Game Change ’14

Perhaps I’ve missed a post-election thumbsucker from the masters of the genre, Mark Halperin and John Heilemann (or failed to find it on Bloomberg Politicsconfusing (but no doubt “state of the art”) website), But it would seem the honor of releasing the first insidery “Game Change-y” account of what really happened in the 2014 midterms goes to WaPo’s Philip Rucker and Robert Costa. Yes, there’s an occasional nod to “fundamentals” like the landscape and traditional turnout patterns. But for the most part the story is one of the smart, talented consultants of the GOP who outworked and outfoxed their Democratic rivals, who unfortunately were handicapped by Barack Obama.

The GOP wizards (who are almost certainly the sources for a lot of this stuff) are seen zooming around the country (you can almost hear an adventure-movie sound track) “rescuing” hapless candidates like Pat Roberts and David Perdue, dropping the hammer on Chris McDaniels, providing the weapon with which Joni Ernst slew Bruce Braley, always a step ahead. Meanwhile Barack Obama all but killed his party’s chances, if not by deliberately sabotaging Democratic campaigns everywhere via the bland comment that his policies were “on the ballot,” then by the incredible, world-historical, ignoring-Pearl-Harbor-intel level blunder of not allowing a transfer of money from the DNC to the DSCC at the right time.

You really should read the whole thing, if only to understand how what Digby calls “The Village” thinks. But here’s my favorite passage:

Minutes after landing at Reagan National Airport one day early this year, many GOP Senate hopefuls found themselves besieged at baggage claim by people with cameras yelling questions at them about abortion and rape.

This was no impromptu news conference but rather Republican staffers in disguise, trying to shock the candidates into realizing the intensity of what lay before them.

From the airport, the startled candidates were whisked off to NRSC headquarters for a series of meetings. There were policy briefings led by Lanhee Chen, Mitt Romney’s former policy director, as well as communications boot camps and media training from Roger Ailes associate Jon Kraushar, who has mentored Fox News personalities.

Looming large were the ghosts of combustible campaigns past: Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, Ken Buck, Christine O’Donnell, Sharron Angle.

“How do you fundamentally go about making human beings who are wildly unpredictable more predictable?” the NRSC’s Collins said. “It’s not about replacing what they believe. Pro-life is a majority view in this country, so how do you talk about it in terms that are relevant and not characterized as extreme?”

So now we know: that laughable evasion, when she was asked about her very recent support for a state Personhood constitutional amendment, that quick pivot back to banalities about the Iowa Way, wasn’t the improvisation of someone too dishonest or dim to acknowledge her own record, but part of her national GOP training aimed at disguising her actual views. What a stroke of genius! No wonder these guys are paid so well!

The one topic addressed by Rucker and Costa that raised my hopes we might learn something interesting was when they turned to the DSCC’s famous Bannock Street Project, which didn’t seem to work out that well. But all the authors can tell us is that Republicans wound up spending as much money as Democrats on early voting, which doesn’t really tell us much at all. If the idea here is that both parties kicked out the jams on data-driven GOTV, how come total turnout was so bad?

It’s one of the many mysteries this article does not resolve. But we sure know what a big turning point it was when Pat Roberts was forced to fire his campaign manager.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.