GOP Consultants Become Campaign Issue - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
GOP Consultants Become Campaign Issue

So Liz Mair is gone. The GOP consultant thrown under the bus that is the Scott Walker campaign. But before we get to the Mair story?

Once upon a time the people who worked for a presidential candidate were, believe it or not, longtime loyalists. Think JFK’s brother and campaign manager Bobby Kennedy. Ronald Reagan’s Ed Meese or Lyn Nofziger, Jimmy Carter’s Hamilton Jordan and Jody Powell, George W. Bush’s Karl Rove or, to go back even further in time, FDR’s Louie Howe.

The world changed. Long ago. Somewhere along the line the people working to elect candidates became “operatives.” In the vernacular “hired guns.” Racing around America and indeed the democracies of the world with a set of skills — good skills without question — with loyalty to no one except their own career and gaining professional reputations that in turn earned them a pretty penny. There was nothing necessarily wrong about this — the world turns.

But inevitably a problem has now surfaced. Perhaps inevitably, the media began making these people into “stars” or, as they say in the television interview world, a “get” or a “good get.” There they were, un-tethered from a candidate much less loyalty to anything other than their own career sitting on television panels as themselves and representing no one but themselves. As the Internet and social media gained speed some of them had web sites or even radio or TV shows. Twitter entered the picture. This combined to not only make some of them take themselves too seriously — the outside world took them seriously as representatives of whatever point of view they were spouting as themselves.

All of which, in turn, has led us to a point where their hiring by candidate X understandably brings to that candidate whatever separate political baggage the hired consultant has accumulated on their own. The results range from not good at best to terrible at worst. Creating for the candidate a whole new issue — a controversy over the hiring of a consultant — that he or she should never have to deal with in the first place.

This comes to mind as the Iowa campaign of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker found itself caught up in just this kind of controversy over Liz Mair. The Des Moines Register headlines this particular consultant headache for Walker this way:

Scott Walker’s digital consultant has taken swipes at Iowa

Reported the Register

Iowa has been a punching bag in online quips by Republican Scott Walker’s new strategist for online communications.

“In other news, I see Iowa is once again embarrassing itself, and the GOP, this morning. Thanks, guys,” Republican political consultant Liz Mair tweeted in January this year, just after U.S. Rep. Steve King’s daylong multicontender Iowa Freedom Summit began.

Mair followed that up a minute later with this tweet: “The sooner we remove Iowa’s frontrunning status, the better off American politics and policy will be.”

There was more. Over at Conservative HQ was a story detailing Mair as “a rabid advocate of open borders and amnesty for illegal aliens….”

All of this, but of course, forced the suddenly high-flying Walker campaign to go into a defensive crouch. Issuing statements about the state of Liz Mair and her views on ethanol as if they were responding to an attack from Jeb Bush or Ted Cruz or Donald Trump or some other candidate Walker actually is in a battle with.

Eventually — inevitably — Liz Mair was thrown under the Walker bus and she was out. But Liz Mair — some of whose friends in the world of conservatives stuck by her — is not alone in all of this. This really isn’t about Liz Mair at all. The problem is the modern world of consultants.

Former Texas Governor Rick Perry has hired Steve Schmidt, the ex-McCain campaign guy, who a while back took to the set of NBC’s Meet the Press to say:

“Our elected leaders are scared to death of the conservative entertainment complex, the shrill and divisive voices that are bombastic and broadcasting out into the homes.

“And then when you look at the demographics, who is Rush Limbaugh talking to? He is talking to a demographic that’s white, 65 plus, and rural. It’s not what the country looks like anymore.” 

Thus Rick Perry is now on the hook for hiring a consultant — a losing one at that — who illustrates at a stroke just why he ran a losing presidential campaign. Which is to say, Schmidt came up empty in part because of his expressed and visceral contempt for the conservative base of the GOP — a base that just happens to also be Rush Limbaugh’s audience. Schmidt also went out of his way to trash the number two on the ticket he managed to defeat — former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. Repeatedly. This will doubtless be less than helpful to the Perry campaign. Particularly in Texas where he faces opposition from fellow Texan and conservative Ted Cruz.

