To Win, You First Need Good Candidates

This is a great WaPo article detailing how the GOP came back for the 2014 elections. I think it also hits on an important concept, which I believe is lost on the Tea Party, and probably the cause of a lot of friction between it and the GOP establishment. The Tea Party is big on finding the “true conservative,” and not focused nearly enough on finding good candidates. The article talks about the candidacy of Joni Ernst in Iowa:

Republicans worked to polish Ernst’s presentation and policy platform. “She is naturally disciplined, and I assume that has a lot to do with her military training and her farm-girl roots,” said David Kochel, an Ernst adviser.

Meanwhile, the Braley campaign had problems. With each of his missteps — a gaffe about towel service at the House gym, hostile questioning of witnesses in committee hearings and a local fracas over a neighbor’s roaming chickens — Braley caused heartburn in Washington.

When the chicken incident became public, Reid called and said, “Bruce, look, you just have to be smarter than this — or you’re going to lose,” according to Krone. Schumer, the party’s message maven, called Braley repeatedly to help him become more disciplined.

“Braley listens for a minute and then sort of just continues back on his merry way,” said a senior Democratic official. “He’s not a good politician, which may seem like a compliment but it’s not. . . . He comes across as arrogant, and I think it’s because he is.”

If you want true conservatives to win, they must first be good candidates, meaning they have to be good politicians. What are the qualities of a good candidate?

  • They can fundraise and run a campaign. If they can’t do this, they can’t win. A lot of people in Pennsylvania were really enamored with Sam Rohrer for a while, but he couldn’t fundraise or campaign, and so he never went anywhere as a state level candidate.
  • They have to be disciplined. They need to stay on message, and avoid saying stupid things. In the example given of Chris McDaniel in Mississippi, he was formerly a conservative talk radio host. No one who has that much of a paper trail, on transcript trail in his case, makes a good candidate. They’ve said too much over the years, and some of it is going to be stupid. Some of it will be stupid taken out of context, which the opposition is sure to do. This is where Todd Akin fell over.
  • They have to be personally likable. They have to come across to low information voters as good people, who care about them, and reflect their values. Standing up for “true conservative” values is fine and well, but if they can’t do it in a way that still maintains likability, they will tank. LIVs aren’t ideological, and there are a lot of higher information voters who aren’t particularly ideological. They want candidates who appear to care about them, and others. If you can’t frame your ideology in a manner that connects it back to voters, you don’t have a chance. This is why Libertarians have never gotten anywhere.
  • They have to be good at retail politics. If they are no good on the stump, in debates, at dealing with people one-on-one, or aren’t willing to campaign hard to achieve victory, their campaign could easily end up hopeless. Modern GOTV efforts require candidates that are well-versed, or at least knowledgeable enough to hire people well-versed in technology. Why did Scott Brown do so well as a carpetbagger candidate in New Hampshire? Because he’s very good on this factor.

These factors matter a lot more than ideology. In politics, these factors are the horse. Ideology is the cart. The Tea Party doesn’t seem to understand that. The establishment does, and that’s a big reason the establishment did well in this election. I share people’s loathing of the GOP establishment, but if the Tea Party doesn’t learn not to put the cart before the horse, they’ll continue to struggle and be disillusioned.

13 thoughts on “To Win, You First Need Good Candidates”

  1. It’s important to remember that the Washington Post is writing articles not to report news, but to advance an agenda. If you’re relying on an article from that paper on how Republicans won or should win in the future, you’re handing the strategy you intend to use to the political enemies.

    No, the Washington Post are trying themselves to gin up support among their readership for the republicans to “pick the right candidates” ( so our team can beat them more easily ). You cannot accept anything they write as unbiased from the lowest level post-it note from the janitorial staff, through the reporters & to the editorial crew. There is an agenda behind everything they approve for print and it is not to benefit libertarians, conservatives or republicans. Ever.

