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Conventional Wisdom

Overheard on the floor of the Richmond Coliseum as Saturday morning’s RPV convention slowly became Saturday night’s RPV Convention; “This is why I said we shouldn’t do this.” Oh, this was EXACTLY why we should do this. Allow me to explain. What we experienced Saturday was exactly what Ken Cuccinelli wanted, an arena full of grass roots activists angry over the way their taxes are about to go up in exchange for a transportation legacy. (Funny moment; RPV Chair Pat Mullins, filling time after the fourth vote, said “We are about to introduce the team that will bring the Commonwealth back to Republican leadership!” Ooops.) But a funny thing about getting what you want, sometimes it actually doesn’t work out the way you wanted it. Now, I’m sure that there was a ‘dream team’ in mind (There always is when working with consultants, more about them shortly.) when the convention was gaveled to order at 10:20 after the Coliseum decided to only open three entrances, all side-by side, instead of the promised twelve, (BTW, I wonder how much Planned Parenthood ‘appreciated’ all of us being funneled past their encampment.) but after E.W. Jackson received 37% of that first ballot it became clear that the best laid plans of these mice and men were about to go astray.

As many of the grass roots activists began to get antsy as it took an extremely long time to get through the fist vote, (The delays were brought on by, you choose; A) the company tabulating the votes had technical issues with the scanners; B) One candidate demanded a recount; C) There was an aggressive period of horse-trading as the convention leadership tried to pare more than just the two off the bottom of the vote tally; D) A little of the first three), I started to notice that the ones who were notably boisterous about why ‘we shouldn’t do it this way’ were in the “consultant class.” Now, that’s not an epithet, they are very necessary to the process and if you ever run for an office you’ll be glad they are around. However, consultants in anyone’s field are paid for advice and that advice is based on standard-operating-procedures and predictable chains of events. Saturday the grass roots threw a monkey wrench into that and chose E.W. Jackson as the GOP’s LG candidate.

It’s important to note that, on the day the second leg of horse racings ‘triple crown’ was run, E.W. led “wire-to-wire.” He did not steal this on squeak into the nomination. He received the most votes on each of the four ballots and despite some excitement at the end, it was really never close.

That excitement started when the afore-mentioned consultants started to exert their efforts to wrest back the ticket into their paradigm of predictability. It started as an “anyone-but-Jackson” vibe vibrating through the campaign HQ’s in the Coliseum’s luxury boxes. (Note to future convention holders, grass roots activists are very sensitive about things like this.) So, as the noted political commentator Charles Daniels once wrote; “he was in a bind ‘cuz he was way behind and he was willing to make a deal,” alliances started to be negotiated. Jackson was .3% short of ending it after three votes and then we saw why successful businessmen don’t always make successful politicians.

In business generating ‘buzz’ is a good thing and can be done with tactical promotional leaks. In convention politics, that can (and did) blow up in one’s face. That’s because politics at its core is a very personal business. So if you make a deal for one team to fold up their flag and join their opponent (like the Snyder and Stewart campaigns reportedly did after that third ballot), you need to give the leader of that team time to explain to the people who have volunteered countless hours to the campaign that this was what needs to be done and why. For example, Ronald Reagan was given time to explain to his supporters why he was shutting down his campaign for the 1976 GOP Presidential nomination and supporting his previous opponent, Gerald Ford before they heard it on the floor of the convention center. If Pete Snyder’s campaign had remembered this simple bit of people-management and political history, we might have a different LG candidate today (though I doubt it). Before Corey Stewart had time to tell his supporters about this arrangement that they were to join forces and support Snyder, Pete had started circulating flyers to the beleaguered delegates announcing it. So Corey said, in the works of Lee Corso; “Not so fast, my friend.” His campaign volunteers started running between all the units, as they tiredly voted the fourth time, waving Jackson signs telling everyone they saw that before they cast that vote that the flyers announcing Corey’s support for Pete were false. So, after twelve hours of tedium, it ended in a mad frenzy. In other words, it was a typical convention. And EXACTLY how we should do it every time.

In the end, just as he had spoiled the GOP consultants’ ‘dream team’ of McDonnell, Bolling and Brownlee in 2009, Ken Cuccinelli stood on the stage with a pair of great running mates, one he wanted (He sparked rabid controversy when the Washington Post reported that he told them that he was going to vote for Mark Obenshain) and one that the grass roots put on that stage despite the machinations of the party. I imagine that somewhere (noticeably NOT in the Richmond Coliseum) I think Bob McDonnell was smiling at the irony.

Joe Thomas hosts his morning radio show on WCHV in Charlottesville and can be heard online at www.wchv.com and hosts Virginia’s independent conservative talk show between 3 and 6pm on WLEE in Richmond, WFJX in Roanoke and WCHV and can be heard online at www.theafternoonconstitutional.com