by Paul Goldman
“Former Senator and Governor George Allen is holding a press conference tomorrow to endorse Republican presidential primary contender Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota.” This press statement can be expected sometime later this year from the Allen for Senate campaign. Why?
Despite having a huge lead in the Virginia primary polls, Mr. Allen seems to be looking over his right shoulder 24/7 in apparent fear of what might be coming up behind him.
As a former QB, Mr. Allen knows that fumbles tend to happen when you have called a passing play and are anxious to get back into the pocket. For some reason, despite the big polling lead, Mr. Allen insists on throwing passes – he issued a big blueprint this week giving opponents a chance to pick and choose whatever they feel is the weak link – instead of following the advice of legendary coach Vince Lombardi. The Lombardi sweep was at the center of the Hall of Famer’s offensive strategy. To be sure, Mr. Allen is no Paul Hornung or Frank Gifford (the student body right or left sweep was actually used by Lombardi as the offensive coordinator for the New York Giants based on Gifford’s legendary talents), but then who is?
The point being: When you have a big lead more than a year ahead of the vote, you don’t keep throwing passes, such as Mr. Allen’s latest “Blueprint for America” kind of thing. I was responsible for the final version of Mark Warner’s campaign platform back in 2001. It was longer than long, a record length. It took weeks to get right, not because of the complexity of the substance, but for this reason: If you screwed up on one line, it didn’t matter how careful you had been on the entire 80 pages.
Tim Kaine gets it. If he had a challenger on the left with support in the single digits, do you think the last Democratic governor would be issuing complex policy proposals geared to undercut such a challenger? Of course not; Mr. Kaine is a lot better chess player than that. Right about now, he has to be laughing at Allen.
THE BETTER CHESS MOVE FOR ALLEN: The smarter play for Allen would be to become the first current or former Senator to get behind Michelle Bachmann for President. Back in 2004, then Lt. Governor Tim Kaine supported Joe Lieberman for the Democratic presidential nomination. The Connecticut Senator bombed big time. Did it hurt Kaine the next year when running for Governor? Of course not.
It doesn’t matter whether Bachmann wins the nod. She can run as poorly as Lieberman, but she is going to be a huge favorite of the tea party crowd under any circumstances. Unless she fumbles the snap or starts throwing interceptions, she is going to do fine even if former Governor Sarah Palin gets into the race.
Moreover, Bachmann will remain a member of Congress or be on the GOP national ticket; either way, she is going to be in a position to rally the Tea Party types from a position of influence next year, if Allen needs help in the GOP primaries. All she has to do is finish first or second in Iowa and she is a huge winner.
What Allen needs to fear is someone like Bob Marshall, who almost beat Jim Gilmore for the GOP Senate nomination in 2008, becoming the Bachmann statewide leader. The GOP senate primary will be held after the presidential primaries are over. It will be controlled by the Tea Party/social conservative wing. The Bachmann state leader is going to have a huge potential constituency that could be ignited in a 60-day sprint to the GOP senatorial primary. Even if Allen won, the closeness of the race would be a negative in the fall against Kaine. This is why Allen fears a credible primary challenge.
But policy proposals will not solve his problem in today’s personality-centered politics. Yet Allen seems to believe he can head off the Tea Party by proposing policy ideas.
Are you kidding me? Besides, Bachmann will be for them anyway! Romney will never have a passionate loyal constituency; his politics are different.
CHECK MATE? Bachmann needs Allen right now; Palin doesn’t. Yes, Bachmann might fade quickly. But so what? The easiest way for Allen to get the Tea Party street cred he seemingly is desperate to get is to back Bachmann. Besides, her being the first GOP woman to seriously contest for President (Liddy Dole never got traction) will give Allen super bona fides with conservative GOP women. Allen’s strength as a politician has always been his connection to GOP men.
It all comes down to risk vs. reward calculus. On balance, backing Bachmann has a hugely greater potential upside, with no more downside than Allen’s current Tea Party strategy.
As for Tim Kaine, he should likewise be in no hurry to start putting out long policy papers. Most sensible people are thinking about summertime, not politics. Kaine should be sitting back, waiting to counter-punch every bad GOP idea that comes out (one things’s for sure; they won’t disappoint). Right now, Tim should be running on his personality, a huge asset. He should visit every summer event and be the modern version of a good ol’ boy. Tim is the favorite right now and he is smart to play it down the middle.
To paraphrase the famous saying, for George Allen, one endorsement is worth 1,000 policy ideas.