Nuts & Bolts—Inside a Democratic campaign: Take advantage of bad candidates
Welcome to Nuts & Bolts, a guide to Democratic campaigns. I’ve helped write this series for years using information from campaign managers, finance directors, field directors, trainers, and staff, responding to questions from Daily Kos Community and staff members, and addressing issues that are sent to me via kosmail through Daily Kos.
Your campaign is getting started and you are looking to make a splash. You have your fundraising in order, your messaging, a candidate you like. Your party is with you, and your volunteers are taken care of, along with a great general plan of issues you want to discuss in the election.
Then, out of nowhere, Republicans nominate someone who spends time debating werewolves vs. vampires, and has so many issues in their closet that they must have decided to buy the house just for the double walk-ins. What do you do when you are faced with a clown candidate?
Don’t run a conventional campaign
There is a temptation—and plenty of political advice—to treat your Republican clown opponent as though they were any other Republican opponent, and to put aside any plans to address what makes that candidate a clown. This is bad advice. If you are faced with a candidate who has obvious, glaring, huge flaws, you have an obligation to call them out. Failure to do so makes it look like you are unaware of reality far more than it makes you seem like the bigger person.
It would be difficult for Raphael Warnock to go through a race against Hershel Walker and not acknowledge all of the problems Walker carried into his campaign. If he failed to address the spousal abuse, abortions, fake badges, and more, it would be the equivalent of giving a free pass to injustices committed by his opponent against women and sheer decency. This isn’t the message we want to send as a party. Instead, the message we send is that we are unified in our stances and that when the other side goes into strange new worlds, we do not have to follow them.
Take time to call out unimaginable
When you are faced with absolutely out-of-control candidates, you call them out for it. Don’t prop them up and discuss Republican vs. Democratic ideas, or the state of the country, or give them a platform they don’t deserve. These candidates have not articulated anything that shows they understand how to implement any policies, even their own obviously terrible ideas.
If your opponent is as terrible as, say, Hershel Walker, you take every moment imaginable, and you go directly after your opponent as unqualified, embarrassing, and ridiculous. There are a lot of Republicans who may be hardened in their Republican voter means, but if they are faced with a candidate whot they personally find humiliating, they are doing their own internal calculus that says: Our state is going to be represented by this person, who will make all of us look terrible for six years. I will be constantly explaining to my children about the latest gaffe, scandal, or other problem caused by a senator I voted for, and I really don’t want any part of that so I’ll just choose to not vote.
More than anything that helped Senator Rev. Warnock win on Election Night, the fact that many Republicans could not see themselves backing Walker meant something, and conservative-leaning unaffiliated voters wanted absolutely nothing to do with the possibility of a candidate who still seemed to reside in Texas—the last state he destroyed in a horrific trade with the Minnesota Vikings. And, let’s face it: If you are thinking about a trade, would you trade a celebrated pastor for an inexperienced gaffe machine?
There is nothing wrong with dividing the Republican base
Despite a certain senator from Arizona, right now, the Republican base is undergoing an incredibly deep division. While it took her forever to endorse Katie Hobbs, the rest of us see a clear difference inside the Republican Party. The number of moderates has fallen, and the rise of radicals is at a record high. Let’s face it: If Liz Cheney is considered too moderate, then the Republican Party has deep institutional problems.
This is where the Democratic Party has an obligation to start calling out these divisions, and to force the Republican Party to face them down on their own. It is not up to us to fix their problems. They can either develop a political spine and start talking the truth to their own base, or they can continue to empower the worst ideologies that will lead further and further away from young Americans, and further away from an accepting country.
Republicans are forced to hold together two sides of their party: Cradle Republicans who were born into Republican families (I was) during eras of a very different Republican Party, and Trumpian Republicans who are Republicans primarily because they feel as though something was taken away from them and they want to demand preferential treatment.
As the party splits into divisions, it is time for the Democratic Party to point out those divides and be willing to appeal to those who want a more open, sensible look at the government—rather than a radicalized government that isn’t about developing solutions.
Next week will be the last Nuts & Bolts of the year, and we’ll talk briefly about the calendar for primaries along with building better state organizations!
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