Campaigns Suck. Don’t Work on Them.

[WARNING: The Self-Indulgence Rating on the following post is 9.2 on the 10-point scale. That effectively means only the writer’s parents would be interested in reading this piece. Unfortunately, both of his parents are dead… Make that a rating of 9.4.]

TheCoolerMy favorite William Macy movie is The Cooler. He plays Bernie Lootz, a slouchy middle-age man who works in a Las Vegas casino. Bernie’s job is to stop the hot streaks of high-rollers just by walking among them and making small talk. He is a black hole for luck. Loss and heartbreak follow him everywhere.

I’m thinking about starting a political consulting firm based on that business model. Hire me to “volunteer” for your opponent’s campaign, and I’ll take it from there. Interested? Here are my references: Mayor Ivy Taylor and former State Rep. Mike Villarreal.

I was Villarreal’s communications director when he ran for mayor in 2015, and served as the spokesman for Taylor’s re-election campaign until last Saturday. You get the idea.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not taking the full blame for both losses — that would make me a narcissist in a way. No, the defeat of every campaign that started with a good chance to win a mayor’s race is multifaceted, with dense clusters of small misreadings and misallocations, missed opportunities, petty animosities, and plain bad luck.

By the way, I am an inveterate gossip and not obnoxiously scrupulous. Nevertheless, I will not dish on either campaign. No, you’d have to pay for it. Joking. Unless you’re willing to pay for it. Let me know.

Anyway, my point is that while every defeat has a bunch of parents, I was at the inception of two of the biggest campaign fails in San Antonio over the last two years. From that I conclude that maybe I’m not the greatest campaign spokesman in the world.

Hence this post’s title: “Campaigns Suck. Don’t Work on Them.” “I Suck at Campaigns” would make more sense, but screw that. I wasn’t that bad.

I obviously got tired of The Cooler thing. But I still love the movie.

Anyway, I left the San Antonio Express-News, where I was the business editor and a weekly columnist, to scratch a politics itch in late 2014. Villarreal had called me out of the blue asking me to handle communications for his mayoral campaign. I said yes in an embarrassingly short amount of time. In my head, I was going to become a dinner operative.

A dinner operative is a consultant like either of the two Christians (Archer or Anderson), Colin Strother, or Kelton Morgan. Imagine you’re a politician. You’d meet your dinner operative for drinks and a meal at, say, Southerleigh to plot your next campaign, talk poll results, trade gossip and political intelligence, or figure out how to work your colleagues on City Council or Commissioners Court or whatever. The two of you would look spectacular and powerful, and everyone in the dining room would want to know what you’re talking about.

Turns out, only the two Christians, Strother, Morgan, and maybe one or two others get to be dinner operatives. And from what I’ve heard, it’s not exactly House of Cards-grade  material they’re working with. Not by a long shot.

Most people who manage to eek out a living from campaign politics are at best lunch operatives, and their venues are usually a convenient Jim’s Restaurant or Mexican Manhattan or some place like that. Coffee operatives are closer to the norm.

They also spend a shocking amount of time eating Cheezits and drinking burnt coffee at campaign headquarters, which just a few weeks before had been a store where one could score great deals on off-brand cellular service. And the work? Trying to find a fresh approach to the 36th email in which you’re trying to wheedle supporters out of another $25.

Uh oh.

I sound like a spouse in a run-of-the-mill divorce. I start out wanting to acknowledge my failings and my culpability, only to discover as I’m talking that it was your fault all along.

Time to just end this.

So I stand in the dingy hallway outside the courtroom. I seethe as I look campaigns in the eye for the last time, and I say, “Fuck you, campaigns. Fuck you very much.”











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