    Candidates are people and people make mistakes whether they are socialists, libertarians or anything in between. Sometimes the candidate pool is think because everyone knows it’s a lost cause but won’t say it out loud. Partisans are loathe to admit this. It’s true nonetheless though. Other times there’s a genuine chance but honest mistakes get made. Sometimes it’s gun friendly candidates making the mistakes, sometimes it’s not. This time, mostly gun-un-friendly candidates stuck their feet in their mouths.

    This election does not mean everything that mainstream media wants its constituency to believe. It is significant, but not unexpected. Statistically, the victory was in the cards from early on. Heck, even Mittens could’ve won a congressional seat as a republican this time around.

    1. And sometimes, even biased media can write an insightful article about politics. Most of my post were my own observations about the process. It’s rare to see someone lose because of what they believe. When candidates lose, it’s almost always because they were lousy candidates.

  2. To be fair to the Tea Partiers, I don’t think it’s just that they are deliberately choosing ideology over winnability: I have the impression that they are convincing people to throw their hats into the ring, who have never been politicians before.

    That’s very admirable, but such people are also going to be inexperienced, so even if they can pass the ideological tests, they sometimes crash and burn as candidates.

    I’m not sure how Tom Akin became the candidate in his district, but I have heard that he beat the Tea Party candidate in the primary…which probably indicates that Akin was at least a little bit better at doing these four things in the primary than the Tea Party candidate, for what that’s worth…although, now that I think about it, had the Tea Party candidate won, he might not have #1, #3, or #4, but he might have been able to be #2 enough that Romney might have been President (for better or for worse)…

    And I should add that there’s probably no easy answer to the question of how you could get into politics, when you don’t have experience…

    And also add that this list also applies to Incumbents. When Senator Mike Lee ousted Senator Bill Bennett, I had the impression that part of the factor that prevented Bennett from being nominated at the State Convention was that he was lacking a certain…energy…or perhaps just had a certain…expectation…that he would win. (I didn’t see him at the State Convention, but I remembered seeing him speak at the County Election.)

    1. You are correct to cite inexperience, but even someone inexperienced, if they have the qualities, can still hit above their weight.

      But generally, I agree. If you have a newb, run them for a lower office. Start them at school board if you need to. Start them at town councilman. Let them gain experience. Then take the really talented ones and run them for higher office, and repeat that process until you have someone you think can take and hold a federal office.

      This has been what Libertarian Party has failed to do.

      1. That’s one of the things that has always bothered me about Libertarians. They have always focused on the National and sometimes State levels, but never the local. And Libertarians are needed locally, too!

        I still remember a Caucus meeting where an older gentleman was expressing anger about a single mother who was threatened with fines for not having a mowed lawn. He empathetically said that Provo wasn’t an HOA.

        I suppose part of the problem is that Libertarians tend to think that the lower down you go, the more a government has the right to be restrictive–vote with your feet, etc. But freedom in the local level is just as important as at any other level! And beyond that, if you want a strong party, you need to cultivate support from the grassroots up…

  3. Lousy candidates have been put forth by the left for generations now. The difference is that it does not matter to our political enemies. There are dozens of hucksters that say unacceptable things on the other side. We point them out, the other side simply does not care. Our side cares, true. But what is frustrating our side is not that we aren’t picking good candidates or ideologically pure candidates, it’s that we are picking candidates that more and more resemble the liberals.

    Any litmus test for candidates that is put forth by the Washington Post is a set of “observations” or insights is designed to steer the preferences of the readership, so the republicans will “pick the right people” so the liberals can trounce them.

    1. The problem you have with Democrats is they start with a built in constituency. In Philly, a decent number of Democratic lawmakers are currently being investigated for corruption, and could soon be indicted by the feds. But they all won their elections in landslides, some as high as 8:1 against their opponents. Republicans have nothing like that, because Republican voters won’t tolerate corrupt assholes.

      I’m not saying Republican voters should, but the Democrats have certain advantages that the GOP does not. So certain things apply to the GOP that don’t apply as strongly to the Democrats, because the Democrats are now the sole beneficiary of big city machine politics.

