March 5, 2010
Texas-Sized Lesson: The New Tone Era Is OverBy C. Edmund Wright
While the ever-helpful Jurassic media is trying to force-feed conservatives and Republicans groupthink analysis of Rick Perry's thumping of Kay Bailey Hutchison (KBH), the GOP had better heed the main lesson: The "new tone" era is over.
Consider: The political team and concepts that dominated the Lone Star State just ten years ago and subsequently engineered two presidential elections just got whipped in what amounts to an intramural contest in their own state.
KBH's incompetent primary campaign was itself a caricature of the senior senator -- and it was precisely that caricature that her opponents wanted to portray. Perry and Tea Party candidate Debra Medina did not have to do much but get out of the way and let the KBH campaign prove that the senior senator and her top advisers were indeed all creatures of Washington who are hopelessly out of touch.
And for some reason, Hutchison, along with advisers Karl Rove and Karen Hughes, thought that the best way to counter this was to bring in George Bush 41, George Bush 43, and James Baker to campaign. Were John McCain, Bob Dole, and Olympia Snowe too busy to come?
Oh, and to top it off, the Hutchison campaign ads featured endorsements from the traditional liberal newspapers. Conversely, Perry brought in Sarah Palin to campaign for him and proudly addressed numerous tea party rallies.
Predictably, the results were disastrous for Hutchison. Perry defeated her 52%-31%, with Medina getting 17% of the vote. It was actually worse than it looks for Hutchison, however. Ideologically, Medina and the tea party movement are much closer to Perry. The net result is a KBH campaign that was on the wrong side of a two-to-one landslide. Yes, a three-term sitting senator who had never before lost a statewide race just got doubled up, in effect.
How did this happen to the once-all-powerful Texas machine of Bush, Rove, Hughes, et al?
I submit that for all of the micro-management brilliance of Karl Rove in engineering nationwide campaigns almost precinct by precinct, there was a certain tone-deafness to the bigger yearning of the electorate at times.
How is that, you say? Rove was brilliant in carrying Ohio for Bush in 2004, was he not?! Yes, he was -- in a very retail micro-management way to gin up a huge turnout among a specific group of thirty thousand voters that he had correctly identified as the key to the entire national election.
There is a brilliance to that. But I submit that this precinct-by-precinct micro-genius covered up a macro-blind spot.
Perhaps this Texas massacre simply exposed a blind spot that has been prevalent since 2000, if not longer. With all due respect to Bush and his entire campaign staffs of 2000 and 2004, forging a statistical tie with Al Gore and beating Kerry-Edwards by 3 points is not the stuff of genius. Perhaps they simply had very weak competition and Clinton fatigue in their favor.
Election history matters, and there are lessons here critical for conservatives and the GOP to learn for 2010. And this includes questioning assumptions made about who the real political geniuses are, who the right candidates are, and what the right messages are to take forward. The folks running the KBH campaign decided that her big message was, in effect, that she "can work with people." Does this sound familiar?
It should. Remember that Rove was the architect of Bush's "new tone" governing and communications strategy that was implemented right after Bush was declared the winner in 2000. The new tone was much like being able to "work with people." The first new tone decision was to not even debate the national raw vote situation, a decision that still fuels anti-Republican sentiment to this day.
The bottom line is that the new tone was never called for by Americans. To think so was to be rather tone-deaf. Any strategy based on the assumption that people just could not get along -- and ignores the possibility of legitimate and deep ideological divides -- misses the point. By definition, the new tone more or less meant not debating your opponents very vigorously before compromising with them on almost everything.
And this is the type of message that KBH brought into the campaign with Perry, who on emotional and philosophical issues like the Tenth Amendment, President Obama's performance, and even secession is not at all interested in playing nice or working with people or forging a new tone.
The KBH style is just another tired iteration of "reaching across the aisle." Perry's is closer to "Don't mess with Texas!" The KBH campaign was the classic inside-the-Beltway RINO effort fueled by groupthink assumptions. Perry, though certainly hip-deep in the Texas party establishment, heralded a pro-tea party, pro-Tenth Amendment, anti-big government, and anti-Obama message.
While certainly there were a lot of Texas-only nuances in this campaign that we did not address here, the message concerning the 2010 midterm elections is clear. It's the message launched by Rick Santelli and his "Chicago tea party" rant on CNBC just over a year ago. It's the message of those tea parties of the spring -- and the town hall meetings of the late summer and fall.
It's the message of Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. It is a conservative message of less government, less taxation, less regulation, and more freedom. It is a message about soundly defeating anyone who would stand in the way of that message, and not of "working with them."
KBH was reportedly upset about McCain's pick of Sarah Palin for the number-two spot on the ticket, a spot she wanted and thought she deserved. Moreover, she actually thought that her message of a willingness and ability to work inside Washington in a bipartisan way was the message the people were craving. She was still drinking the McCain "reach-across" Kool-Aid as of this week. You know, much like the new tone.
Well, she was so wrong on both counts. And it is deliciously ironic that her own beloved Texans, along with Palin, were the ones to deliver that message. The new tone, which came home to roost with Obama's election in November of 2008, is now officially dead. KBH had better heed the message, as should any Republican who wants to be on the right side of history in 2010.