There are people running hopeless campaigns all over America. But in this state, where the Republican party is weak, they can harm us, even if just a little. We cannot afford any more damage, and it’s time to stop applauding every person who decides to run. We must distinguish between longshots that could help and longshots that could hurt. We must defend the seriousness of campaigning, and the image of our party.
Our core problem is the confusion about candidates who are unlikely to win. You hear cliches like, “well, someone had to run or we would have no chance at all” or, “Republicans need someone to vote for” or, “Maybe this is how she will get some name recognition for next time” or, “the district is actually more conservative than you think” or, “there won’t be a big turnout for this election.” (Don’t get me started on, “But Scott Brown won this district!”)
The Danger of “Being Positive”
No one wants to say, “This guy has no money, no name recognition, no political experience, and his views are not a good fit for the district.” It’s because everyone wants… to be positive.
But let me tell you something: the desire to be positive is killing us. By encouraging campaigns on entirely false premises, we are training ourselves to be ineffective in judging the potential of fellow Republicans. We are slowly convincing ourselves that money, name recognition, and a base of support aren’t really required if we like someone enough or if they really agree with us. That is #*&@!
Once we decide that the basics don’t matter, and with so many losers to choose from, how would we actually recognize a diamond in the rough? Every candidate says he has a chance, so how do you know who to believe when you are asked to like some candidate’s Facebook page or donate $20? You might feel that everyone deserves a chance, but I am saying that no, everyone does not deserve a chance, even if their Facebook profile picture shows them smiling.
It is also time to stop pretending that hopeless candidacies are harmless enterprises. No way. All candidates get some media coverage. All candidates talk to people, create signs, and knock on doors with their message. They even get donations – even if only a small amount – that could theoretically go to a better candidate somewhere else. Worse, activists might help and learn the wrong habits and psychology.
Can longshot candidates help? Yes! In fact, there are whole categories of them.
Here are some examples: someone might be running for their first local race. (Note that this post is primarily about races above the municipal level.) That local campaign could be a valuable experience that leads them to take time off, develop their talents and resources, and come back later with a very different campaign. Another scenario: the party encourages someone to run in a state representative race to spread a positive message and increase Republican turnout for a statewide candidate. (Yes, that has happened.) Also, someone could lose, not by a lot, but present a new face to the public that helps the brand. Gabriel Gomez is both Hispanic and a Navy SEAL, and people who saw him speaking to voters in Spanish in the cities probably thought, “Wow – there’s a kind of Republican I like!” Lastly, now that the MassGOP has improved our technology and data and is coordinating campaigns, I could also believe that someone might run a losing campaign, but significantly improve our knowledge of the voters in a key district or from non-traditional demographics. (There are probably other unusual strategic scenarios, but I think this list is good enough.)
But most losing, longshot Republican campaigns don’t fit any of those situations.
A New Rubric for Longshot Candidates
When a candidate steps forward to run in a district where Republicans haven’t won in a while and does not have good name recognition, experience and resources, I think we should ask the following questions:
– Does this person have any relevant experience in business, government, charity, or the military that would prepare them for politics? (No, just having a job doesn’t count. Speaker John Boehner got his start in politics being president of a large condominium association. Take my word for it, even that is good local political experience for getting started.)
– Does this person’s views significantly overlap with the voters he or she wishes to represent? (You can’t knock on a door and say, “Hi! I disagree with you on most of the big political issues, but I would like to represent you in government. On what basis, I don’t know. But vote for me.” Yet so many candidates have an issues page on their website that would be handily rejected by a solid majority of voters in their district. Ridiculous! We have representative government.)
– Why will the media show interest in this campaign? If you don’t start with money and name recognition, you must have strong free media coverage.
– Does this candidate have Republican, unenrolled, and Democrat friends who respect his or her political views? If no one but Republicans respect the candidate’s views, it is unlikely they will have a message and style that attracts the necessary majority of unenrolled voters they need to win. Worse, it is far more likely they will do or say something that makes the party look bad, such as having an offensive lawn sign. The candidate needs to be someone that ordinary, unenrolled voters will like.
– How will this candidacy specifically help the party and other candidates? No wishy-washy crap here. Details! Will you significantly improve our voter data? How? Will you get non-traditional demographic groups to vote for you? How? Will you help raise money for other candidates? How? Will activists learn great skills? Which ones?
I think there needs to be a good answer for a few of these questions for us activists to take them seriously. If not, we need to politely, but firmly say, “I’m sorry, but I don’t see any upside to your candidacy for the party, only downside. Please use your ideas and free time in the private sector. If you really care about your community, there are many other opportunities to help instead of a campaign you can’t possibly win.”
But whatever you do, do not be positive.