Schmidt wasn’t the only one going after Rush, either. Jeb Bush has signed on longtime GOP consultant Mike Murphy. Murphy too has been unable to resist the temptation to show up on Meet the Press and trash Rush. Said Murphy:

“The biggest problem that Romney had was the Republican primary, That’s what’s driving the Republican brand right now to a disaster, and we’ve got to get, kind of, a party view of America that’s not right out of Rush Limbaugh’s dream journal. We’ve got to look at reality.”

Murphy, at least, appears to be representative of his candidate’s sentiments about conservatives. Former Governor Bush has been in the press for conferring with Senator McCain and trying to figure a way to get around the conservative base.

Over in the Rand Paul camp a while back there was a fuss over the hiring of Jack Hunter. Once calling himself “the Southern Avenger,” Hunter had been written up as toasting the birthday of Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth and holding all manner of curious views revolving around the Confederacy and race issues. The controversy grew so intense that Senator Paul felt compelled to part company with Hunter.

All of this is before we even get to the recent gambit that had some three hundred Republicans asking the Supreme Court to toss GOP principles of limited government over the side and mandate same-sex marriage. The list, led by ex-Bush 43 aide and RNC chairman Ken Mehlman, did have elected officeholders or former office holders on it. But it also included consultants or former staffers including those for Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Mitt Romney, John McCain, George W. Bush, and even Ronald Reagan. While its certainly true that there are different views on same-sex marriage, the idea that Republicans in the consultant class are asking the Supreme Court to issue a Roe v. Wade-style ruling on the issue instantly hands an issue to the potential opponents of their clients or bosses. In the right circumstances the signing of any of these people by a potential GOP candidate signals nothing but Liz Mair-style turmoil for that candidate. The very hiring of any of these people instantly being interpreted as a sign of that candidate’s real inclinations on the issue of limited government if elected. In the case of consultants who signed on to the Mehlman filing, it opens the floodgates on questions about the kinds of judges the candidate in question would appoint to the Supreme Court and lower rungs in the federal judiciary.

In fact, one signer of an earlier friend of the court brief (to the California Supreme Court) to overturn the California gay marriage ban was Jeb Bush campaign manager-designate David Kochel. This time, however, Kochel felt compelled to keep his name off the list of three hundred in the Mehlman U.S. Supreme Court filing, yet still drew attention. Headlined Time:

Likely Jeb Bush Campaign Manager Steps Back from Gay Marriage Advocacy

David Kochel, the campaign manager-designate for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, has stepped back from his outspoken role in support of same-sex marriage as he prepares to lead the presidential campaign.

Kochel, an Iowa-based veteran of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaigns, signed a Supreme Court friend of the court brief when justices overturned California’s gay marriage ban in 2013. But this week Kochel’s name was off the list when more than 300 Republicans signed another amicus brief this week in support of legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide.

In an email to TIME, Kochel, who is currently working for Bush’s Right to Rise PAC, said he was stepping back from his public role. “In my full time role at the PAC, I have decided not to sign advocacy petitions of any kind,” he said.

Good thinking. But too late. Doubtless this news only reinforces the image of Jeb Bush as hostile to the Reagan conservative base of the GOP. A candidate who, if elected, would busy himself filling the Supreme Court with anti-constitutional liberals as his father once appointed David Souter or Gerald Ford appointed John Paul Stevens, both of whom became key members of the Court’s liberal bloc.

The real lesson in the Liz Mair affair is that Ms. Mair may be the first consultant this year to get pitched by a GOP candidate for her views but she will not be the last. The Mair episode opens a new chapter in GOP politics in which the choice of “rented strangers” by a candidate’s campaign will be seen as more than a sign of professional wisdom because of the consultant’s area of expertise. Consultants themselves will now become potential issues all by themselves. Every word a consultant has ever said, written, or tweeted will be examined with an eye to what the candidate in question really believes. And, even more to the point, the choice of consultants will be seen as how that candidate would staff and run the White House and rest of the federal government if elected.

The idea that the expressed views of a Republican consultant on any issue of the day somehow doesn’t represent the candidate’s point of view is now dead as the proverbial door nail.

Welcome to the new world, consultants. You created it.

Jeffrey Lord
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Jeffrey Lord, a contributing editor to The American Spectator, is a former aide to Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp. An author and former CNN commentator, he writes from Pennsylvania at His new book, Swamp Wars: Donald Trump and The New American Populism vs. The Old Order, is now out from Bombardier Books.
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