Baillieu’s McCain Moment #vicvotes
In losing campaigns, there is often a “f*** it” moment and it rarely ends well. It’s the point where the candidate, often egged on by his spouse and close friends, finally ditches the political professionals that surround and censor him and decides to plow forth with an unscripted Plan B. “F*** it!” the desperate candidate declares in these moments, “Whatever you guys are telling me isn’t working, so I am doing it my way.” There is actually a kind of nobility in this: the very human desire to plan one’s own funeral.
The most infamous ‘hail mary’ maneuver of this kind in recent years was the decision by John McCain to suspend his campaign against Barack Obama in the last few days of 2008 Presidential election. McCain was attempting to demonstrate his serious intent by putting aside “mere politicking” in order to deal with the unfolding financial crisis. He was trying to look like a leader, but he ended up looking like a fool. One of many defining images of that campaign was of a sullen, clueless and silent McCain at a crisis meeting he himself had demanded, sitting pointlessly alongside President Bush and an animated, informed Obama. It was a slow-motion train-wreck of a strategy, and McCain was toast from that moment on. He was not likely to win anyway, but this last minute gambit probably lost him 3-5 states.
Ted Bailieu’s defamation threats over Labor’s TV ads is a classic McCain moment. For starters, it is hard to imagine that the decision by Baillieu to highlight accusations of inappropriate personal enrichment by threatening to sue over them was the product of considered political advice. (Although, comedian George Carlin used to say “Somewhere in the world is the world’s worst doctor. And what’s truly terrifying is that someone has an appointment with him tomorrow morning.” I guess the same goes for political advisers).
This decision is almost certainly the outcome of unbridled Baillieu rage, untethered to any kind of strategic thinking. It just doesn’t make any sense to engage in legal threats which will prompt far more free media discussion of the contents of the ads that they would ever have received on their own. Does he really want to spend the next three days defending accusations that he profited from hospital sales? It is basic stuff: issues management 101, lesson 1, minute 3.
Like McCain, it suggests an intemperate personality and will raise legitimate questions among undecided voters about Baillieu’s suitability for the job he seeks. Just as McCain flinched in panic and uncertainty over how to reverse his impending fate, Baillieu has allowed his fragile ego and heightened sense of umbrage to subsume his party’s best interests.