In politics, like most things, sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes the bear eats you. But unlike real life, in politics, you can hire a bear to be in your campaign ads.
That’s what one House candidate did in Florida (naturally). Or, more precisely, she accepted an in-kind contribution of what may be the only instance in Federal Election Commission history of a “trained bear for campaign photo shoot” valued at $2,500 from the proprietor of Bearadise Ranch (again, naturally).
A couple of thoughts: First, the ad missed the obvious opportunity to support the “right to arm bears” in addition to the “right to bear arms.” Second, it is much cheaper to rent a bear than I would have imagined. Consider this fair warning to my colleagues, golf partners, and anyone who invites me to weddings.
I mention bear rentals as a reminder that the business of politics has a lot more in common with the entertainment industry than it does most with other ways that people make a living. In that way, politics is not so different from other kinds of marketing-oriented enterprises.
Car makers, soda-pop sellers, or prescription pill peddlers don’t make the products they want to and then try to develop a market for them. It’s mostly the other way around: They conduct market research to see what people want and then try to give it to them, as H.L. Mencken said, “good and hard.” Maybe once it was about finding a use for industrial byproducts, but most of the big wheels in our commercial world today are like exasperated parents trying to feed a picky toddler: a desperate search for glimmers of interest until a favorite is found or there are buttered noodles all over the floor.
Despite the billions that have been spent on market research in the past century, producers of geegaws, gimcracks, and Pontiac Azteks still often don’t know what people really want. Like a lot of data, product research is often primarily used as a shield against the consequences of failure. When Cosmopolitan magazine’s line of yogurts *ahem* curdled in 2001, you can bet that the marketing folks fell back on tons and tons of serious-looking market research that said that what America’s women wanted were dairy products that combined the style of Helen Gurley Brown with the taste of boysenberries. It wasn’t their fault, they were just following the research. Musta been the guys in production …
History suggests that success is much more often the product of dedicated individuals or devoted minorities in pushing products or ideas into being. Thank God there was no market research in the 1700s beyond “I heard some guys talking in a tavern” or we wouldn’t have ever tried government of, for, and by the people. “Too risky,” the report would have said. “Recommend focusing on negatives of George III for the time being.”
That’s why our immigration rules, educational system, health care policy, COVID response, and other crucial areas have been such muddled failures. Our leaders know too much about public opinion—or what they think might be public opinion—and then take the easy way out and do nothing except cater to their most committed voters. The failed fake repeal of ObamaCare in 2017 stands out as one of the most effulgent examples in recent history, but both parties prove the point every day. They take turns disappointing voters and then reaping the rewards when the other side has its time in the barrel.
Market research doesn’t do a good job of capturing voters’ ambivalence, nor can it truly test the popularity of concepts not already in circulation, nor can it control for ways in which details and execution shape perceptions. What it can always catch, though, are the loudest, most determined, activist sentiments. Those folks would break the doors down to say what they want. Maybe there were two ladies in a focus group 20 years ago who said what they really wanted was a sex-positive, fashion-forward low-fat yogurt.
That’s how Republicans find their agenda hijacked by weirdos with man-crushes on Central European strongmen and Democrats kowtowing to ideas so obviously hare-brained that five minutes of serious conversation with a mainstream voter would forbid. But, like any business in which renting a grizzly is an option, the marketing often comes ahead of product development. What you end up with is a world in which the smart people are too afraid to move without reams of often meaningless research, which leaves the floor to kooks and radicals.
People often don’t know what they want until it arrives or sometimes until it’s gone. That’s why real leadership is as risky as it is indispensable.
Holy croakano! We welcome your feedback, so please email us with your tips, corrections, reactions, amplifications, etc. at STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM. If you’d like to be considered for publication, please include your real name and hometown. If you don’t want your comments to be made public, please specify.
Biden job performance
Average approval: 39.2 percent
Average disapproval: 54. 8 percent
Net score: -15.6 points
Change from one week ago: ↓ 4.8 points
Change from one month ago: ↓ 1.6 points
[Average includes: Ipsos/Reuters: 42% approve-50% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 38% approve-55% disapprove; NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist College: 39% approve-56% disapprove; NBC News: 39% approve-56% disapprove; Monmouth University: 38% approve-57% disapprove]
Generic congressional ballot
Democrats: 44.2 percent
Republicans: 46.8 percent
Net advantage: Republican Party +2.6 points
Change from one week ago: Republican Party ↓ 1.2 points
Change from one month ago: Republican Party ↑ 1 point
[Average includes: Quinnipiac University: 43% Democrat; 47% Republican; NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist College: 47% Democrat, 42% Republican; NBC News: 46% Democrat, 46% Republican; Monmouth University: 43% Democrat, 50% Republican; CNN/SSRS: 42% Democrat, 49% Republican]
TIME OUT: NO [DRESS] SHIRT, NO SHOES, NO SERVICE
New York Times: “During a pandemic in which many Americans have traded their tailored slacks for leisure wear, dress codes are making an unexpected return to the dining room. Over the last two years, several new restaurants around the country have opened with policies on expected attire, some stern (“upscale fashionable dress code strongly enforced,” warns a text from Olivetta in Los Angeles) and some vague (“smart casual or better,” advises Catbird in Dallas). … Plenty of diners don’t mind. Many embrace the opportunity to spruce up. Priscilla Von Sorella, a fashion designer in Manhattan, said that dressing nicely allows her to express unspoken gratitude for restaurants. … But [restaurant dress codes] are still a rarity. And because most are general suggestions rather than lists of dos and don’ts, the decision about whether a particular diner meets them is often subjective. … [A host at a traditional French restaurant in D.C.] felt particularly uneasy explaining the dress code to nonbinary customers, since it was worded in such a gendered way. When she asked other guests to put a jacket on, some yelled at her.”
