THE BLOG
06/27/2013 05:23 pm ET Updated Aug 27, 2013

You Can't Get What You Want ('Til You Know What You Want)

You know, maybe if Gabriel Gomez had hired Josh Barro as a campaign advisor, he would have been more competitive in his U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts against Edward Markey.

The Business Insider columnist and voice of "reform conservatism" probably would have done a better job of helping Gomez convince Massachusetts voters that he was, in fact, a "new kind of Republican," by encouraging him to make a complete break from the dysfunctional national GOP. Gomez certainly tried to distance himself somewhat from the national Republicans, but the problem is that he needed to put himself 93 million miles away from the illogical, obstructionist D.C. GOP crowd. Having a guy like Barro in his corner might not have been enough to get Gomez past the finish line, but it could have put him a heck of a lot closer.

Gomez campaigned with a rain cloud over his head at every appearance. He could never overcome the perception that he would either a) be forced to march in lockstep with the hard-right element in the Senate GOP or b) be the target of a right-wing primary challenge if he actually tried to legislate in a bipartisan fashion.

In addition, he could never overcome the outright rejection he received from Massachusetts conservatives. The national conservative media apparatus certainly supported him -- National Review, the Weekly Standard and the Fox News Channel promoted him as the possible second coming of former Bay State Republican Senator Scott Brown--but the Bay State right seemed to have no use for him, with conservative talk-radio hosts and bloggers openly attacking him for his past donations to Democrats and perceived rheotrical gaffes. The Bay State right strongly supported Brown in his come-from-behind win over Martha Coakley in 2010, but the state support was not there for Gomez, possibly because of the candidate's support for comprehensive immigration reform.

At times, it seemed that Gomez was a candidate in search of an electorate. It was admirable of Gomez to reach out to the Latino community, but it only raised the question of why Massachusetts Republicans had been so reluctant to reach out to Latinos (and other nonwhite voters) prior to 2013. Gomez's claims to independence were damaged by the revelation that Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell had vowed to help him win the special Senate election in order to build momentum for a potential GOP Senate takeover in 2014. His refusal to sign a pledge intended to discourage third-party media involvement in the election turned out to be a major tactical mistake. And the less said about the "pond scum" controversy, the better.

It can be argued that Gomez wasn't enough of a moderate to win this election. While it was nice to finally see a Republican Senate candidate acknowledge the reality of human-caused climate change, he raised eyebrows by simultaneously supporting the Keystone XL pipeline, which acclaimed climate scientist James Hansen has repeatedly noted will make climate change worse. Perhaps if he had attacked climate-change deniers such as Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma by name, he would have convinced those on the fence that he would never knuckle under to the right wing.

This is where a guy like Barro might have been able to help, by advising Gomez to make a greater effort towards separating himself from the derpy wing of the party (which is almost all of it these days!). Gomez needed to run as a clear throwback to New England Republicans of yesteryear--think John Chafee, Jim Jeffords, Edward Brooke, Lowell Weicker. Frankly, he should have run to Markey's left, not to his semi-right. In fact, Gomez probably should have avoided any appearances on the Fox News Channel: seeing him share the screen with Neil Cavuto and Tucker Carlson hurt, rather than helped, his effort to promote himself as a different flavor of Republican.

The only way Gomez could have come close to victory was by directly competing with Markey for progressive and center-left independent votes by establishing himself as an old-school Republican--that is to say, an anti-Fox, anti-Limbaugh, anti-Drudge Report, vehemently anti-Tea Party Republican. In fact, he should have tried to stoke as much right-wing outrage as possible to convince voters that he was wholly separate from one of "those" Republicans. If the national conservative media establishment hated Gomez as much as they hated Markey, Bay State voters would have been more confident about Gomez's independence.

Gomez ran as a center-right Republican, and that might have worked twenty years ago. However, with the GOP's image as negative as it has ever been in the Northeast, he should have run as a center-left Republican. His advisors didn't understand that.

Markey's win represents a victory for climate activists in the Bay State. They worked hard to ensure that Markey would make it to the Senate to provide support for Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Democratic Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, both of whom have demonstrated the moral tenacity necessary to deal with the threat of climate change; the Markey-Sanders-Whitehouse combo certainly represents a triple threat to carbon polluters.

Markey's win is also a victory for Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, who demonstrated political wisdom by selecting his chief of staff, William "Mo" Cowan, as interim senator instead of former Democratic Representative Barney Frank. Patrick took some heat from progressives for not selecting Frank, but he had enough foresight to realize that putting Frank in as interim senator would have been a gift to the American right-wing noise machine; the national conservative media establishment would have used Frank's actions (and words) in the Senate to whip national Republicans into a right-wing frenzy and send streams of money into Massachusetts to ensure that the Senate seat ended up in Republican hands. Frank is right up there with the late Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy as a hate target for the right; the short-term progressive gain of having Frank as interim senator would have been followed by potentially long-term pain.

It's especially ironic that Markey won just one day before the fourth anniversary of the passage of the American Clean Energy and Security Act in the House, a bill supported by eight Republicans who were, of course, demonized by the same right-wing Tea Party types who later scorned Gomez. I'm confident that Markey will continue to demonstrate courage on the climate issue in the Senate.

As for Republicans in Massachusetts -- and nationwide -- there are lessons they can learn from Gomez's loss. However, in order to learn those lessons, they might have to call Josh Barro.

They should have done that to begin with.

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