Is the growing backlash against Washington an anti-establishment thing, an anti-Obama thing, or an anti-incumbent thing?
Yes. All of the above.
To better illustrate the point, here’s a story you probably didn’t see in the news.
Vaughn Ward was the perfect Republican congressional candidate. Raised in humble beginnings by his mother, Ward grew up to serve in the Iraq war, to work as a CIA operations officer, and continues to serve today as a major in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve.
Involving himself in Republican politics, he worked his way up to an assignment in the last presidential election. And despite the failure of the McCain-Palin ticket, Ward emerged from the rubble with some prime assets: big-time endorsements and big-time cash for his own congressional run in his home state of Idaho.
We’re talking about endorsements from both John McCain and Sarah Palin, and all the strategic and fund-raising firepower a Congressional candidate could hope for.
By July of 2009, Ward was the Republican’s “heir apparent” as he sought the opportunity to run against incumbent Democrat Congressman Walt Minnick. And along with the endorsements of nationally prominent figures like Palin, powerful Republicans in Idaho had coalesced around Ward, including the current and immediate past governor.
It was “all good.” Until it all “hit the fan” this spring.
For one, it was discovered that Ward’s wife was the family bread winner, working as a salaried employee of Fannie Mae. There’s nothing inherently wrong with being an employee of the federal government. But being reliant on a federal salary raised questions about Ward’s authenticity as he railed against Obamanomics and big government.
Worse yet, in late April, Ward received a rebuke from both the Pentagon and the U.S. Marine Corps. Images of Ward in military gear had been used in campaign web advertisements, and this, the Pentagon noted, violated the policy of the U.S. military that it remain apolitical, and that military imagery not be used to endorse political agendas.
From there, the remaining few weeks of the Ward For Congress campaign were tragic. A journalist in Spokane, Wash., discovered that Ward had lifted huge sections of policy-position content from other Republican congressional campaign websites (in some cases duplicating entire paragraphs, line-for-line), and placed them on his own campaign website.
Then Ward embarrassed himself in a debate against his severely underfunded grass roots Republican challenger, Raul Labrador, by claiming that he opposed Congressional representation for the “country” of Puerto Rico (Labrador, who grew up in Puerto Rico, was quick to pounce on Ward’s error about the U.S. territory). And hours before primary election day, an embarrassing video of Ward using words and phrases from an Obama speech popped up on Youtube, a video so stunning that Jay Leno aired it on his TV show.
On election day, Labrador defeated the “establishment” candidate Ward by nearly 10 percentage points. Ward had the entire national Republican machine on his side, an expensive TV ad blitz, and a campaign visit from Palin. Labrador had few endorsements and very little cash — but he had won the trust of the people, people who were fed up with party politics and candidate incompetency.
The people’s voice will be heard. Is the Republican Party listening?
Austin Hill (www.AustinHill.net) is author of “The Virtues of Capitalism” and a frequent guest host for Arizona’s Newstalk KTAR (92.3 FM).