      And I’d note that the establishment candidates fared pretty well this cycle, so that would play against the idea that the media want us to pick more establishment candidates, since it worked out very badly for the Dems this cycle.

      1. I certainly cannot disagree with the above comments. The difference is that there is a great deal of pressure brought to bear to support the “establishment compromisers” from early on in election cycles. The tea party took the brunt of blame because the establishment was angry that their compromisers got unelected due to tea party challengers. Sometimes, no matter what there isn’t a candidate available that can defeat an entrenched establishment incumbent. Then it’s a choice of either torpedoing their future employment, or sitting back and doing nothing. Sure, we had to stomach left wing winners in those races, but some of or compromisers got sent packing and that’s a good thing.

        Our presidential candidates from both parties have been further and further left since Bush 1 and on a smaller scale so have our congressional candidates.

        You point out that the “establishment” candidates did well, but the opposition party (to the president) always does well in the 6th year of a presidency. As I said before, Mittens could have won in this cycle. The fact that the Post is point out how this is the new recipe for success is the Post doing their best to cement that belief so they can continue to see the country drag further and further left.

        If Team R thinks that the Mitch McConnell brand of republican is the future of the republican party, their goose is cooked.

  4. I’m sure the post is concerned, that republicans aren’t running good enough candidates.

  5. NO party which emphasizes such concerns as “towel service” and “the chicken incident” deserves to gain national prominence.

    Trust me on this one.

  6. Standing for something is important. Being able to signal values without tipping off the voters who stand to lose is a key political skill.

    A good campaign has people willing to work for free. For example: is anybody going to canvas a block or attend a rally for Hillary, unless they are being paid?

  7. There’s another point I wanted to add: most talk-show hosts seem to understand point #2, about self discipline. I remember hearing callers try to convince Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity try to convince them to run for public office. “But you have so many listeners!” they’d say. “Well, yeah, but 20 million listeners isn’t enough to become President, and of those 20 million, not even all of them will want to vote for me.”

    That, and they’d emphasise that they are experienced talk show hosts; it’s what they love to do, and they don’t have the experience or desire for a government position…

    And I would add that, by being a popular yet controversial figure able to criticise sides as you see fit, you can probably do far more for your cause, regardless of what it is, than disappearing from the public stage so that you could do political things…

  8. The question of who wins the election is a local question. In the 7th District in VA, Brat unseated Cantor and took the election handily. He was also a “Tea Party” endorsed candidate. It wasn’t the endorsement that caused such a win, but that he represented the base, which is fairly conservative in this district. Why do Reid and McCain still get elected? They have political machines in touch with their voters. If you can’t speak to your base and voters, you stand a good chance to lose. Its easy to poke at this group or another, or put forth what you think are good candidates. You might even be right. But if the candidate isn’t heard and believed by the voters, the only possible vote they earn is the “not the other guy I am pissed at” vote. That can be enough to lift you over the other fellow, but it isn’t enough to win.

    Want to protect 2nd Amendment rights? Follow, roughly, what is above. Bloomberg lost so many elections because people don’t believe what he said. Washington state’s new restrictions are because of the packaging of them not the logical outcome. (e.g. emotion over substance) We need to show what happens with those approaches, and do it often. We can’t wait till its in our neighborhood or state to fight it. That’s what put us in this mess. Youtube is cheap, and you can cop all of the language you want from either side and show the result. If we can get Moms for Bloomberg to make a couple more commercials, it might reduce the work we need to do, but we still need to do it. Our work is never done, and we need to adjust our approach as quickly as possible. Bloomberg is rich, but relatively slow. This is a “attrition” war- he can stand to lose a good bit with the goal of stripping the 2nd Amendment. But he can’t loose forever as he has other goals and limited funds. We adjust, be flexible, and eventually he will leave us alone. Preferably broke and moving somewhere else with the gun restrictions he likes…maybe Mexico…

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