Republicans’ consultant problem — especially in CA

Elephant GraveyardFeb. 15, 2013

By John Seiler

Republicans continue to mull over their two defeats by President Barack Obama. And their virtual dissolution in California, which once produced presidents who won landslides: Nixon and Reagan.

One of the best GOP strategists is Morton Blackwell, whom I met in the mid-1980s when I lived in Washington, D.C. He just wrote a new analysis attacking the party’s increasing dependence on high-paid consultants, “The GOP’s consultant problem.” He doesn’t specifically mention California, but what he says applies here more than elsewhere. He writes:

“Most consultants take a 15% commission (over and above client-paid production costs and his retainer) from media vendors for all placements.”

So for the $180 million of her own money that Meg Whitman spent on her losing 2010 gubernatorial campaign, $27 million went to the consultants — plus production costs and retainers.

Now, get this. The consultant only gets paid for big media splashes on TV and radio. He gets nothing, Blackwell writes, for “precinct organization … Voter ID phone banks … voter registration drives … youth efforts … the election day process to get out the vote.” That is, the essence of politics is avoided by the GOP consultants because it doesn’t earn them a 15 percent commission.

In the 2012 election, as well as in 2010, Democrats excelled at all those things. Maybe it’s a difference of culture. Democrats, especially in California, are dominated by unions, who are used to membership drives and organizing to fight for or against ballot initiatives. They always have had strong grassroots organizations.

By contrast, Republicans have a business background. They think you offer a “product,” put up some ads for it, and people either buy it or they don’t. If they buy it, you make a profit (or win the election); if they don’t buy it, you take a loss (or lose the election) and move on to the next product offering.

Rich candidates

Blackwell specifically attacks, “The suckering of many rich candidates who are falsely led by consultants to believe they can win.”

We certainly saw that in California in 2010 with Whitman’s campaign. The eBay billionaire had no idea what she was getting into. She talked about “running the California government like a business.” But politics isn’t business. Business means offering somebody a product that the purchaser can refuse and buy something else; it’s voluntary. Government is coercion. It’s putting a gun to the heads of taxpayers, taking their money, and spending it on special interests. Elections are, as H.L. Mencken wrote, “the advance auction of stolen goods.”

The same thing happened to Arnold Schwarzenegger, who thought he could bring his Hollywood bluster and contract negotiating skills to “running the California government like a business.” His personal charisma and the recall circus of 2003 brought him to power; the real-estate boom of the mid-2000s kept him in power in 2006.

But in the end, he was rolled by the Capitol power players for spending increases that blew out the budget and led to his record $13 billion tax increases of 2009. The state economy tanked much faster than the U.S. economy and he left office in disgrace followed by personal scandal.

The consultants to his campaigns took their 15 percent.

In addition to all their other problems, Arnold’s folly took a severe toll on the California Republican Party. After losing his 2005 special election slate of reform initiatives, Arnold shifted fast to the Left, embracing AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. It’s projected to kill 1 million jobs — long after he left office, of course.

And to show how things have changed, in the seven years since then, environmental extremists no longer even refer to “global warming,” but to “climate change,” which President Obama referred to three times in his State of the Union address this week. That way, any bout of bad weather becomes an excuse to increase government control over our lives vastly more than it already does to prevent a potential ecological catastrophe.

The result was that Arnold tarnished what was left of the anti-tax, small-government “brand” of the California GOP. Some say that was a good thing because they needed to move away from “extreme” right-wing positions. But now the CA GOP has no brand at all. It’s even losing seats in the Legislature in former Republican strongholds such as Orange County.

Blackwell recommends a return to grassroots organizing and online efforts such as those that have worked for the Demcorats. Incoming CA GOP Chairman Jim Brulte is recommending something similar. In California, it’s going to take a lot more than that. But it’s a start.



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