Clarice's Pieces: Some Things about Politics I Don't Understand

I have lived in Washington for over forty years. Between us, my husband and I have worked for the federal government, in private practice, in the House, in the Senate, and for nonprofits. In those years, we've learned a fair amount about the workings of this city. But there are some things I never will understand.

The first of these is the utility of relying on political consultants. I am sure there must be some good ones, but I seem never to have met them. The ones I have met seem to be largely glad-handlers, purveyors of conventional pieties, people who make a fair hunk of change getting others to work, and people who are not terribly smart operators except at self-promotion.

To give you an example, many years ago I knew a great candidate for the presidency for whom, it was obvious, the Democratic primary in Pennsylvania was going to be key. I knew the campaign manager. In fact, without thanks or compensation, I had already written a couple of speeches for the candidate. As counsel to the reform wing of the UMWA, I knew some coal miners who supported the candidate and had offered to help him. The men were self-starters who had organized themselves earlier to oust the corrupt union leade rship. They had raised the funds for their own work, were well-known to the voters in their area, and were trusted and respected. The offer was rejected out of hand with the explanation that the national president of another major union had promised his support and no other labor support seemed necessary. I tried to persuade the candidate (to no avail) that union members no longer just voted for whomever their president endorsed, and the candidate really needed committed troops on the ground. 

Unsurprisingly, shortly before the primary, the union leader the manager relied on reneged on his offer and backed someone else. The candidate then had no one to do his groundwork. His campaign manager called me back to try to revive the offer. I explained that having been rejected, the men I had in mind had volunteered for another candidate. Needless to say, the manager's candidate lost Pennsylvania and the party nomination...but the manager was nevertheless hired by other candidates. If my recollection is correct, those candidates, like the string of unsuccessful candidates who hired ("I'm going to fight for you") Bob Shrum, also lost their bids.

I was reminded of that  incident this week when I read that Mike Huckabee's campaign manager in 2008, Ed Rollins, attacked Sarah Palin, saying she was no Ronald Reagan. As Professor  Jacobson reminds us, Rollins had a more favorable comparison with Huckabee at the time he was on Huckabee's payroll:

Governor Huckabee has probably inspired me as much as Ronald Reagan. He had an ability to connect with people and he was a great communicator. I've looked for a long time for another candidate to do that.

People are always asking: "Who's the next Ronald Reagan?" Well, I was with the old Reagan. I can promise you that this man comes as close as I've ever seen.

It's amusing, but not astonishing, that who is Reaganesque depends on whom you're backing, but  Jacobson's point was more significant than that. He issued a warning, which one would think was unnecessary for anyone who fancies himself a political expert:

Run, don't walk, away from Ed Rollins and the others who think that demeaning Sarah Palin is the best way to advance your campaign.

Other candidates are entitled to make the case why they would be a better nominee, and they should do so forcefully.  But if they think -- like Ed Rollins and Joe Scarborough -- that insulting Palin is the way to go, then they have seriously misread the Republican electorate. 

Without the enthusiasm of Palin supporters the Republican Party is nothing moving into 2012. 

The campaign troops who will be in the field, on the telephones and at the fundraisers in 2012 will be the same troops who fought the 2010 campaign war.  And those troops weren't carrying Mitt Romney, or Mike Huckabee, or Newt Gingrich signs.

That doesn't mean Palin gets the nomination just because she wants it, or that she is presumptive, or that her supporters constitute a majority of the Party.

It does mean that the Republican nominee cannot win against Barack Obama without the enthusiasm and support of Palin supporters.

So Mike, I wish you well.  But if you start running, don't let Ed Rollins catch you.

Another thing I don't understand is the short memories of those idolizing or demonizing modern political figures. Today, Reagan's popularity is on the upswing, but I remember when he was treated as badly by the political and journalist classes as Sarah Palin now is.

Portlandon, a commentator at Hot Air, reminds us what TIME -- then still an important and influential publication -- said of Reagan:

"National opinion polls continue to show Carter leading Reagan by an apparently comfortable margin of about 25%. They also show that more moderate Republicans like Ford would run better against the President. This suggests that Reagan is not the strongest G.O.P. choice for the November election and that he clearly faces an uphill battle."
"Party operatives are plainly unhappy with his selection. In Massachusetts, where both Bush and Anderson defeated Reagan, party leaders are not yet reconciled to the Reagan candidacy. Says one: "There's a vacuum of leadership at the national level; and what appears to be the Republican Party's response? A 69-year-old man who has done virtually nothing for years". 
Reagan has a history of committing rhetorical blunders that drive away voters. His quest in 1976 was damaged when he suggested vaguely, without proper research and consideration, that $90 billion in federal programs should be turned back to the states. He then spent months explaining that the affected programs would not be eliminated, only transferred. As Governor, Reagan was outraged by student unrest and once proclaimed: "The state of California has no business subsidizing intellectual curiosity." Worse perhaps than the verbal gaffe is Reagan's relentlessly simple-minded discussion of complex problems. He is aware that he is charged with this failing, and in his 1967 inaugural address on becoming Governor of California, he asserted: "We have been told there are no simple answers to complex problems. Well, the truth is there are simple answers, just not easy ones." Time Magazine - March 31, 1980

portlandon on December 1, 2010 at 7:20 PM (h/t:Terry Gain)


It appears  thus that  in the critical  months before he first was elected president, even Ronald Reagan wasn't always Ronald Reagan. In spring of 1980, he was more like Sarah Palin is today in the eyes of the press and "moderate Republicans." As TIME put it, he was "not the strongest G.O.P. choice " in their eyes.
I have lived in Washington for over forty years. Between us, my husband and I have worked for the federal government, in private practice, in the House, in the Senate, and for nonprofits. In those years, we've learned a fair amount about the workings of this city. But there are some things I never will understand.

