The Corner

Politics & Policy

How Republican Campaign Consultants Have Failed the Party

A major part of the story of 2015–16 on the right has been the loss of faith by Republican and conservative voters with “the Establishment” in the GOP, a loss of faith that in different ways fueled the presidential campaigns of Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Ben Carson. I continue to see that loss of faith as the single largest contributor to Trump’s victory in the primaries. Some of it, as Jay Caruso has observed in these pages, is a feature of impatience and irresponsible attacks on Republican efforts to pursue incremental policy advances. But some is also very well-earned.

In the latter category, Matthew Sheffield has a long, worthwhile read on the incestuous world of Republican campaign consulting. There are plenty of dedicated and/or competent people in the world of consulting, but it’s subject to a lot of the same criticisms that conservatives often level at public-school teachers, universities, and bureaucrats, and that liberals level at cops and bankers: The party has lacked a good mechanism to hold people accountable for failures, and thus lets the bad prosper with the good; nobody ever seems to get held accountable for failures; and the revolving door between the party and the consultants means that nobody has an incentive to control costs. In a larger sense, that sense of lack of accountability — which breeds cynicism about the motives of people who claim to be serious about their calling — lies at or near the roots of the broader loss of trust in institutions that pervades the American Right and Left alike today.

Sheffield names names, which is generally not a polite thing to do — and one can debate his list of villains, but it’s a debate well worth having. While I personally thought Marco Rubio was a much better candidate than Ted Cruz, one of the best arguments for Cruz in the primary was that he was actually trying to fix this problem by demanding more success from his consultants, while Rubio fell back on people who were part of the problem.

A party that is serious about doing autopsies for its failures in 2008 and 2012 and its coming failure in 2016 needs to take a harsher look inside its own house, at its own friends and neighbors, and ask who hasn’t been getting the job done, and why they keep getting paid well for failing. And it needs to embrace new blood, as Sheffield credits William F. Buckley for doing when Rush Limbaugh hit the national scene in the early 1990s.

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