People asked a few months ago during debates “Can Ed Gillespie win in Virginia [for Governor]?” It struck me how this is a totally meaningless and absurd question (although sincere, reflecting conventional wisdom).
Of course Ed Gillespie could win. Of course Ed Gillespie could lose.
Months ago, I rejected the dominant thinking that Candidate A (automatically) wins while Candidate B (automatically) loses. It’s how a candidate campaigns for office that counts. Yet all of our thinking and talking suggests that Candidate A wins merely and exclusively because she is “A” while Candidate B loses merely and exclusively because he is “B.”
First, the Republican Party has to grapple with what is the correct theory or strategy for winning elections. I keep saying: Tell me your theory about how to win a general election state-wide and I will tell you whom you are backing as your candidate. The wings of the GOP are torn among different theories for how to win. The wings are unable to cooperate or agree on anything because our theories of elections are incompatible.
We have to break the fever and kill the infection. The GOP cannot prosper until the disease is driven from the body. The establishment’s strategy for winning (general) elections is the problem. It’s not the candidates. The candidates are chosen to carry out the electoral strategy. It’s the strategy that is a proven loser.
So November 7 (tonight as I write this) the establishment insider theories about winning elections were once again burned to the ground in Virginia’s campaign for Governor. Time and time again, the liberal Republican establishment’s view of the world has a head-on collision with reality. Unwilling to learn the lessons of Ronald Reagan and his “bold colors, no pale pastels” and the clarion call A Choice Not an Echo by Phyllis Schlafly, the establishment clings bitterly to their losing game plan.
How is it that Virginia State Senator Jill Vogel got 47.66% of the vote Statewide while “Mr. Insider” Ed Gillespie got only 45.34% of the vote? Note that was on the same ballot on the same day from the same turnout of the same electorate.
Jill Vogel ran for Lt. Governor as a conservative and is the warmest, most “real” candidate I can remember (okay, second warmest, second most “real” next to a friend of mine). John Adams ran for Attorney General as a Virginia conservative. Those perceived to be conservative did better than Ed Gillespie who ran as Mr. Rogers. Gillespie—apparently a really nice guy as a human being—ran explicitly hoping to be all things to all people. That is not my interpretation but what he proclaimed.
Professional campaign genius Rick Shaftan posted his early tentative vote analysis that Gillespie seemed to be getting only 30% of the vote in Fairfax County. But Fairfax was the raison d’etre for Gillespie. The very reason for nominating Gillespie was to appeal to Fairfax County, a politically mixed battleground. The theory was that a moderate could win over the squishy middle. Yet Gillespie did especially bad in a County that was supposed to be the entire rationale for nominating him.
Remember: The establishment theory is that a Republican candidate must match the political leanings of the state. So Ed Gillespie running as a moderate would do better in divided Virginia than an out-right conservative. Yet the results—once again—prove that theory completely false.
The Ronald Reagan theory, time tested, is that campaigns must persuade. The establishment wants to simply be an ink blot test and match the electorate. Ronald Reagan moved the electorate. Put simply, conservatives propose to give voters actual reasons to vote for them. The establishment wants votes to simply fall in their laps, without any real effort. In fact, if you really talk to an establishment Republican they are allergic to the whole idea of persuading anyone. They want to cut deals with the static lay of the land, whereas conservatives want to run a dynamic, game-changing campaign.
For me this all started with The Great Ollie North Wars of 1994. The clash of civilizations within the Republican Party raged in every meeting of the Arlington County Republican Committee, of which I was a voting member. The pervasive betrayal of the voters by the establishment was driven home in that Virginia U.S. Senate campaign.
But I finally understood the problem during The Great Christine O’Donnell Wars debating her 2010 election loss. One establishment henchman literally insisted that as soon as a “quality” (that is, insider) candidate is nominated the result of the general election is pre-determined like the ballistic trajectory of a cannon ball fired from artillery.
Just ask President Bob Dole, President John McCain, President Mitt Romney. Heck, ask Senator Ed Gillespie who was supposed to beat Virginia’s Democrat U.S. Senator Mark Warner in 2014. (I have no issue with people continuing to run for office. Trying again is absolutely the right thing to do. But failing to learn from the experience is folly.)
Of course, in the last ten days or so, Gillespie ran an increasingly conservative campaign and began to copy from Corey Stewart’s and Donald Trump’s themes. Too little, too late, Gillespie did recognize that his ink-blot-test candidacy was not getting it done. But a candidate cannot completely change in the last ten days. The voters will think you don’t really believe in anything. It was not enough to undo months of running as Mr. Rogers.
Rick Shaftan points out that at the last minute, Gillespie reverted back to Mr. Nice Guy in the final days of the campaign. Ed not only took his foot off the gas but just confused the issues even further.
The Republican Party had better figure out quick that the voters are selecting a candidate to do a job. The voters want a fighter. The establishment wants candidates who simply look good representing the status quo, someone from Central Casting to look the part. The voters want officials who do things. The voters want candidates who will fight for them. The establishment believes that being elected is an honor to reward them for being a cut above the commoners.
The voters want a street fighter. The “style” that voters are looking for is someone who will do his flippin’ job. The voters want a scrapper who will solve their problems and “Get R Done.”
So we have two competing theories: Persuade the voters as Ronald Reagan did. Or try to be all things to all people. It is clear that Ronald Reagan had it right and the establishment has it wrong.
Editor’s Note. Superb, fast, and most accurate assessment of Virginia’s elections by Mr. Moseley, which is his norm. At some point, “establishment Republicans” must start listening to the likes of Mr. Moseley and Corey Stewart or face Democrat control of state politics for longer than the foreseeable future. Sad, but true.