Guest post by Bwana at Large
Virginia Democrats and Republicans have chosen their champions for the 2012 Senate race. Both have sent out into the countryside for the finest wines, cheeses, and silken fabric so each may present a fitting coronation of former Gov. Tim Kaine for the Democrats and former Gov./Sen. George Allen for the GOP.
Kaine has had no real opposition arise, and Allen only token opposition…but the reaction to that token opposition reveals the Achilles Heel of the Allen campaign: they don’t think.
Now I know George Allen – with Bachelors and law degrees from UVA – has a top drawer education. But that has not prevented him or the people he surrounds himself with from doing or saying stupid things, and typically at the worst time.
One would think he would learn from his mistakes – but not so far. It is tough to teach new tricks to an old dog, but if George Allen keeps up his old tricks he may have some trouble next year.
The latest escapade is small, but typical…
Wringing the Tea Party
One of Allen’s opponents is a Tea Party activist named Jamie Radtke. RedState blogger Erick Erickson initially professed his support of her, then backed off late last summer. Supposedly he did so because Allen supporters pressured the blog publishers to get Erick to back off his enthusiastic support. Erickson overdid it, not only backing away but then accusing Radtke of giving a conference speech while seemingly intoxicated…but that’s another story.
Given that Radtke is running on fumes, has little name recognition and less money, why would Allen backers do this? Because someone isn’t thinking. The smart course was to let her campaign dry up and blow away from lack of support. But Allen and his backers often choose short term non-thinking satisfaction over long term smart.
Allen’s political career is littered with these sterling moments, and they typically happen at the worst time for him.
Allen began his political career in the Virginia House of Delegates representing Albemarle County. In 1991 D. French Slaughter (R-VA7) stepped down from the U.S. House of Representatives due to ill health. Allen entered a heavily contested primary to get the GOP nomination for the “Lucky 7th,” and won a special election over Democrat Kay Slaughter in November 1991.
This is where it gets good…
A Democratic Party-controlled redistricting put him in a Richmond suburbs-based district with Tom Bliley, a ten year House veteran and former Mayor of Richmond. Congressman Allen, who by now had not served a full year in Congress, announced he was considering moving his legal residence from Albemarle County to a vacation cabin he owned in Rappahannock County in the newly expanded VA-10 and challenge Frank Wolf, also a ten year veteran of the House, in a primary. Apparently Allen did not run this idea by anyone. A blindsided Wolf is furious, and confronts Allen on the floor of the House of Representatives and promises Allen he will crush him in a primary if Allen has the gall to change his legal residence just to run in VA-10.
Cooler heads prevail and Allen withdraws his idea. John O. Gregory, chairman of the Prince William GOP and a trusted Allen advisor, guides him toward a run for Governor in 1993. Allen listens for once…and his career is back on track.
Dentistry and Politics don’t mix
Allen crushes Mary Sue Terry in 1993, enjoys significant legislative victories in 1994, and urges on the GOP troops saying they should enjoy “Knocking their [Democrats] soft teeth down their whiny throats.” His comments galvanize the otherwise floundering Virginia Democrats, and he is faced with much stronger and more energetic opposition in the legislature and at the ballot box for the balance of his term. His major legislative achievements happen before his “soft teeth” comment gains wide circulation. Remember, that was pre-internet…
If you don’t know what it means, why say it?
…but the next time around there was an internet. One sunny day in Southwest Virginia “Macaca moment” entered our political vocabulary, and we all quickly heard about his latest misstep. We are all familiar with the details, so I won’t relive the moment except to say his comment had enormous consequences. Allen would surely have won reelection without this utterance. Remember, even with “Macaca,” a hugely Democratic year, and the renewed revelation or allegation of a variety of questionable acts, Allen lost his campaign by only 9,300 votes – well within recount range. Had Allen won, he would have been in the front rank of GOP options for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination. A proven campaigner with a golden resume, having both state and federal experience, Allen would have been a very viable presidential candidate.
But this time it was not just a matter of not thinking on his feet. It was a matter of continued blunders that allowed the story to continue to live. Allen could have ended the problem with an immediate apology – shoot, he could have driven to the Webb HQ and apologized in person. That option would match his Reaganesque, solid guy image. Instead, he bobbed and weaved, tried to dismiss it as inside baseball, then gave a half way apology. He continued to get bad advice, and it was not until some of his old staff from the governor’s mansion came riding to the rescue that his campaign righted itself, started saying the right things, and began moving forward again – but by then it was too late.
George Allen, as well as the type of person he typically chooses for his staff, seem to have a penchant for major miscalculation. It does not happen often, but when it does it has the potential for tremendously negative impact. The one consistency is that they happen at moments when things seem to be going really well or really badly. In either case, George Allen has shown has shown he has the ability to shoot himself in the foot, stick his foot in his mouth, and then stab himself in the back.
The 2012 election is a long way off, and one would think Allen would have learned. But can an old dog learn new tricks? Tim Kaine is hoping “no.”
Bwana is a long-time Republican who lives in Northern Virginia. He blogs semi-regularly at Renaissance Ruminations.