Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Wednesday Morning Quarterbacking

There is really only one story about the Cruz win last night:  130,000 Texans switched their vote.  That is why Mr. Cruz, a virtual unknown in state politics and about whom MUCH is still unknown, beat a well-funded state official with widely established name ID.

So for the sake of quarterbacking after Lt. Gov. Dewhurst's stunning loss, all criticism should only be made in the light of one question about the one story:  why did 130,000 Texans switch their vote?  This is actually an amazing phenomenon - one that doesn't happen too often.  Voting is like going through the drive-thru, we almost always buy the same exact thing.  Rarely do we decide we don't want a burger and opt for the fillet-o-fish.  But in the case of the U.S. Senate race, the Cruz campaign benefitted from a massive vote switch of the kind you only hear about in grammar school civics.  How did this happen?

THE DELAYED PRIMARY SEASON -- Campaigning 101 requires that you build name ID.  Tell 'em who you are, we say.  Cruz was relying on the cult-like buzz of social media to do this, but it was nowhere six months ago.  At that time, his social media support were a loose collection of malcontents, and even they were undecided, preoccupied with the Presidential race.   Once the federal panel in San Antonio started delaying things last year, the drip-drip-drip of Cruz' social media efforts began to find a current.  Smartly, he positioned himself as the TEA Party candidate, and began gathering up their pockets of online support.  This took about three months just to congeal that group, which was around April.  Had the regular March date been the Primary, Dewhurst would have broken 50% easily and Cruz' social media strategy would have left him stillborn.

"CONVICTION" -- One commentator last spring described Cruz' debate style and public speaking as "strong as garlic."  Cruz does not inspire with his speech-making.  Instead, he is simply "strong," and that is a style of campaigning that has been missing from the stump around here for many, many years.  This skin-deep "conviction" animated a large slice of voters this summer in the same way a constable candidate named Clint Eastwood gets votes in a crowded field.  This was a sharp contrast to Dewhurst's more low key style, which became sharper as the debates wore on.  I am not faulting the Dewhurst campaign for agreeing to more debates; this tactic was not his fault.  He had to do it.  And as I wrote in my last post, these people who attack the Lt. Governor for being "timid" are mean-spirited and cruel.

MEDIA CONTENT BY THE DEWHURST CAMPAIGN -- I'm not going to go on and on about the mistakes here; the people in Austin will spend the next 72 hours doing that.  It's not constructive.  But from an academic point of view, and in response to my thesis of why did people switch votes, I encountered one overriding factor among many of the people I talk to out in the country who switched, and it was:  "Those television commericals."  Normally, negative campaigning is designed to suppress the opponent's support.  Never does it persuade.  In Dewhurst's case, the nightmare scenario of one's own commericals turning off a voter to you and toward the other guy occurred.  The Lt. Governor in effect spent his own money on driving away those who had already voted for him!  No one I talked to who "switched" was particularly excited about Cruz.  They switched because they just were so up in arms about Dewhurst's commericals.  The irony is they failed to specify any particular commerical - they just didn't like them for some reason.

All in all, Cruz did not engineer a victory in the tradtional sense of campaigning.  He did have a plan, which was simply to play to the non-establishment right, but that was it.  He benefited from favorable winds, which he smartly exploited here in our unusual runoff season.  Still, the Cruz win exposes a fault line in the state party that is regrettable.  We now apparently have two groups in the state party, and they are not "moderate vs. conservative."  The best description is one of "haves and have-nots."  It's difficult to want to work between the two groups, as the leadership of the have-nots are driven by bald fear, envy and self-righteousness, for the most part.  And these two groups are further defined by attitudes.  It's the attitude of being content with incremental change, as our constitutional systems are defined, and demanding Bastille-like change.

Well, we all know what happened the last time folks demanded change.  Now let's make sure Cruz beats Mr. Sadler and retake the White House with him.