Consultants prodding too many to run

In some circles of the party, there seems to be growing panic that our field of Republican presidential candidates is floundering. There are even rumors of backroom moves to make a call to the bullpen, begging unlikely and late-to-practice ballers such as Texas Gov. Rick Perry into the fight. Why all this impatience with the existing field? And who will really benefit from adding more players?

I’m gonna say it. Consultants could be the culprits here. It’s a slow time in the cycle and some people in the business need a payday. On several levels, there’s no payoff like a presidential run, so the bored and needy consultant starts trying to goad his or her longtime client into a run at the White House. The political client is either a willing co-conspirator, eager to help the consultant while promoting his own prospects, or a vain dupe who doesn’t know he or she is being used. In either case, the question is not so much whether the nation or party needs a new contender as whether there is enough money to make a go of it. 

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Frankly, I am a little put off by the constant criticism of this field of Republicans. It’s pretty strong and reasonably deep. There are already enough strong candidates, several the equal of Barack Obama at this same time in the last cycle, but this crop of Republicans gets no respect. Every miscue or supposed gaffe becomes the source of too much angst, by the press and the pols, and, if we’re truthful about it, by consultants who are not on the payroll. Some of the biggest backroom dismissers and disrespecters of Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty are those who were not asked aboard those gravy trains. So they start to give snarky, off-the-record comments to the press, unnamed GOP “strategists” who cast doubt on the viability of these men. They want to run current candidates like Romney and Pawlenty out of town so that they can install a new sheriff who knows their names and sends them checks.

One might even argue that the candidates themselves bear some of the blame for all this. It seems to me that this crop of candidates has been somewhat more sparing than usual in the hiring of their corps of consultants. Last time, McCain hired so many so early that he might have set a new “normal” that probably led to exaggerated expectations by some handlers. Everyone with any portfolio expected to be hired by one of the top four or five contenders. When the first-tier candidates hired fewer and, in some instances, less well-known consultants, many top campaign advisers started to look around for horses to ride. Some are still looking. I’m convinced that consultants might yet urge two or three more contenders into the race. 

It should be recognized and acknowledged that a top consultant can pocket several hundred thousand dollars just taking a candidate through the “exploratory process,” only to decide after a few months that there is not enough support to make the race a viable option. If consultants convince themselves that the current contenders are klutzes, and they know they are going to earn that kind of money from doing their own due diligence for their preferred candidate, some might say, “Why not?” They might even try to convince themselves that their efforts are noble and that another challenger might “save the party” the embarrassment of an Obama reelection in this sorry economy the president can’t seem to fix. That all sounds good. But I worry that some consultants are instead saving their own bank balances and not the party’s. The GOP dollar is getting split too many ways for anyone to benefit, except consultants.

David Hill is a pollster that has worked for Republican candidates and causes since 1984.