Driving Miss Daisy to Nowhere

(A sequel to the great 80s film, starring Lenore Broughton as Miss Daisy, Tayt Brooks (International Man of Mystery) as Boolie, and John McClaughry, who showcased his bent for ethnic humor in his star turn as El Jefe General Saturinho Borhorquez, performing in blackface as longsuffering chauffeur Hoke Coburn.)

If Lenore Broughon has more smarts than spite, then she must surely be calling Tayt Brooks in for a meeting today — either a very long one, or a painfully short one. Because the Tayter just burned through something close to a million dollars of Broughton’s fortune with virtually no results to show for it. After that little escapade, Brooks ought to be fired on the spot, and their benighted Super PAC Vermonter(s) First should be shuttered immediately.

Look at the record. Vermonter First spent heavily on negative ads aimed at the Democrats and on behalf of Wendy Wilton, Republican candidate for Treasurer, and also spent lesser amounts for Republican candidates for State House and Senate.

The outcome: Few voters, if any, were moved. Wilton lost badly, the statewide Republicans lost very badly, and the balance of power in the Legislature shifted very slightly at most.

Does that sound like a wise investment to you?

Let’s apply free-market principles here: If you fail at a job, you deserve to get the boot. Hasta la vista, Tayter!

Okay, we’ve had our fun. Now, a look at the reasons for Vermonter First’s complete failure.

After the jump: Bad strategy, bad tactics, bad product, bad salesmanship.

Big dumb money. VF spent big, and spent poorly. It was a classic old-media campaign right out of the 90s (endless TV spots and mailers), plus a new-media effort that consisted of banner ads, which have been shown to be tremendously ineffective. It’s as if Tayt plotted his new-media strategy by consulting a six-year-old copy of “Internet Advertising For Dummies.”

One observer at last night’s Democratic gathering believes that VF could have gotten a lot more traction if it intelligently invested all those Broughton bucks. I can’t disagree. But fortunately for our side, Lenore handed her checkbook over to a clueless hack.

Over-the-top messaging. All the unsubtle negative stuff aimed at the Dems — the $5 billion secret, the government running your health care, all the alleged tax increases — convinced very few voters, if any. After two solid months of hammering, the Democratic margins of victory were unaffected.

I think we’ve reached a point where there’s so much overproduced, overwrought fearmongering in political advertising that it’s just filtered out by the vast majority of voters. When there’s a constant drumbeat of negative messaging that looks like it all came out of the same evil little shop, eventually it becomes background noise. And it doesn’t help if you just double down on the same negative stuff.

Empty messaging. VF’s entire pitch was “Restore Balance”: elect more Republicans because we ought to have more Republicans and fewer Democrats. No positive reasons, no policy proposals, just “There aren’t enough Republicans because Democrats have won too many elections, so please let us win a few?”

That’s not a message. That’s standing on the corner holding a tin cup.

Disrespect for the customer. First rule of sales: make your product appeal to the clientele. Instead, we got blast after blast of AAUGH TAXES OBAMACARE TAXES AAAUGH. I realize that a lot of conservatives live inside their little Fox/Rush/Wall Street Journal bubble, but hell, anyone who’s lived in Vermont for more than five minutes has got to know that most Vermonters don’t buy that shit. If Tayt Brooks was half as smart as he thinks he is, he would have tailored an approach that could draw in centrist voters.

A faulty product. There was a big problem with VF’s “star attraction,” Wendy Wilton. She was an ideologue with a long public record of partisanship pretending to be a technocrat, and trying to paint Beth Pearce, who had a long record of expertise in public finances, as an ideologue pretending to be a technocrat. It’s a lot harder to make an effective pitch when you’re trying to sell the exact opposite of reality.

Plus, Wilton proved incapable of playing the role. She mounted attack after attack, each more nonsensical than the last — the mark of an ideologue. She was also unable to defend her technocratic bona fides under Pearce’s sharp counterattacks. If your product is fundamentally defective, you’re gonna have a hard time selling it.

A house built on sand. (From the Biblical parable.) VF’s impressive pile of advertising had absolutely no foundation. The VTGOP’s complete absence of field organization, grass-roots activity, or get-out-the-vote capability meant that there was no one “closing the sale.” There was no follow-up. There were no personal contacts, door-knockers, phone callers, no neighbors talking to neighbors. VF itself, with its payroll of one (Tayt), couldn’t do that job no matter how many Broughton Bucks it flushed down the loo.

As was well documented by the Vermont Press Bureau’s Peter Hirschfeld, the Vermont Democrats had a huge unseen advantage this year: an unprecedented, statewide, bottom-up and top-down coordinated effort with strong coordination by paid staff and endless hours of work by volunteers. The Republicans had none of that. VF’s campaign was all about the bling and not about the grunt work that actually accomplishes things in politics. Even in our post-Citizens United world.

By way of conclusion. All in all, it was a misconceived effort whose only asset was Lenore Broughton’s checkbook. Lousy strategy and tactics, no support structure, a bad product to sell, bad salesmanship.

So if Broughton is smart, she’s showing Tayt Brooks the door. And Rob Roper and John McClaughry and Jeff Wennberg and Darcie Johnston and and and and. If she wants to actually buy influence with her mattresses full of cash, she’ll have to be more picky with her hiring process.

And we shouldn’t be lulled by the failure of Vermonter First. Another, smarter Super PAC might very well come along. (Bruce Lisman, anyone?) Money remains a potent weapon in politics, but only if you combine it with intelligence.  

14 thoughts on “Driving Miss Daisy to Nowhere

  1. I got a robocall from Vermonter First on Monday. If my phone rings and I don’t recognize the phone number I usually don’t answer, but this time I did.

    It was a VF robocall for one of our local State Senate candidates, and I didn’t really listen to the end. What I heard at the end, though, in the authority line, is that they mispronounced “St. Albans”.

    Indicative of their whole “buy a packaged campaign” approach.

    Oh, and by the way, Buddy Barnett spent a good chunk of the day outside of Montpelier City Hall. I had more than one person comment that he didn’t look anything like the picture on the postcard.

  2. Camera shy Lenore might consider dumping Tayt and reaching out to Corey Bliss.

    Bliss might be available on the cheap after his notable performance handling Linda McMahon’s classy CT. Senate race.

  3. that the last minute Decelles / VT First push to say no on the bond issue in Burlington didn’t stick. At least my fellow citizens are willing to do the real work required to get BTV back on track to fiscal health.

  4. On the Sec of State’s Election chart this morning, with 13 of 16 precincts reporting, Tayt Brooks leads Democratic incumbent Jacqui Hood for High Bailiff of Franklin County 52% to 47%.

    Gives him some kind of official standing, I suppose. And a consolation prize.


    Every society gets the kind of criminal it deserves. What is equally true is that every community gets the kind of law enforcement it insists on. ~ Robert F. Kennedy

  5. Glad all that capital was liberated from those deep pockets and shoveled back into the economy.

    I was struck by a comparison of Election spending and Halloween spending. Did we ever get a trick-or-treat cycle this time!

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