SHRUM AND DUMBER….A few days ago the nice folks at Simon & Schuster sent me a copy of No Excuses, Bob Shrum’s memoir of 35 years in the Democratic consulting biz — a career famously marked by almost unremitting failure at the presidential level. I haven’t cracked it open yet, but Matt Yglesias has and he reports back in our current issue. Shrum’s problem, he says, isn’t an excess of conviction, but a lack of it:
[In 2004] three of the four leading Democratic presidential contenders — Gephardt, Kerry, and Edwards — were all Shrum clients. What’s more, on the most important moral and political issue of the day, they all broke the wrong way, supporting the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Shrum concedes that he urged his clients to do this, going so far as to say that he prevailed upon Kerry and Edwards to opportunistically endorse a war they knew was wrong. Most astoundingly, he clearly regards this claim as something that will be helpful to the politicians in question, a misjudgment that would seem to speak volumes about the difficulty his clients have had in winning presidential elections.
….[Another] telling example is Shrum’s recounting of how during the 2000 campaign “Gore was determined to give a blunt speech on global warming, and to do it in Michigan.” Shrum and the rest of the staff talked Gore out of it, on the grounds that the issue “was a third rail in the automotive state of Michigan, a state we had to carry.” And, indeed, such a speech almost certainly would have been unpopular in Michigan. On the other hand, voters with a direct financial interest in the issue were the people most likely already familiar with Gore’s views, speech or no speech. What’s more, Michigan wasn’t strictly must-win — if Gore had carried Florida, he wouldn’t have needed it. Giving the speech could not only have put him over the top in Florida, it would have countered the public’s image of Gore as a phony, dull, passionless calculating figure by letting him connect with the environmental issues on which he was a lifelong advocate. It would also have allowed Gore to skewer Bush where his record was most vulnerable. The speech could have helped Gore establish a persona distinct from Clinton’s, without forcing Gore to distance himself from Clinton’s accomplishments. And even if the polls didn’t show voters yearning for a speech on global warming, it was clear that the voters were yearning for Gore to do something that seemed driven by convictions rather than polls.
I dunno. Could Gore have won Florida convincingly if he’d played up his environmental record? Or would he just have lost Michigan and done himself no good anywhere else? If you were Bob Shrum, what would you have advised?