When I see depressing creatures
With unprepossessing features
I remind them on their own behalf
To think of
Celebrated heads of state or
Specially great communicators
Did they have brains or knowledge?
Don’t make me laugh!
They were popular! Please- It’s all about popular!
It’s not about aptitude
It’s the way you’re viewed
So it’s very shrewd to be
Very very popular
“You’re Gonna Be Popular” – from Wicked
By all outward appearances, Bill Haslam is a nice guy. His popularity ratings reflect the positive impression created by millions of dollars in advertising over two statewide campaigns. But popularity ain’t power. And that’s the hard lesson Bill Haslam has been slow to learn.
This weekend, the Tennessean offered up a “poor little Bill” analysis of the governor’s troubles with the legislature. Typically, they relied on some of the usual pundits and apologists, allowing them to try and spin away the real reasons for the neutering of so much of the governor’s agenda.
Take Tom Ingram’s analysis, for example. RTP offers its helpful translation services for those not well-versed in the coded political language favored by the establishment:
“Some of the newer members seem to be more about ideology than governing.”
Translation: “We don’t like the conservative philosophy that drives their approach to governing. Standing on principle is a character trait with which we are unfamiliar.”
“He [Haslam] is going to have to figure out how to deal with supermajorities that are more concerned with their primaries than their general elections.”
Translation: He is going to have to tack even further to the left in order to pick up enough Democrats to jam through his agenda.
“Ingram said he doesn’t think the governor will shy away from contentious issues in his second term.”
Maybe so, Tom. But willing to lead with your chin when you have demonstrated you have a glass jaw is not leadership – it’s stubborn foolishness. And it will inevitably lead to another broken jaw.
It is here where Ingram and his ilk get it so wrong. The Haslamists’ troubles stem not from legislators’ fear of being primaried, but from legislators’ lack of fear of the governor and his people. That realization has inspired the conservative (and not-so-conservative) Republicans in the General Assembly to openly challenge the governor’s policies.
At this point the governor’s popularity doesn’t mean jack squat to GOP legislators. Most got elected without a Haslam on the ballot. But immediately after the governor’s easy re-election against a complete joke of a Democrat nominee, his staff ran from office to office with their chests puffed out, touting a post-election poll (conducted by Ingram’s favorite pollster) that showed the governor with a 70% popularity rating. RTP contributors spoke to several who attended those meetings who said the intent was perfectly clear: support the governor’s agenda, or we will use his popularity to make life miserable for you.
Popularity is almost never politically transferable. But as InsureTN (aka ObamaCare expansion) taught us, political negatives are contagious and will stick to you like stink on roadkill.
Just weeks after Haslam’s “popularity offensive,” the legislature took the governor’s popularity and shoved it and InsureTN up his administration’s nether-regions. The effect was not a one-time phenomenon. It was lasting and damaging. Having walked right up to the governor and faced him down, the legislature collectively and individually realized they had very little to fear from opposing Bill Haslam.
And such a realization is devastating to a governor and his agenda.
Can Bill get his mojo back? Doubtful. Mark Cate has spent the last four years playing “bad cop” to Haslam’s “popular police,” resulting in an irretrievably poisoned well, so that won’t work. Haslam will not appear on the ballot again anytime soon and his allies’ efforts to defeat conservative legislators (i.e., Advance TN PAC) made matters much worse. Besides, after the next elections in 2016, he will be a true lame-duck governor. Barring an unlikely massive replacement of conservative legislators by squishy moderates, Haslam is very unlikely to have anything close to a working coalition.
One way Haslam could regain his footing is to start governing like an actual conservative and share in the credit when such programs fly through the legislature, winning him new friends and new credibility. Of course, the mainstream news media would hate any success of a conservative agenda — but that’s just the price of being popular.