By David Hill - 04/13/05 12:00 AM EDT
Pollsters are generally relegated to a lower tier of political consultancy. We’re seldom allowed to direct important campaigns. So whenever a pollster does rise to the top of anything political, albeit something modest, there is joy in the profession.
I learned this in January 1995, after being named interim manager of the nascent Dan Quayle for President campaign. Almost immediately, I heard from a fierce competitor wishing me well. He seemed proud that “one of us” was even briefly heading a campaign.
As it turned out, Quayle was an interim candidate who would withdraw from the race a month thereafter, sending me back to being “just a pollster.” But the experience taught me a lesson about the pride of pollsters.
That lesson makes this column an especially difficult exercise because I must suggest that “one of us,” pollster Arthur Finkelstein, is not suited for a top campaign post that he evidently desires.
In reality, Finkelstein has never been “just a pollster”; he’s always been a strategist, too. But he has stayed active in the polling game.
His polling credentials are especially embellished by the remarkable number of other pollsters he has trained by apprenticeship. I don’t think any other pollster can claim as many professional progeny.
Finkelstein’s hold on his clients’ hearts and minds is equally impressive. One former client, a onetime U.S. senator, is said to be unable to make any decision today without Finkelstein’s continuing counsel. Whether he’s picking out a new tie or making an investment, Arthur must be consulted.
This kind of adoration could have its downside, however. You might be tempted to start thinking that you’re invincible and that your judgments are always perfectly sound. In short, you might tend to lose touch with reality as your ego soars out of control. That may be where Finkelstein is headed.
According to the New York Post, Finkelstein intends to lead the charge against Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) emerging candidacy for the White House. Supposedly, Arthur is planning to launch a website, stophernow.com, to serve as a hub for a multimillion-dollar fundraising and political operation to kill Hillary’s chances before she really gets started.
Even if this strategy seemed prudent and potentially effective, is Finkelstein the best operative for the job? I would argue that he isn’t. My concern is not that Finkelstein’s most recent campaigns have seemed tired and stale, it’s that he seems to have turned away from his once solid institutional allegiance to the Republican Party. Arthur evidently feels Republicans are too conservative, so his friends now say he’s a libertarian instead. I don’t think a libertarian should handle a Republican’s job.
Just as Hillary seems headed for the center, Finkelstein seems headed for the same place. That doesn’t bode well for Finkelstein’s competitive advantage against the New York senator. A recently released Rasmussen Reports poll found that just 43 percent of Americans today view the former first lady as politically liberal. Her moderation campaign seems to be gaining steam.
The very week that a freshly anti-abortion Hillary decided to speak out against “temptations and forces beyond your control when you’re just looking for a little help to keep the pornographic television shows out of your living room,” the national media were reporting that Finkelstein married his longtime male partner in a Massachusetts-style same-sex marriage.
Arthur’s status as a gay pollster has long been the worst-kept secret in political circles, but his gay marriage seems over the top for someone whose stock in trade has always been anonymity. Finkelstein has always recognized that the consultant shouldn’t be a distraction for the campaign, so he’s stayed in the background. But now Finkelstein has become the issue. James Carville, Bill Clinton and the rest are openly heckling the newlywed.
It’s time that someone else take the helm of efforts to knock Hillary off her perch. Conservative Republicans shouldn’t contribute a dime to anything led by Finkelstein.
Hill is director of Hill Research Consultants, a Texas-based firm that has polled for GOP candidates and causes since 1988.