‘It’s a F—ing Bitch, Man’

Column: Why Republicans Hate Political Consultants

Scott Walker
Scott Walker / AP

One day after Scott Walker dropped out of the presidential race, the Politico headline read: "Walker’s campaign manager unloads." The same day, the Washington Post had an article, "Inside the collapse of Scott Walker’s presidential bid," which also drew heavily from Walker’s campaign manager, GOP consultant Rick Wiley. It’s almost as if Wiley had an agenda.

You’ll be shocked to discover that Wiley was preparing an "all-in Iowa plan" that would have slashed personnel, moved headquarters to Des Moines, and rejuvenated the campaign. But Walker and his wife said no. "Campaign sources said Tonette Walker, the Wisconsin first lady, had never warmed to Wiley," Politico reports. Gee—I wonder who those "campaign sources" were. Did one call himself "Wick Riley"?

One reason Republicans hate political consultants is that so many of them seem to have absolutely no conception of loyalty or reticence or even self-awareness. Scott Walker is a talented governor who won three elections in a blue state. He deserves the respect of his employees, who were happy to spin best-case scenarios for him as long as the money was good. Now, though, Walker’s campaign manager is suddenly out of a job. So what does he do? Like a true Washingtonian, he absolves himself of responsibility for the collapse while explaining to the press—and to his future clients—that it was entirely the governor’s fault.

"I think people just look at it and say, ‘Wow! Yeah, you know, it’s like he’s a governor and he was in the recall and blah, blah, blah—he’s ready," Wiley told Politico. "It’s just not like that. It is really, really difficult. … I’m just saying, you know, like it’s a f—ing bitch, man. It really is." Poor baby—who knew presidential campaigns were tough?

I’m not a consultant and I didn’t support Walker. But even I recognize that it’s incumbent on political professionals, who reap great sums of money for advising and crafting messages for candidates, to inform their employers of the rigors and requirements of the trail. To level with them when the situation is dire. To rehearse answers to questions they surely will be asked. And if the candidate is unreceptive to this advice, if he turns out not to be the man the consultant thought he was, if the whole affair is "really, really difficult," then these professionals have an option: quit. Return the check. It’s not like there are no other candidates this cycle. Find someone you believe in. Work for him.

And if you stick with your candidate, and he continues to disappoint you, and ultimately he fails—well, shut up. Please, shut up. Fall on your sword. It’s the honorable thing. You don’t have to scurry to the coffee shop to call Dan Balz. You don’t have to unleash the furies of hell on Twitter, and say the candidate lost because he didn't listen to you. Republicans have Bush. What they need is Bushido.

Using the Washington Post to re-litigate internal fights is unseemly. Using the Washington Post to blame the candidate? That's disgusting. "We didn’t have a spending problem," Wiley told the Post. "We had a revenue problem." Got that? It’s not the highly paid consultant’s fault—it’s the candidate’s for not bringing in the donations. We wouldn’t want people to think otherwise: That would limit Wiley’s earnings potential!

This outpouring of back-stabbing vindictiveness and self-seeking puts me in mind of the 2008 McCain campaign, when strategists Steve Schmidt and Nicole Wallace leaked disparaging material about their vice presidential candidate even before Election Day. The tell-all mentality became more pronounced as soon as Sarah Palin was back in Alaska. Schmidt and Wallace became popular with the liberal press because they went out of their way to belittle and criticize their boss’ choice of running mate behind his back. What courage. Schmidt’s prize was an appointment as a MSNBC contributor and a ticket to the premiere of Game Change. Wallace got to listen to Whoopi Goldberg for an hour five days a week—more punishment than reward if you ask me. She has since been fired.

Yes, of course, using the media to bad mouth rivals and provide behind-the-scenes accounts is exactly "how the game is played." But it is precisely this game that so disgusts the Republican base: Operatives who turn to media, social or otherwise, to settle scores and deflect criticism are the very face of Washington establishmentarianism, of the incest and cronyism, the duplicity and betrayal that the public opposes. You don’t have to make excuses. You don't have to blame others. You don’t have to betray the confidence of your boss. And you certainly don’t have to do it before the body of the campaign is cold. The fact that so many consultants do all of these things nevertheless says something about the character of our political establishment: that it is inward looking, selfish, unaware, moronic.

What doomed Walker? Fundamentally he was a local politician, schooled in municipal and state issues, unprepared to address the full spectrum of controversies in a presidential election. He was not a dramatic speaker, Donald Trump caught him off guard, he spent too much too quickly, and his heart just doesn’t seem to have been in it. He doesn't seem to have been able to choose loyal advisers—and you get what you pay for. In this sense alone we should listen to Rick Wiley: Politics is a f—ing bitch indeed.