The Power of the Dark Side

Mark Fitzgibbons over at The American Thinker puts the Great Radtkestate Dustup in proper perspective. Why are we fighting amongst ourselves, when our foe is in the field?

All of this would be on the level of a family feud, but of course the left-wing media wants to blow it out of proportion.  Given how they need to deflect attention from what’s really going on in Washington, like corruption and overspending, an otherwise unremarkable skirmish among conservatives is just what they need.

Now that the dust has settled somewhat, I hope to provide a post mortem on a fight that never should have happened. In short, Radtke should have kept silent or noncommittal on Redstate’s involvement in the Virginia Senate race. Redstate on the other hand, should have stayed that way.

“All politics is local”

— Tip O’Neil, (D-MA)

A year or so ago Erick Erickson made a rather public notice: he was putting his family, property, and livelihood in the Lord’s hands. Soon afterward and as Redstate prospered, a radio gig, a CNN job for Erickson followed. Elijah trusted, the fireball consumed the sacrifice, and the rains came.

But Elijah found himself in the cave soon. It seems that last winter, after Erick Erickson endorsed Jaime Radtke for the Virginia Senate race, people higher up the corporate chain asked Erick to downplay his support. Why they did that and why Erick complied are classic examples of  the local nature of politics. The close interplay of personalities and the unique circumstances of individual p0litical players often outweigh their own ideological motivation. Relationships matter.

Speaking of such, and by way of disclosure: I believe I am the one who convinced Jaime to attend the Gathering. At the Smart Girl Summit, she asked me to pass on to Redstate insiders her request to speak. Word came back that the schedule was indeed tight. I suggested that she attend the Gathering and befriend the bloggers and other attendees, whether she got to speak or not.

And at least Erick was expecting her to do just that.

But by Leon Wolf’s account, she was in fact given a speaking role. It would have been odd had Radtke not been asked to speak ahead of  The Undefeated, since she appears in it. Redstate asked her to speak for 20 minutes about her campaign for Senate and introduce director Stephen Bannon.

Wolf said of Radtke’s speech at the Gathering:

Radtke, on the other hand, showed up and, because many of us were generally supportive of her campaign, an invitation was extended for her to introduce Stephen Bannon, director of The Undefeated, which we were screening during the closing dinner. Given that there was simply no speaking slot available, it was thought that this would give her a good opportunity to say a few words about her candidacy. Again, this was her assignment: introduce Bannon, say a few words, let people watch the movie.

As explained, Radtke didn’t merely show up, but was urged to come to the Gathering. She was asked to speak for 20 minutes, and given what Wolf describes as his best rousing introduction. So here we have finally gotten to the root of the problem: Radtke was told she had 20 minutes and introduced as a rock star, while many in the crowd, especially at the Redstate insider tables, were expecting her to deliver a line or two and introduce Bannon. Lacking this context, no wonder they started shifting in their seats.

Of such tiny, seemingly insignificant gaps in communication are unfortunate disagreements made.

It is also unsurprising that some in the audience grew impatient with Radtke’s stump speech, as they were expecting to see a movie.  The more jaded and cynical in attendance seem to have been the most affected. I recall waiting to see the film myself at this year’s Smart Girl Summit in St Louis, which also featured a Radtke introduction. Having read Sarah Palin’s autobiography Going Rogue, I didn’t think I really needed to see the movie. Listening to a speech by a candidate instead of getting right to the movie would have put me in a bad frame of mind, as well.

But some attendees enjoyed Radtke’s talk. Redstate regular Breeanne Howe tweeted from the Gathering:

Listening to @jamieradtke speak at #rsg11, another rising Conservative Woman!

And this from Erik Telford, VP of the Franklin Center and creator of the RightOnline conference while at Americans for Prosperity:

Listening to @jamieradtke speak at #RSG11. She’s killing it!

Hardly the kind of comments one would expect if the speech were as bad as all that.

“Never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel.”

– Charles Bruce Brownson, (R-IN)

Then this past week Ben Smith of Politico asked a Radtke campaign consultant if a Redstate endorsement was important to the campaign.  Well, of course it was. Then why has Erick Erickson’s support for the campaign softened, Smith wanted to know.

The Radtke people went a direction I would not have gone at that point. Rather than supply a platitude about Redstate having only so much political capital to expend or some other bit of whitewash, the campaign asserted the truth as they heard it from Erick, that he had been convinced to back off.

So the Politico reporter, perhaps smelling a chance to cause trouble, asked if they had some proof of that.

And here the Radtke camp made a key error: picking a fight with the media. Rather than simply assert confidence in the information they should not have revealed in the first place, they compounded that mistake by claiming to have an email from Erick that would confirm it. Further, they agreed to supply the email to Politico.

At this point all kinds of alarms should have been going off in the heads of every campaign worker, consultant and most of all, the candidate. Dont Do This.  Do not release a private communication unless you are directly refuting the person who made it.

That kind of mistake is one reason I tell candidates to start at the local level: school board, city council, even mayor. Don’t run your first race on a stage you don’t command. These lessons, if learned early on with local blogs and newspaper reporters, will make later campaigns that much easier.

“If you only knew the power of the Dark Side.”

— Darth Vader

But the dark side has power. Convinced that telling the truth is never bad, the campaign broke a bond of loyalty and damaged a relationship. Sometimes the truth is supposed to remain a secret.

The response from Redstate was rapid and vicious, as regular site readers would suspect. Erick values loyalty more highly than many, which was made clear by his attacks on Jon Huntsman for planning a presidential run while working for Obama.

Rather than simply acknowledge his loyalty to the people who have contributed so much both to his site and the causes he favors, Erickson brought the full power of his fully operational battle site, not only writing a post about the Radtke incident, but including it in his Morning Briefing, guaranteeing maximum exposure.

Citing the anonymous remarks of Redstate front pagers hissing with feral cattiness, Erickson implied in his response that Radtke was intoxicated, a charge he was forced to retract when it turned out to have no basis in fact.

The long term consequences of the entire incident for Redstate as a site are difficult to see at this point. But if they lead conservatives to understand that some tactics are just not advisable, perhaps this painful episode may have been worthwhile.