That’s a long-time conceit of political consultants. We say it all the time. I even worked at a successful political consulting firm that trademarked the phrase.
Campaigns matter – along with its corollary, the only poll that matters is the one on election day – are central to the political consultant’s belief system. It’s the foundation upon which our entire catechism is built.
If we didn’t believed that campaigns matter so much, we’d all be out of business and pumping gas somewhere. The campaign managers, the ad guys, the pollsters, the advance people, the digital elf lords, the speechwriters, the debate prep team: all of us need potential clients to believe that campaigns matter if we’re to survive. It’s critical.
Except for Donald Trump. His successes, among other things, forcefully make the case that the political class should all find a new line of work.
Trump was a political seismic event in many ways, of course. Trump shattered the western liberal democratic consensus in respect to trade, immigrants, refugees, security and race. He upended every convention.
He also showed everyone, in a huge way, that campaigns now don’t matter much at all. Consider the evidence:
- He had never before held elected office. Ever. Anywhere.
- He beat 16 others seeking the Republican presidential nomination, professional politicians who collectively had several hundred years of campaign experience between them. He beat nine state governors and five U.S. senators. He beat the CEO of Hewlett-Packard. He beat an actual brain surgeon.
- He beat one of the scions of the Bush family. A Bush – the family who had, you know, previously produced two presidents.
- He beat an army of the best political consultants in the world. He beat legendary conservative political geniuses like Mike Murphy, Steve Schmidt and Mary Matalin. He humiliated them.
- He ran the stupidest Republican primary campaign anyone had ever seen – and won. He ran the most insane presidential campaign anyone had ever seen – almost no ads, little polling, no structure or coherence – and still triumphed.
Think about it. A tape came out, mid-campaign, in which Trump boasted about sexually assaulting women. He insulted military veterans and war heroes and Gold Star families – people considered deities in the U.S. political firmament. He repeatedly made racist statements. He attacked the Pope and the disabled. He invited a hostile foreign power to invade the privacy of American citizens – and the hostile foreign power did. He refused to release his taxes, unlike every other presidential candidate in modern times. He said, and did, things that were crazy.
And he still won.
Trump – racist, sexist and fascistic – showed all of us that campaigns don’t matter. You can run a really crappy one, like he did, and still win.
But … but one thing, and it’s deliciously ironic. It’s schadenfreude on a scale heretofore unseen in politics. It’s beautiful.
You can see it in the decisions of federal judges in Maryland and Hawaii, issued late last week – particularly in the must-read decision of Judge Derrick K. Watson of U.S. District Court in Honolulu. In it, Watson threw out Trump’s second (allegedly kinder and gentler) executive order seeking a Muslim ban. And he did so by relying on the words of Trump himself.
Watson dismissed the Trump regime’s claim that a court would need to probe the president’s “veiled psyche” to locate religious animus. Watson would have none of it. Repeatedly, he cited Trump statements that were helpfully found in the pages of the lawsuit brought by Hawaii’s attorney general.
“There is nothing ‘veiled’ about this press release,” Watson wrote, quoting a Trump campaign document titled “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”
Said he: “A reasonable, objective observer would conclude that the executive order was issued with a purpose to disfavour a particular religion.”
The general consensus, now, is that Trump will continue to be hoisted on his own petard. As he labours to render the United States of America an Aryan nation, Trump will continue to lose in court. That’s now very clear, to every legal scholar and constitutional expert.
Why? Because of Trump’s own words. Because of the racist, bigoted things he said in his presidential campaign. Because what he said, over and over, is now being used against him.
Campaigns may not matter any more. Donald Trump has proven that.
But words? Words matter. He’s proven that, too.
Warren Kinsella is a Canadian journalist, political adviser and commentator.