A Defense of Consultants

by Noah Glyn

Conservatives aren’t too happy about Republican political consultants. NRO’s John Fund reported from CPAC on conservative dissatisfaction with consultants: “Newt Gingrich bashed them for being ‘out of step,’ Sarah Palin called on activists to ‘furlough the consultants,’ pollster Kellyanne Conway railed against a ‘staff infection,’ and Brent Bozell, head of the Media Research Center, told me that ‘the last thing we want is for the anti-conservative professional class to be infiltrating our ranks.’” Pat Caddell led a CPAC panel entitled, “Should We Shoot All the Consultants Now?” 

My answer: Probably not.

Obviously, Democratic strategists have outplayed Republican ones in the past two presidential elections. That David Plouffe and David Axelrod are better political operatives than Steve Schmidt and Stuart Stevens is such an obviously true proposition that I doubt anyone would contest it. I’m also willing to concede that there is a glut of political consultants who entered the business to enrich themselves, not win elections. 

But let’s also try to keep some perspective. Not even Machiavelli could have saved John McCain’s campaign after the financial crisis struck. As poorly managed as the Romney campaign might have been — and everything I’ve heard suggests that it was very poorly managed — Romney himself is not a top-shelf politician; Obama is. 

Moreover, Republicans hold the majority of state houses and the majority in the House. If conservatives are going to blame consultants for Republican losses, then we should praise them for Republican wins, too. 

Most important, it’s unfair to judge a consultant on one election result. Take Mike DuHaime, widely considered a very good Republican consultant. DuHaime cut his teeth in New Jersey politics, and eventually worked his way up the RNC ladder. He worked on the victorious Bush-Cheney campaign in 2004, but he was also a high level RNC operative in 2006, when Republicans lost control of both houses of Congress. He then served as Rudy Giuliani’s campaign manager in the 2008 primaries; after Rudy left the race, he joined the McCain team. Both campaigns ended in defeat. In 2009, however, DuHaime was the lead strategist for Chris Christie’s successful gubernatorial campaign. 

DuHaime has had some wins and some losses. The losses don’t make him a “krack kampaign konsultant.” Political science isn’t a true science. There’s no right mixture of ingredients that will guarantee an electoral victory. 

Don’t get me wrong. Conservatives should expect Republican consultants to perform better than they have in recent years. But focusing everyone’s ire on consultants is a way for conservatives to ignore the real political problems they face: changing demographics, failure to court youth and female voters, etc. 

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