KEMP DOMINATES IN NEW POLL
Fox News: “Incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp leads former Sen. David Perdue by a 32-point margin in the Georgia Republican gubernatorial primary race, tripling his advantage from March, according to a new Fox News Poll of Georgia Republican primary voters…Sixty percent of Republican voters prefer Kemp, while 28% go for Perdue (it was 50% vs. 39% in March). … Former Vice President Mike Pence … is set to attend a Kemp rally on May 23, ahead of the May 24 primary. In December, former President Donald Trump endorsed Perdue, but just 37% say the backing makes them more supportive of the former senator – and this group prefers Perdue by 25 points. On the other hand, 24% say the endorsement makes them less supportive of Perdue, and they break for Kemp by 79 points. … Former NFL running back Herschel Walker dominates the field in the Republican Senate primary race. He leads by 58 points, with 66% supporting him and 74% of his backers certain they will vote for him.”
The other big race in Georgia: Guardian: “[Brad Raffensperger] is running for re-election as Georgia’s secretary of state and Trump is seeking to oust him from office. [Trump] wants to replace him with Jody Hice, a Republican congressman who has said the election was stolen and joined efforts to overturn it. It’s one of several races across the country in which Trump is seeking to install allies in important election administration positions in which they could throw out the results of a future election. Georgia’s race is especially significant—it’s the only place where Trump is seeking to punish a statewide Republican election official for explicitly refusing his request to subvert democracy. It could determine whether the person overseeing the next presidential election in Georgia is someone who prevented an election from being overturned or someone who tried to overturn the last one.”
Tens of thousands of votes still to count in Pennsylvania: Associated Press: “Heart surgeon-turned-TV celebrity Dr. Mehmet Oz and former hedge fund CEO David McCormick spent Wednesday essentially tied in Pennsylvania’s hotly contested race for the Republican nomination to fill an open U.S. Senate seat. It’s also expected to be among the party’s most competitive races with the Democrats in the fall. The GOP nomination battle was still too early to call. Oz led McCormick by 1,723 votes Wednesday, out of more than 1.3 million votes counted. There were tens of thousands of votes left to be counted, including at least 22,000 mail ballots and an unknown number of votes cast on election day. Statewide, McCormick was doing better than Oz among mail ballots, while Oz was doing better among votes cast on election day. … The race was close enough to trigger Pennsylvania’s automatic recount law, with the separation between the candidates inside the law’s 0.5% margin.”
Trump insiders say he may pull back from endorsements: CNN: “Republican candidates in upcoming primaries may have a tougher time scoring a coveted endorsement from Donald Trump, according to the former President’s allies, who say he is feeling more risk-averse amid the deadlocked Senate GOP contest in Pennsylvania. One of those allies described Trump as ‘agitated’ by the uncertain outcome in the Keystone State primary, where his endorsement of celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz failed to translate into a decisive win against former hedge fund manager David McCormick. As of Thursday morning, the race remains tight and appears likely to head to an automatic recount as required by Pennsylvania law when the vote margin falls below 0.5%. ‘This is not how he expected this to go,’ said one of the advisers. ‘If Oz loses, it puts him in an awkward spot because he absolutely trashed David McCormick at his rally and pissed off quite a few allies who never thought he should have endorsed Oz.’”
Mastriano means headaches for GOP: Washington Post: “As a Pennsylvania state senator and gubernatorial candidate, Doug Mastriano railed against the rampant fraud that he believes was responsible for Donald Trump’s 2020 defeat. He vowed to decertify voting machines in counties where he suspects the result was rigged. And he asserted that the Republican-controlled legislature should have the right to take control of the all-important choice over which presidential electors to send to Washington. … The Trump-endorsed 58-year-old, who won the Republican nomination for governor on Tuesday, would gain significant influence over the administration of the battleground state’s elections should he prevail in November… Those concerns are made especially acute in Pennsylvania by the fact that the governor has the unusual authority to directly appoint the secretary of state, who serves as chief elections officer and must sign off on results.”
