The right answer on retirements

Remember when politics was more than a sport?

Years back, I told Matt Lewis I thought candidates were starting to sound too much like strategists.  John Thune fell into that trap with his reaction to the slew of recent Democratic retirements:

“It certainly suggests that the pathway to get to 51 is achievable,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said Thursday. “I think depending on what happens in the next couple of years and depending on what retirements we have, a lot of these Democrat seats that are opening up, I think there are some opportunities for us — and I hope if we can get the right candidates in the races and resource them, we’ll have a shot at changing the equation.”

Nowhere in Thune’s response is the idea that Republicans could win every seat up for grabs with the ideas that voters are looking for.  He boils it down to an “equation” – a numbers game, as if he’s analyzing fantasy baseball for the MLB network.  Thune would have been better off giving a more general answer about the need to compete in all states, and to focus on working with everyone to make laws that will help out the American people no matter which party wins this election or that election.  It’s not all that quotable, but it’s still better than what was quoted.

It’s true that there are lots of strategic elements that go into winning races.  But speaking about them publicly belittles the fact that for all the microtargeting, get-out-the-vote technology, polling, and positioning, elections are still about ideas.  The techniques of battle don’t change the reason for battle.

And it’s simply poor technique to talk about the machinations of the campaign rather than the ideas.

As the political press covers the horse-race details of campaigns, it’s tempting to use their language and outlook.  But candidates, party leaders, and movement figures have to be above the fray, and their comments have to reflect a commitment to creating policies which benefit the American people rather than building campaigns which outscore the opponent.

Come to think of it, maybe the right kind of media-savvy, unflappable sports star would be a good role model after all.


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