by Paul Goldman
The latter half of August is campaign shake-up time. Every campaign does it in one form or another. Envision the Virginia governor’s campaign to date as the legendary “off Broadway” run of a play before it gets to the big time, the big Apple, opening night on the big stage. All the previous performances in small towns have been like spring training in baseball or the summer football camp of the Washington Redskins in Richmond. Fun to watch, cheaper seats, more personal interaction among fans with the players, all the stars are there, they perform their parts, trying hard for the most part but everyone knows that if you screw up, there isn’t the same penalty from either the critics, the audience or the Gods of the Game.
To be sure, sometimes the play closes before it ever gets to Broadway. Turns out the script is not savable, the financial backers not “made” of money, the ticket sales the proverbial “canary in the coal mine,” the stars simply not up to the game this time. In that regard, think Reverend E.W. Jackson, the GOP candidate for Lt. Governor. Yes, I know the polls seemingly show that he isn’t that far behind Democrat Ralph Northam, and so in theory, Reverend J along with his many backers among the GOP activist set believe he is merely an underdog, as opposed to DCW (Dead Candidate Walking).
“Hope springs eternal” goes the saying and in a fairer world, guys like me would allow Reverend J and his Jacksonians to have their dreams. But at 200-proof politics, we do the Fox News thing honestly. By that I mean: their slogan is “We Report, You decide.” But in truth, Fox News is based on a different equation: We Tell You What To Think By Giving You The News That Fits That Thinking. So on Reverend Jackson, we play Fox News Honest Version This Morning: He is going to lose and lose large. The only question is whether he loses with dignity, or he goes out the way he came into statewide politics. That is, trashing everyone he doesn’t like, lashing out at the VA GOP for abandoning him. But what does he expect, given that he is utterly unqualified for a job that barely requires any qualifications?
Forget the polls saying that on Reverend J isn’t that far behind Doctor Northam: the reason he gets to be on the stage this Fall when the play gets to Broadway is that he has a no-cut contract. So he has to have a part in the play. But it will be as a sure loser. His campaign then doesn’t need a shake-up, or even a wake-up: it just needs to be over as soon as this can be done legally in Virginia.
But as to the other four state-wide candidates, they will be there on opening night in lead roles as Labor Day ends and as the general election campaign officially begins. So lets concentrate today on Ken Cuccinelli and the Terry McAuliffe, two guys who the media seem to hold in maximum low regard. Are they really as bad as the media seems determined to portray? No, the media has gone way overboard in my view, and it isn’t even game time yet. They aren’t blogs, they aren’t tabloids, they are (allegedly) the mainstream news. It has been brutal, and it ain’t even started yet.
It figures to get worse, not better, in the future. Each side of course tends to focus on the bad press for the opponent, rationalizing their own press as “it be worse.” Sure, anything could be worse: you could be dead. Trust me guys: It can’t get any worse, yet it will. Cuccinelli and McAuliffe have received the worse press of any candidates for Governor in the run up to the Labor Day opening in the HISTORY OF VIRGINIA. If you don’t believe me – what a shock – then go back and read the papers yourself, or talk to Dr. Sabato. It’s true: and it only figures to get worse.
Neither side quite gets it for one reason: our gifted Governor, and his W—–T—– wife, the biggest embarrassments in the history of the Virginia Governor’s Mansion in the post-segregation era. They are so bad, the next Governor HAS TO be better in the minds of the public. The First Family’s best scenario right now: avoiding indictment, and holding onto their public housing until evicted in January. That’s the Best Case for them. In comparison, even former Governor “Deficit Jim” Gilmore looks better.
Having run a few of these statewide races before, I think the Kenster and the Terrymacker have gotten some bad advice on this basic score. They should have been far more up-front with the voters about what they knew would be in the media by failing to be upfront. Should they change that? I believe they should, since the alternative is to stoke the media to keep up their narrative even more so into the Fall.
Strategy wise, Terrymacker has the tougher mid-course correction because of the nature of the Virginia press. All the major papers except the Richmond Times Dispatch will back the entire Democratic ticket. So they will want to make sure their news coverage in the Fall can’t be labeled “anti-Cuccinelli.” So they will be unnecessary hard on the McAuliffe. That’s not fair given the facts: but it is what it is.
On the other hand, Kenster’s problem is that he has the easier mid-course correction to make. Thus, by not making it, he gives the press the easier free fire zone. In that regard, I refer to the self-evident: Fair or not, Cuccinelli has to give back in some form the $18K in gifts he took from Jonnie Williams (once Willie The Wonderfullest family friend according to Governor McDonnell, but now Willie The Rat, in league with the prosecutors to ruin McDonnell according to His Excellency’s less than excellent Big Time PR guy).
Any way you cut it, Ken has to give the money back, or the press will ride him harder and harder until election day. Giving back the money isn’t easy at this stage, and to do it basically tells your campaign strategy folks: you guys have ruined me to date by not giving me the right advice.
According to Ken’s top strategy guy, he would have given it back but he doesn’t have the money. Could you come up with a worse excuse even if you were Reverend Jackson? The point being: Sometimes a campaign shakeup involves personnel, sometimes your message, sometimes a little of both. Always it is cosmetic, in that what the public sees is never quite the true story in terms what is really happening inside the shakeup.
But the bottom line is this. Tmacker would not be in his current situation with the press had he had more folks better schooled in Virginia politics than national politics. Once he figures that out, he can deal a lot better with stuff in my view.
As for Cuccinelli, his problem is simple: He needs to take his hit, give the money back, and clear the decks for the Fall.
Terry’s winning right now, so he is less likely to want to do anything different. I get that. Cuccinelli’s losing, so his people are less likely to want to admit that and thus do anything different since it would be an admission. I get that too. But late August in campaigns was designed to give you one last chance to tinker with the script, the actors, the image before opening on Broadway. History says it is a good opportunity to take, as it doesn’t come back after Labor Day.