The first of these is the utility of relying on political consultants. I am sure there must be some good ones, but I seem never to have met them. The ones I have met seem to be largely glad-handlers, purveyors of conventional pieties, people who make a fair hunk of change getting others to work, and people who are not terribly smart operators except at self-promotion.

To give you an example, many years ago I knew a great candidate for the presidency for whom, it was obvious, the Democratic primary in Pennsylvania was going to be key. I knew the campaign manager. In fact, without thanks or compensation, I had already written a couple of speeches for the candidate. As counsel to the reform wing of the UMWA, I knew some coal miners who supported the candidate and had offered to help him. The men were self-starters who had organized themselves earlier to oust the corrupt union leade rship. They had raised the funds for their own work, were well-known to the voters in their area, and were trusted and respected. The offer was rejected out of hand with the explanation that the national president of another major union had promised his support and no other labor support seemed necessary. I tried to persuade the candidate (to no avail) that union members no longer just voted for whomever their president endorsed, and the candidate really needed committed troops on the ground. 

Unsurprisingly, shortly before the primary, the union leader the manager relied on reneged on his offer and backed someone else. The candidate then had no one to do his groundwork. His campaign manager called me back to try to revive the offer. I explained that having been rejected, the men I had in mind had volunteered for another candidate. Needless to say, the manager's candidate lost Pennsylvania and the party nomination...but the manager was nevertheless hired by other candidates. If my recollection is correct, those candidates, like the string of unsuccessful candidates who hired ("I'm going to fight for you") Bob Shrum, also lost their bids.

I was reminded of that  incident this week when I read that Mike Huckabee's campaign manager in 2008, Ed Rollins, attacked Sarah Palin, saying she was no Ronald Reagan. As Professor  Jacobson reminds us, Rollins had a more favorable comparison with Huckabee at the time he was on Huckabee's payroll:

Governor Huckabee has probably inspired me as much as Ronald Reagan. He had an ability to connect with people and he was a great communicator. I've looked for a long time for another candidate to do that.

People are always asking: "Who's the next Ronald Reagan?" Well, I was with the old Reagan. I can promise you that this man comes as close as I've ever seen.

It's amusing, but not astonishing, that who is Reaganesque depends on whom you're backing, but  Jacobson's point was more significant than that. He issued a warning, which one would think was unnecessary for anyone who fancies himself a political expert:

Run, don't walk, away from Ed Rollins and the others who think that demeaning Sarah Palin is the best way to advance your campaign.

Other candidates are entitled to make the case why they would be a better nominee, and they should do so forcefully.  But if they think -- like Ed Rollins and Joe Scarborough -- that insulting Palin is the way to go, then they have seriously misread the Republican electorate. 

Without the enthusiasm of Palin supporters the Republican Party is nothing moving into 2012. 

The campaign troops who will be in the field, on the telephones and at the fundraisers in 2012 will be the same troops who fought the 2010 campaign war.  And those troops weren't carrying Mitt Romney, or Mike Huckabee, or Newt Gingrich signs.

That doesn't mean Palin gets the nomination just because she wants it, or that she is presumptive, or that her supporters constitute a majority of the Party.

It does mean that the Republican nominee cannot win against Barack Obama without the enthusiasm and support of Palin supporters.

So Mike, I wish you well.  But if you start running, don't let Ed Rollins catch you.

Another thing I don't understand is the short memories of those idolizing or demonizing modern political figures. Today, Reagan's popularity is on the upswing, but I remember when he was treated as badly by the political and journalist classes as Sarah Palin now is.

Portlandon, a commentator at Hot Air, reminds us what TIME -- then still an important and influential publication -- said of Reagan:

"National opinion polls continue to show Carter leading Reagan by an apparently comfortable margin of about 25%. They also show that more moderate Republicans like Ford would run better against the President. This suggests that Reagan is not the strongest G.O.P. choice for the November election and that he clearly faces an uphill battle."
"Party operatives are plainly unhappy with his selection. In Massachusetts, where both Bush and Anderson defeated Reagan, party leaders are not yet reconciled to the Reagan candidacy. Says one: "There's a vacuum of leadership at the national level; and what appears to be the Republican Party's response? A 69-year-old man who has done virtually nothing for years". 
Reagan has a history of committing rhetorical blunders that drive away voters. His quest in 1976 was damaged when he suggested vaguely, without proper research and consideration, that $90 billion in federal programs should be turned back to the states. He then spent months explaining that the affected programs would not be eliminated, only transferred. As Governor, Reagan was outraged by student unrest and once proclaimed: "The state of California has no business subsidizing intellectual curiosity." Worse perhaps than the verbal gaffe is Reagan's relentlessly simple-minded discussion of complex problems. He is aware that he is charged with this failing, and in his 1967 inaugural address on becoming Governor of California, he asserted: "We have been told there are no simple answers to complex problems. Well, the truth is there are simple answers, just not easy ones." Time Magazine - March 31, 1980

portlandon on December 1, 2010 at 7:20 PM (h/t:Terry Gain)


It appears  thus that  in the critical  months before he first was elected president, even Ronald Reagan wasn't always Ronald Reagan. In spring of 1980, he was more like Sarah Palin is today in the eyes of the press and "moderate Republicans." As TIME put it, he was "not the strongest G.O.P. choice " in their eyes.