advisor, and was somewhat conflicted in 2008 when he had to choose between promoting Obama or Bill’s wife Hillary. The choice was further complicated by all the work Hillary had done for epilepsy charities (Axelrod’s daughter suffers from a form of epilepsy). But he felt he would be contributing more to the world by supporting America’s first black president, and his able touch saw Obama voted in not once but twice. He has now left politics and works for NBC News as a political advisor.
4. Wiremu Tamihana
Wiremu Tamihana was a native of what is now New Zealand, who converted to Christianity after encounters with British missionaries in the 1830s. Having studied and learned from the British setlers, he then rebelled against them by lobbying for a Māori king, and installing Pōtatau Te Wherowhero as the first one. This gravely worried the British government, who threatened war if the Māori did not submit to Queen Victoria. Tamihana acted as an ambassador for the Māori king movement and eventually won the right for his people to have their own king. The position still exists today, but it is ceremonial and the Māori king has no power over the New Zealand government.
3. Rupert Murdoch
A man who has few friends around the world, but a lot of power, Rupert Murdoch is the Australian media baron who has somehow managed to back every successful British prime minister since Thatcher. In 1992, his newspaper The Sun took the credit for returning Conservative prime minister John Major to power, when he was generally unpopular, seen as weak and expected to lose. Just five years later, he and his papers switched allegiances and supported the rival Labour party, which saw Tony Blair surf into power on a landslide. But where his backing goes, so does the power and it might have been his support of David Cameron that saw the Conservative party back in power in 2010. His media support seems to dictate how every election goes. A powerful man indeed!
2. Niccolo Machiavelli
No list of political manipulators would be complete without Machiavelli – a man so politically astute and devious that his name became an adjective to describe any behavior that involves controlling other people’s lives for your own ends. He lived in Renaissance Italy and was the son of a pope at a time when popes were known more for their bloodthirsty power struggles than for their Christian good deeds. He was also associated with the notorious Borgia family. Machiavelli was a diplomat and a writer and he oversaw the removal of a number of political associates. He was never in the top position but there’s no doubting he held all the power.
1. Earl of Warwick
The Earl of Warwick is possibly the first person about whom the term “Kingmaker” was used (although it’s obviously been used retrospectively for much older examples, such as Ricimer). Richard Neville was active during the Wars of the Roses in England, and was responsible for bringing King Edward IV to power. And then betraying him and backing Henry VI instead – Henry being the same king that Warwick had deposed when declaring Edward as king. Henry enjoyed a brief return to the throne, but Edward soon gathered support and proved himself to be strong enough to be king without Neville’s support. The Kingmaker was eventually killed by his former protegee Edward at the Battle of Barnet. His change of heart seems to have been triggered by Edward’s choice of bride and his subsequent favors to his bride’s family. Still, Neville may have regretted leaving Edward’s side in order to support the weak and slightly insane Henry VI, and the subsequent unrest it brought to the kingdom. Certainly not a man who wanted a quiet life!