Scott Walker, Liz Mair, Tea Leaves, and Tweetstorms

AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

It wasn’t just Liz Mair’s Tweets about Iowa that got her dismissed as the digital media strategist for Governor Scott Walker’s PAC. There are other reasons her hiring, and termination, became a significant controversy. She was hired on Monday and resigned on Tuesday. Nothing about the brief story reflected well on Walker’s nascent campaign.

The Iowa Republican Party was clear about its displeasure with her criticism of their state and its primary – party chairman Jeff Kauffman expressly advised Walker to “send her packing.” He wasn’t objecting to a scholarly discourse on the Republican primary system. She put out Twitter messages in January that said Iowa was “embarrassing itself and the GOP,” and saying “the sooner we remove Iowa’s frontrunning status, the better off American politics and policy will be.”

No one should be surprised Iowans didn’t take that well. Walker wants to win Iowa, not spearhead a kamikaze campaign to make the Republican Party change its primary system.

It’s been said in Mair’s defense that she was a communications consultant, not a policy adviser, so her policy positions don’t matter. That’s not a very good defense. She had an important position that would make her the voice of the Walker campaign to a lot of people who weren’t going to split hairs about her job description.

Immigration and education policy were a big part of this mess, too. Scott Walker hasn’t done a good job of establishing firm conservative positions on those issues. That doesn’t fit well with his resume as a determined, principled leader who stared down the Democrat-union carnival of horrors in Wisconsin. These issues will not go away because he’d rather discuss others. His other virtues as a candidate should not earn him special-snowflake protection from challenges to his weak spots. He sure won’t get it from the Democrats. That goes double if he wins in 2016 and tries moving a conservative agenda past Democrat obstructionists and Republican moderate squishes in Congress, which will suddenly become a co-equal branch of government again.

People who care deeply about halting Obama’s amnesty scheme will not wave that concern aside because Walker has other admirable qualities. They’re sick of being told to pipe down and get with the Republican program. Putting the best conservative candidate forward and winning the election is crucial to the future of the Republic. The GOP establishment is universally awful on immigration. Walker is supposed to be a true conservative who is also Establishment-friendly. Conservatives have been burned too often to take the former assertion on faith.

Because Walker has not articulated a solid conservative rule-of-law position on illegal immigration, or addressed the many difficult questions of legal immigration policy, politically-engaged conservatives are forced to read tea leaves to figure out what he really wants. Major hiring decisions are tea leaves. True leaders do not require potential supporters to engage in fortune-telling and mind-reading.

It’s not as if amnesty opponents are unreasonable to fear betrayal on the issue. They know all about the alignment of interests between Democrats hungry for new dependent voters, and Republican donors looking for cheap labor. They’ve seen the GOP Establishment use rhetoric and tactics borrowed from the Left to beat down conservatives, again and again. They’ve also seen Republican candidates fight no-holds-barred against conservatives to win primaries, then fold up like tents in a high wind against the Democrat-media hurricane of general elections. Conservatives are not petulant or paranoid to expect commanding, unambiguous support on their issues. They notice its absence during the early stages of the primary season, and have no reason to believe it will suddenly materialize later.

Mair unleashed an impressive “Tweetstorm” to refine and defend her positions after she was let go. Presidential candidates don’t need communications specialists who unleash impressive Tweetstorms about themselves. In fact, candidates and serious political operatives should consider backing away from self-destructive social media platforms. It’s hard to image a Big Twitter Story that would help a campaign in a tight race. Use those platforms for the disciplined transmission of messages, not feisty opinion blogs written 140 characters at a time.

Republican candidates have to do a very careful job of vetting major hires. They can’t buy off interest groups and expect lockstep obedience like Democrats can. They also can’t expect the media to politely ignore internal conflicts until the election is over.

They need to demonstrate enormous foresight about the messages they send, both deliberately and inadvertently. They should drill themselves on long lists of important topics and develop cogent answers to the questions they don’t want to hear. The next election will be won by an extraordinary conservative candidate, not one who strives to make himself acceptable to some vague mass of “moderates” that never actually shows up on Election Day.


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