About that Dewhurst-Cruz thing

As there always is after an electoral loss which the heavy bettors were on the wrong side, there has been, and continues to be, endless backroom blather on what happened. The (usually) unspoken axiom in the Texas Capitol after all such events is “blame must be placed, and we simply cannot move on until it is.”

“Why Dewhurst lost” is always a question to which the askers are usually seeking one simple answer, mainly so they can repeat it to their clients in efforts to weasel out of being wrong (me among them – and I currently owe one client $100 on a lost bet because of the race…which she is not allowing me to pay off until she gathers the maximum number of witnesses). The truth to it, and most political outcomes, is almost always a combination of many things, some of which the accuracy of which would require a telling so detailed that it would far exceed the length of any interesting bar story.

Several factors seem to be repeated more often than others. The first is that Ted Cruz was the beneficiary of a way-way-way-extended primary election schedule (because of redistricting litigation) allowing him to chip away at Dewhurst’s seemingly-insurmountable early lead. This theory strikes me as the one closest to the truth. I repeatedly said back in the Spring (in general, not specific to this race) that all underdogs want more time, and all incumbents and frontrunners want less of it, for that very reason.

The other pervasive Monday morning quarterbacking I keep hearing is that Dewhurst’s handlers handled things exactly wrong. His campaign’s “rose garden strategy,” the story goes, backfired on The Dew. Ted Cruz, they say, was racking up brownie points by going to every Tea Party event under the sun, pointing to the empty chair Dewhurst would have occupied, defining Dewhurst’s record un-challenged. It’s a tempting conclusion to draw, but I don’t buy it.

Here’s why: let’s imagine if Dewhurst’s campaign had executed the opposite strategy. What if Dewhurst had attended all those Tea Party rallies, and all those debates, and all those editorial board meetings. What if the Lt. Governor had stayed on the road and had met with every Republican Party activist he could get his hands on? Would they have walked away from those experiences thinking Dewhurst is a great guy, and the Senate candidate of their dreams? I doubt it. Dewhurst is stiff. He is not a man who oozes warmth and personality. And he was, in effect, the incumbent in the race, faced with defending a record in public office. If incumbent-ish candidates explaining their public records to Tea Party activists haven’t fared well anywhere else in the country, why would we think Mr. Dewhurst would have fared better? And as for ed board endorsements, do they really motivate or persuade Republican primary run-off voters? Certainly not.

Another pervasive theoretical factor is that the half-ton of cash Dewhurst’s campaign put on TV attacking Cruz early and often served only to increase Cruz’ name ID, without substantially increasing Cruz’ negatives. This has some truth to it, but really only in hindsight. Many of the political professionals parroting this theory (some of them undoubtedly in efforts to increase their political market share, at the expense of the Dewhurst consultants) probably would have done the same thing. I don’t remember any of those consultants saying at the time that the Dewhurst camp was making a big mistake. It’s just something the campaign did that didn’t work very well, which is just the way it goes sometimes. Again, would the opposite strategy change the ultimate result? It would not have.

Was the Dewhurst campaign as terrible as people are now saying? Well yes, in a way, because in a campaign, the outcome means everything. But let’s face it, folks: sometimes, the better candidate really does win, and Cruz was the better candidate. And the only reason anybody ever called David Dewhurst the formidable frontrunner in every campaign he has ever waged is because he was, by far, the richest guy in the room.

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