The buzz began spreading like wildfire early Tuesday evening as Jose Mallea‘s campaign for the Republican nomination to represent District 116 appeared to be on the ropes. Many Tallahassee insiders, well-aware that the bitterly fought special election might come down to the wire, were still expecting a Mallea victory, thanks to more cash and a high-profile endorsement that might have been enough to put him over the top.
Neither advantage paid off for Mallea. Daniel Perez cruised to an easy win, 55% to 45%.
Heading into Tuesday’s vote, Mallea enjoyed a $100,000 cash advantage, a substantial edge in a special election where only about 7.500 bothered to cast a vote. He also had the backing of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, a signal to donors that Mallea was the insider favorite.
Text messages between Tallahassee operatives started flying back and forth as soon as the race was called, with many suggesting that the Bush brand was dead, or at least trumped by Senator Marco Rubio, who pointedly didn’t endorse in the race, but issued a statement condemning his former aide (Mallea) for using a photo of the two of them together.
Mallea’s loss, despite Jeb’s endorsement, raises serious questions about the former governor’s brand, and about the value of endorsements in general. Do political endorsements even matter anymore? Is the Bush brand really dead?
Fear not, frightened political observer, The Capitolist will address these vexing question and calm your frazzled nerves.
Do Political Endorsements Still Have Value?
Yes. In fact, they still hold the same value they’ve held for years, which is to say, very little value at all. But certainly, some.
Think about it – when was the last time you listened to the opinion of a politician or celebrity and (this is the important part), actually gave that opinion so much credence you, as an adult, let it change your mind about who you might vote for, or what product you might buy?
Answer? Probably never.
But, but, but…
No. Just stop.
Endorsements had more value back when newspapers were America’s primary source of information, and every living room in the nation still tuned in for the six o’clock news. In those days, the scarcity of information, combined with a drought of dissenting views, guaranteed that politicians and celebrities were viewed as authority figures. Because of this, their word carried weight.
These days, endorsements aren’t so much a tool to sway voters, but to leverage other campaign assets. Smart campaigns don’t tout high-profile endorsements to the rank-and-file, they instead leverage endorsements to show strength early in the game, to entice donors, discourage the opponent’s support network, and to control an earned media cycle. Dumb campaigns think endorsements matter to the average voter, and waste resources boasting about them.
Which brings us to the real question.
Did Jeb’s endorsement hurt Mallea?
Or, phrased with a bit more punch: Is Jeb’s Brand Dead?
Dead? No. But we live in a world with news-on-demand, where people broadcast their laundry folding on Facebook LIVE, and where there are so many cable television channels competing for attention that the value of “authority” and “celebrity” are now worth about as much as a share of Blackberry stock. Which, coincidentally, is the perfect metaphor for Jeb’s own political demise.
We can all agree that just a few years back, Jeb’s stock price was trading significantly higher. But it took a nosedive long before the so-called “smart money” made him a $100 million presidential candidate.
It’s worth noting that in politics, at least lately, the rank-and-file have a better idea of political market value than the donor class.
That’s because, somewhere along the way, during eight years of Barack Obama, Republican voters grew so sick of the status quo that anyone who now carries even the slightest whiff of “establishment” might as well be campaigning in a karate dojo with a “kick me” sign taped to their back.
Despite all of this, I say Jeb still has some value. At least insofar as his endorsement is a signal to potential donors that his endorsed candidate isn’t a narcissistic nutjob, but probably a thoughtful, cerebral leader who will pursue reasonable, if not completely conservative, public policy (many of the Jeb Alumni will want to punch me in the mouth for that last sentence, but the inarguable fact is that the definition of conservatism – like it or not – still includes a hard line on immigration law).
Yes, I’m aware that many anti-Jebbies reject my claim that Jeb still offers any value. Jeb haters rightly point out that virtue-signaling to the donor class comes at the cost of turning off the rank-and-file voters who will view Jeb’s chosen candidate as a “please clap milquetoast” who’ll sell out as soon as he (or she) takes the oath of office.
I don’t believe that, though. People don’t vote against candidates as much as they vote for someone else. And chances are, if a candidate can get Jeb’s endorsement, he or she will be more than capable of parlaying that endorsement into campaign cash, which in turn can be used to reach the rank-and-file with positive messaging.
Jeb’s endorsees just have to make sure their campaign consultants understand that “positive messaging” doesn’t mean spending any subsequent fundraising windfall on mailers that actually tout Jeb’s endorsement.