Political Consultants: Slick and Smart…and Partners in Failure

The November 3, 2020 election was a joke in at least six or seven states—and whatever you think about it—more evidence is coming out daily that honest Americans will eventually have to deal with. My state of Illinois has been a moral and fiscal joke for decades—and it’s getting worse. Nationally—well, you know the story. Some think you have to go back to the Jimmy Carter years to find a time that was almost this bad.

It’s time for a discussion about what are generally referred to as political consultants. I used that title for myself for years. I have many good friends in that business, and they provide an important service for both party organizations, candidates, and office holders. Not a lot of people want to do that work, so thankfully there are those who are willing.

The question the table is: do highly paid and experienced political consultants share the blame with the rest of the Republican Conservative Industrial Complex (RCIC) for the current state of affairs? Of course they do. Those who work for Republican and conservative (and MAGA) candidates have not exactly helped win enough hearts and minds and win enough elections so that there are governing majorities ready to enact reforms.

For years I wrote about the sad fact that political consultants by and large do not understand messaging, let alone how to reach enough people with the good information those people need. Consultants make their money in a number of ways, but some of the most profitable are actually the least effective: Direct mail, radio and TV advertising, and campaign signs. These are the go-to old school methods which haven’t changed a great deal over the course of the past few decades.

Consultants tickle the fancy of candidates with extremely/very cool websites, neato Internet advertising, and video ads that are often excellent and “award winning” but are not seen by most of the people that need to see them.

Another reason for failure is that most political consultants want nothing to do with what is normally referred to as the “grassroots” part of a campaign. What constitutes grassroots level activity is usually a mirage, fake. Those helping campaigns at the ground level do not see it that way because they are working their buns off doing important work. What these good people do not see is how limited the overall effort actually is.

Granted, “grassroots” action is labor intensive, but without serious attention to ground level activity, elections can even be stolen. It’s easy to understand why most campaigns give lip service to this critical part of the process: it’s too much darn work and, dare I say, it does not produce profits for consultants.

In the last two articles we ran quotes from Trump campaign fundraiser Caroline Wren. On the topic of what needs to be done differently, she said the political consultants “have no clue.” “The have blinders on,” she said. Why? I’ll answer that: they’ve been doing it a certain way year after year, they do win some elections, and they’re paid well win or lose.

This doesn’t make political consultants bad people. It just makes them participants in an industry that shares responsibility for where we are at nationally and in so many states.  Their actions aren’t driven by malice, but by a misunderstanding of the larger political arena which they have never bothered to study.

Again, I would encourage you to watch Steve Bannon’s interview of Caroline Wren. Unfortunately it’s too rare for someone at her level to speak the truth.

The Ground War ongoing series of articles can be found here.