Cantor Fallout: Will 'Amelia Island Tactics' Doom Richard Hanna, Too?
Back in March, Redstate's Erick Erickson revealed that Republican Main Street Partnership -- a PAC headed by liberal Republican Steve LaTourette -- would be sponsoring an early April weekend retreat at Amelia Island in Florida. The retreat's sole purpose was to discuss strategy for Republican incumbents facing primary challenges from conservative/tea party upstarts. (Shortly after receiving the exposure from Erickson, the listing from Main Street Partnership's "Events" page disappeared.)
John Boehner, Eric Cantor, and Kevin McCarthy were all slated to attend the retreat; Boehner dropped out at the last minute. But Cantor did attend, headlining the event. Main Street Partnership has done a bang-up job of keeping the event's occurrences under wraps since then -- little information and no recordings have leaked from the conference. However, Eric Cantor's campaign stands as a useful guide to the goings-on back in April.
Cantor was the headliner, and his campaign took a definable tack following the event. Again and again, Cantor labeled Dave Brat a "liberal" -- a "liberal college professor"; a guy serving on Tim Kaine's economic board; etc. -- and Cantor presented himself as an anti-amnesty champion. Essentially, Cantor's game plan for the campaign was to consistently describe his challenge from the right as a challenge from the left. While his campaign carried out a number of dubious tactics at the grassroots level and at GOP district conventions for winning the support of politically active Seventh District Virginians, his plan for reaching the "low-information voter" was to reframe the contest.
That is, to fabricate the contest. Cantor did not make any attempt to convince voters that his "moderate" path was the best way forward for the district; he instead assumed a mantle of constitutional conservatism that bore no resemblance to his actual record or platform. And he absolutely refused to debate or to respond to Brat's charges or platform in any manner.
And that was it. He lost terribly, for various reasons I've covered for months here, but he primarily lost because his ads and mailers didn't fool a soul, revealed him to be a dishonest politician to anyone paying even a moment's attention, and because he gave Brat a tremendous boost in name recognition among people who already knew Cantor had no business claiming to be a conservative warrior.
So: based on Cantor's campaign, we have to assume Amelia Island's "summary for policymakers" consisted of the following:
a) Label your opponent a "liberal." The conservative base won't turn out if the opponent is assumed to be, well, another version of you. And your likely underfunded opponent will not have the resources to combat the charge.
b) Tie your opponent to a well-known Democrat whom the district's GOP voters universally despise.
c) Don't debate.
I'm sure they prettied it up with pseudo-professional D.C. lingo to pass themselves as experts -- "executables," "achievables," etc. -- but the above three points must have been Amelia Island in a nutshell. And we have significantly more evidence of that based on the current campaign of Richard Hanna (R-NY), the Main Street Partnership member from New York's 22nd facing a tough combatant Tuesday in stalwart conservative Claudia Tenney. Hanna also happens to be the second-biggest recipient of donations from Main Street Partnership for this election cycle.