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Gillespie Ran a JEB! Campaign in a Trump World

Four years ago, Virginia conservatives were told you couldn’t win with a candidate who excited the Republican base.  Conservatives were told that candidates like Ken Cuccinelli spelled certain doom, that the answer was a moderate establishment candidate. Tonight we now know that that candidate Ed Gillespie did worse than Ken Cuccinelli did. And Cuccinelli performed better without the support of the Virginia GOP establishment.

Ed Gillespie is certainly a good fellow. But his campaign used messages from 2004 and tactics from 1996. It seemed to exist outside of the ferocious upheavals of the modern polarized political world.

Let’s take a look at a few pieces of mail I received. Put aside the woeful electronic media campaign, and the nearly non-existent social media effort. Let’s just look at the mail.

The messaging was almost nostalgic, longing for a political world pre-Trump, pre-Obama, pre-polarization. It's as if President Bush was running for reelection in 2004, and it was no accident we seemed to get the same campaign. To the mail pieces.

 

You know when a Republican cites MSNBC there’s trouble. When I received this, I assumed it was a mailing from a Democrat: “MSNBC – The Tone of Negative Politics Has to Change.”

Great Scott, MSNBC?! A Republican? When MSNBC says the “tone of negative politics has to change,” I know exactly who and what they are talking about: Trump, conservatives, anyone with a principle, anyone who believes in the Constitution. What was it doing in my mailbox?

But it got worse.

Other material in support of Gillespie cited the loathsome Richmond Times and the even more loathsome DNC public relations firm known as the Washington Post.

Direct mail piece. Highlight in original.

“Many who have known him for years regard Mr. Gillespie as a centrist and a pragmatist,” announced the Washington Post.  “Gillespie Urges Compassion,” hailed the Richmond Times.

Pinch me. Am I awake? Am I dreaming I am back in Philadelphia in the summer of 2000? Is this the GOP convention? The “torn newspaper” clip art was from the age of Motorola flip-phones. Is the mailing a spoof, a well-targeted Northam effort to depress turnout among conservatives?

But it wasn’t. It was real.

Let’s be clear. Unlike plenty of other candidates, Gillespie is a good fellow. But Gillespie ran a Jeb campaign in a Trump world. In fact, he avoided the president and the president’s supporters noticed.

Equally gracious is Gillespie’s wife Cathy. But when I got a campaign letter from her in support of her husband, I could only think – some consultant needs to lose their job for writing this and sending it to me.  Let’s do the time warp, back to 1996 and the Dole campaign:

“Ed and I first met playing in a Congressional softball league….” Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with this. But this is a political season where the electorate isn’t enamored by lifelong College Republicans, or even worse, TARs, otherwise known as Teenage Republicans.

Direct mail letter. Underlines added.

But it gets worse: “we were young staffers just starting out.” Oh. My. Most Virginians rank congressional staffers right up there with swindlers and telemarketers, rightly or wrongly. In this political climate, highlighting a long life in politics seems like a colossal blunder.

But it gets even worse. “Ed and I have devoted most of our lives to service – working for and helping elected officials…” Again, there is nothing wrong with working for an elected official, but in this political climate?

And in case there was any ambiguity, the letter continued, “Ed started his career on Capitol Hill in college, parking cars in the Senate Parking Lot.” At this point I wondered if this, too, was a well thought out Northam mailer, but alas it was not. It was real.

Some will read this and ask, well what’s wrong with any of that? In fairness, nothing — and everything.

There’s nothing wrong with honest work parking cars at the Senate. But it betrays a complete and unrecoverable disconnect with what is happening in the country. Either you get that, or you don’t.

Trump won the presidency because he got it. Trump defeated plenty of candidates who didn’t, who thought the messages and tactics from decades ago still worked. They don’t, and Republicans need to adapt to this new rough environment of smashmouth ideological politics, at least if they want to win.