A political campaign is tricky. You have to get your message out and keep control of the situation, but at the same time you have to let it go and roll with the punches. It’s a lot like any other advertising campaign in a mixed old/new media world, but with a strong deadline and high stakes that fire passions. More importantly, the conduct of that campaign itself is often more important than the candidate because, like new media, you’re not just selling a product but a relationship.
The Governor’s race in Minnesota is crackling with a very good example of what not to do right now. The Emmer campaign is so consistently far over the top in their efforts to control their message that they are clearly doing great harm to their candidate – and calling into question their philosophy, policy, and identity.
The latest dust-up is still playing through the press. What we do know is that State Rep. Mark Buesgens was arrested for DWI at 10:30 on 18 September, having a blood alcohol of 0.16 (twice the legal limit). He was also the Campaign Chair, an officially responsible position registered with the State, of the Emmer for Governor campaign.
Anyone involved in a campaign knows that unfortunate events happen all the time. Hundreds of people are involved in these massive efforts, and some will do something stupid or wrong during the course of the campaign. The smart thing to do is to be open, honest, and deeply apologetic for anything that happens – and move on quckly.
That’s not what the Emmer campaign did.
They chose instead to insist that Rep. Buesgens was not, in fact, the Campaign Chair. Two days later they filed the paperwork with the state asking to back-date it by a week so that it would be “official”. Smelling an opening, the opposition started to dig and found that on the day of his arrest Re. Buesgens appeared at two rallies listing him as the “Campaign Chair” – and, in fact, the last one may have been where he obtained the alcohol that put him over the limit.
Suddenly, we have a big issue where there should have only been an embarrassing incident. It’s not just the Emmer campaign that is playing this out horribly, either, as the right-wing blogs remain in heavy attack mode trying to portray the steady stream of facts in lefty blogs as a “smear” and focus on “niggling paperwork”. This issue, which should have been dispatched immediately with honesty and humility has turned into something it should never have been.
Shakespeare made a living writing about this kind of stuff.
It’s not the first time a small incident became something far too large for the Emmer campaign, either. Emmer is a likable guy who often speaks far off the cuff in a friendly setting, saying whatever comes to his mind. When he spoke of changing minimum wage laws for restaurant servers because bartenders make up to $100k a year, it was a clearly wrong statement that led to a wrong conclusion. Rather than apologize – or at least quickly change the subject – his campaign dragged the issue out for days, holding another rally to defend the indefensible original statement.
The pattern that has developed through all of this is more than a simple PR nightmare. Their behavior is actively working against the campaign’s main goal – get their message out. The constant stonewalling and insistence that they are right, even when it’s clear that they are not, calls into question every single thing that the campaign has to say to the public.
It seems as if the Emmer campaign has broken the most important rule of politics – never believe your own (CowPuckey).
Once the public has every reason to believe that this campaign will say and do absolutely anything to keep fighting it is only one small step to start questioning their statements of policy through the same perspective. The budget plan that the Emmer campaign has released is based on an economic philosophy that simply reeks of a philosophy that refuses to answer questions and simply insists that it has to be right regardless of any evidence for or against it. The pattern of arrogance and hubris in public events shows where this economic thought comes from very clearly.
“We’re right, and those who question us are just picking at details,” is all they can say.
Political campaigns should not be run this way for many reasons. A candidate is a kind of product, but he or she is someone that we have to know and trust on a very personal level. A good campaign is an excellent lesson for new media operatives who build brand identity through community and two-way communication. Emmer’s campaign is a terrible lesson in how to get the public to question everything – and run far away from everything that they represent.