Opinion Columns & Blogs

Just because someone can write a big check, doesn’t mean they can run a good campaign

Former state Sen. Michael Williams, a Forsyth County Republican, apologized last week for his 2018 gubernatorial campaign. In a detailed Facebook post, Williams seemed to characterize his recent guilty plea for filing a false police report just before the Republican primary as a campaign strategy mistake.

“Let me be clear. I DID NOT commit insurance fraud. I DID NOT steal my own servers. I DID NOT authorize the stealing of my servers or any variation thereof. I DID NOT break the law. I AM taking responsibility for campaign strategy mistakes and not putting a timely end to my campaign.” Williams wrote.

The focus of his note, especially for those looking for a political lesson, is a cautionary tale for candidates who are able to self-fund a campaign to be wary of political consultants. Williams indicates he knew his campaign was a long shot, and had “three prerequisites” he wanted to accomplish before entering the race.

“Instead, I allowed my pride, ego and bad advice, to persuade me that I had a solid chance in the governor’s race. Knowing I didn’t have the name ID, the political network or the money, I subjected my ability to mount a statewide campaign to three qualifying prerequisites that would help overcome these shortcomings.”

The resulting campaign relied on media stunts of making unfounded claims against other candidates, attempting to organize a protest at a Cherokee County High School and featuring a “deportation bus” that broke down in a simultaneous display of foreshadowing and karma. The campaign was an embarrassment to Republicans and Georgians, with Williams rewarded with a last place primary finish.

Williams campaign is now part of history. His experience should be a warning to others.

It takes no specific professional training to become a political consultant. One only needs the skill to persuade a potential candidate to sign up. Some consultants have demonstrated the power to turn an everyday citizen into an elected official. Others demonstrate the power to separate otherwise successful people from their children’s future inheritance.

Williams himself, in retrospect, knows the tools to his own campaigns demise began with him. Pride and ego are powerful things. They can be, and are often are, used to convince a civic-minded individual that only he or she can fix a broken world. They often begin with lofty and high minded goals and standards. Once a check is written for seed money, compromises for viability begin.

Candidates are ultimately responsible, but mistakes are often an exercise of not knowing what they don’t know. Successful in other fields, many are completely unsophisticated in the business of politics.

Years ago I met a doctor who claimed he had been recruited into a Congressional race by the Republican members of the Congressional delegation. After talking to him (and discovering who he had hired as his consultant) I believe he believed that. He had not been, and at least one of the members went on record saying he had not.

It was an expensive lesson for him, and a profitable one for his consulting team. That candidate hasn’t been heard from in political circles since. Consultants are able to just move on to their next mark.

While one would think this process would eventually be exposed, the current environment makes it easier, not harder, to get inexperienced candidates to write checks for the opportunity to start elective office at the top. Our president, after all, entered the White House the first time he put his name on the ballot. So did Georgia’s junior senator, David Perdue.

“Experience” is no longer required. For too many candidates, however, wisdom comes from a bad experience, and that bad experience comes from pride, ego, and ultimately, bad judgment.

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