New York redistricting pits Dems against each other: Washington Post: “New York courts on Monday released a proposed map of redrawn congressional districts in the state that, if approved, would pit key sitting Democrats against each other and make it more likely for Republicans to gain House seats in November’s midterm elections. The map was drawn by Jonathan Cervas, a court-appointed expert, and is all but final. State Judge Patrick F. McAllister is expected to approve Cervas’s redrawn districts Friday. … Under [the new map], Democratic congressmen Mondaire Jones and Sean Patrick Maloney would be redrawn into the same district, setting up a potential faceoff between Jones, a left-leaning freshman lawmaker, and Maloney, who as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is trying to preserve the party’s slim House majority. … [It] would also pit Reps. Jerrold Nadler and Carolyn B. Maloney, both Democrats, against each other for a redrawn district that would cover much of Manhattan.”
Nancy Mace wobbles: Politico: “The contrast between public image and political reality has bedeviled the 44-year-old [Nancy Mace] in multiple ways as she struggles to find her footing in Washington and win a second term in her closely watched swing district. She’s oscillated back and forth from Donald Trump backer to critic—while she’s trashed him in private, according to three former aides. … While she worked to elect Trump in 2016, Mace became a fierce critic after last year’s Capitol riot, then later embraced her partisan-warrior side before taking a high-profile anti-Trump vote. This year, after the former president endorsed Mace’s [June 14] primary challenger, she filmed a video in front of Trump Tower touting herself as the only Republican who could keep Democrats from claiming her seat. … Mace’s primary race is heating up, with Trump traveling to her district in March to boost [opponent Katie Arrington]. But back on the Hill, three of the former staffers described Mace … as chiefly interested in “what’s sexy,” her term for political positions that can attract the most media attention on a given week.”
Census data show significant miscounts—NPR
Dems face tough landscape in battle for statehouses—UVA Center for Politics
Poll: Voters say to keep Roe—Marist College
Hunter Biden’s laptop reveals quick cash, quicker spending—NBC News
WITHIN EARSHOT: DEFUND THE POPULAR VOTE
“One of the things that I’m going to do, and I’ve already put this plan together, is, as governor, I’m going to introduce a conversation about doing away with the popular vote for statewide elected officials and doing an electoral college vote for statewide elected officials.”—GOP candidate Greg Lopez who is running for governor in Colorado to 9NEWS.
“I’m writing to ask you to consider adding a line to the Statshot section of the column to show changes over four weeks (or some other meaningful period of time). Reading the column every week, we can see little moves up or down that don’t mean much individually but could be meaningful if the movement is in the same direction for several weeks. I don’t know whether your polling concoction is unique to the column, but if it is, your readers have no easy way to track changes over time aside from keeping a chart on their own. Thanks for considering. I really enjoy the column.”—John Decker, Washington, D.C.
Done! Great idea, Mr. Decker. Thanks for sharing. (Tho this week’s numbers certainly show some motion!)
You should email us! Write to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM with your tips, kudos, criticisms, insights, rediscovered words, wonderful names, recipes and always good jokes. Please include your real name—at least first and last—and hometown. Make sure to let me know in the email if you want to keep your submission anonymous. My colleague, the irreplaceable Samantha Goldstein, and I will look for your emails and then share the most interesting ones and my responses here. Clickety clack!
CUTLINE CONTEST: SIR MIX-A-LOT, FEMINIST ICON
We’re taking it back to the summer of 1992 this week! As a reminder, there’s one more week left to submit your cutlines for the month of May. Our winner this week is …
“House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announces new initiative to allow all American women, regardless of race, color, sexual orientation, or immigration status, to realize their dreams of ‘Baby Got Back.’”—Bryan Gee, Lawrenceville, Georgia
“I said to my staff, ‘Build Back Better for Women’ is the best you could come up with? What, ‘In Your Heart You Know She’s Right’ was already taken?”—Craig Berry, Frankfort, Illinois
Readers should send in their proposed cutline for the picture that appears at the top of this newsletter to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM. We will pick the top entrants and an appropriate reward for the best of this month—even beyond the glory and adulation that will surely follow. Be hilarious, don’t be too dirty, and never be cruel. Include your full name and hometown. Have fun!
TAKING ‘FREE BRITNEY’ LITERALLY
USA Today: “A Texas substitute teacher was asked to leave early after singing Britney Spears‘ ‘Toxic’ on a karaoke machine he brought to the classroom. According to KXAN, the substitute was asked to leave Friday after he was recorded by students at a high school in Austin’s Independent School District. A spokesperson from the district told KXAN the substitute ‘wasn’t following [the district’s] best practices.’ ‘I’ve heard worse Britney Spears covers, but the lights are a bit much,’ an AISD spokesperson told the outlet. … In a video obtained by the New York Post, the substitute appears to be harmonizing with a microphone attached to a karaoke machine that had multiple lights. He then proceeds to sing the rest of Spears’ 2003 Billboard top 10 hit. ‘I’m addicted to you, don’t you know that you’re toxic,’ the substitute teacher belts out. … The substitute performed another song before being ‘relieved of his duty.’ He later picked up another job at the Austin High School AISD confirmed to KXAN.”
Chris Stirewalt is a contributing editor at The Dispatch, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of Broken News, a book on media and politics available August 23. Samantha Goldstein contributed to this report.