Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Nowhere Man: Mike McFadden's Empty Candidacy

Political neophyte Mike McFadden, selected by Norm Coleman, Vin Weber and the inside the beltway group of usual suspects, is running for the Minnesota republican nomination to contest against incumbent Sen. Al Franken this fall. McFadden has no particular qualifications to bring to the Senate but, then, neither did Franken so the point can't fairly be held against him. Congress, most of us could agree, is not filled with luminaries.

What can be held against him, and why I cannot and will not support him for Senate, is the fact that he is a wholly contrived candidate who says and does precisely what his patrons and handlers want him to say and do. He gives astroturf a bad name.

His candidacy is simply being forced upon republicans in the state who are expected to fall in line. Far more of them than is healthy are eager to do so, apparently in the belief that anyone with money will be our best candidate against Franken. This is a lazy analysis, on one level, and a perfectly understandable one on another. What it isn't, on balance, is acceptable.

It's not acceptable for two political has-beens with lobbying clients to pre-select and then impose a cipher candidate who will parrot the policy issue positions most in line with those paying clients. McFadden has no connection with the republican base and has gone out of his way not to develop one. He's well known now for avoiding debates with the other republican candidates or even engaging with the base in a meaningful way. Lately the campaign has tweeted him out and about with hapless republicans badly staged around him, unable to wipe an indifferent look off of their faces. One thinks of those "Kim Jong Il looking at things" Tumblr accounts only here it's "Mike McFadden meets the unwashed activists." His consultants have told him all he needs to know about those types. Who can blame him? The hoi polloi can scrape about in support of Julianne Ortman, Chris Dalhberg or others for the endorsement (quaint) but he and his wallet are going to bigfoot the primary and buy the nomination outright. It worked for Dayton, didn't it?

His initial rollout to "the troops" was particularly painful. Invented reasons for a guy who was very successful in the private sector were put in his unconvincing mouth as to why he suddenly felt the pull of "public service." His videos were better produced than, say, Scott Honour's, but at least with the latter you could get some sense of a personality; you really could see yourself having a beer with him. With McFadden's videos, you have to get past his daughter "introducing" us to someone who leaves us cold; you could see yourself as the subject of his next vivisection. McFadden's essential quality thus far is Robo Candidate.

But shortcomings as an actual candidate are one thing, a thing most republicans can, and do, get past. McFadden's positions on the issues, however, are an abomination; that is, when you can pin him down on one.

McFadden's website has no "issues" page. None. Contempt doesn't come any more clearly expressed unless you prefer "F you," which also works.

The republicans who are supposed to support him because Norm & Vin & Karl picked him are not held in sufficient esteem to have even boilerplate language on routine issues. No, this guy has to be uncommitted to many things because his value to their lobbying clients increases as a result. Need a senate candidate to parrot your position on something? You know who to call and who to pay. The number of activists duped by this vaudeville show is depressing.

Last summer, McFadden told the St. Cloud Times he supported the then recently passed Senate immigration bill. That legislation is a disaster for the future of the republican party and provides for amnesty for illegal aliens despite all protests to the contrary. The base knew this; the base was blown off. McFadden is given his positions and republicans will know them when and as he chooses to reveal them. The idea Mike McFadden will, in any meaningful sense, reflect the wishes of the base is unwarranted. Instead, the base should be glad he was scrounged up by their betters and put forth to give the appearance of a competitive race.

McFadden also recently declared that he would close the gun show "loophole" that few in the base believe exists or wish to close. Amnesty and support for gun control: isn't a democrat already running for this office? McFadden is clearly doing what his consultants tell him to and when. It's a sign of what bad advice he's already getting, however, that well before clinching the nomination he's running a general election campaign. Lovely: you lose the base before you try to woo it and you give a general election voter no reason to vote for DFL-lite. Haven't we seen this movie?

Last month the campaign announced a hilarious "steering committee" of republicans from whom the future in this state will never, nor should, come. An unimpressive lot, these people do what they are told. They would have been tickled to be on any candidate's meaningless steering committee if offered or ordered. Hypocritically, many of them demand that the endorsement be followed when it comes to the race in CD 6 because they support Tom Emmer but are perfectly happy with McFadden "not respecting the will of the delegates," as the phrase goes, and going to a primary. Integrity.

Yesterday Eric Black, formerly of the Star Tribune, now of MinnPost (like so many others there), held forth in somewhat inflated terms and declared that "expectations" have been "altered" in the Senate race because of McFadden. This is laughable. Short of Franken drowning a woman, people have written off McFadden beating him. The motions, though, must be gone through. Right. Black's analysis is conventional although consistent with the scripted nature of the empty McFadden campaign. Black focuses on the chimera of competition given a well funded candidate versus an underfunded one.

He avoids entirely just what a poor candidate qua candidate McFadden is; this will only get more noticeable in direct comparison to Franken who, say what one might, can't be accused of lacking personality. Black's article is long on process (which too many mistake for actual political analysis) and short on substance. This didn't stop people who want a job, or a different one, from crowing on Twitter that "even" the paleo liberals at MinnPost agree McFadden is our most formidable candidate. Of course MinnPost is pioneering "sponsored journalism," which is simply another term for paid content or advertising. I half expected to see a disclosure that Black's article was sponsored by the McFadden campaign.

The manager for Mike For Senate was parachuted in from Florida via political friends to Minnesota, a state with which he had no prior connection. He comes well regarded by friends whose opinion I value but, nothing personal, I'm sure he's already thinking about the next gig, after Mike loses to Al. Of course, this guy's employment is yet another manifestation of the fact that Minnesota republicans don't have an excess of local talent. People get snippy when you point out this obvious fact; they get put on steering committees, or its equivalent, and consider it some sort of achievement.

Minnesota republicans have to decide if they want to continue to be treated like stooges and children by formerly active republicans who have lost elected office and who now dine out like pigs on K Street, the Business Roundtable, American Action Network or some other self-serving organization. That more of my fellow republicans cannot see what a deus ex machina farce the McFadden campaign has been since its beginning is discouraging. They humor me by saying this is the way things go in federal races in Minnesota; that's there no reason I shouldn't understand this by now.

Except I do understand and I object. They seem to think that in doing so I'm making a big mistake. Actually, it's the other way around.