Mistakes happen on the campaign trail. Any politician in the national spotlight is bound to make one or two. The mark of a truly skilled politician, however, is one who can take their lumps, adapt, move on, and rebound from that error. Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis is not a skilled politician.
Davis’s much maligned “wheelchair ad,” in which she criticizes Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott’s position on tort reform while unsubtly drawing the audience’s attention to his disability, was a mistake. It drew criticism from both the right and the left, and a competent campaign would have pulled the ad and never spoke about it again if they could avoid it. Davis’s camp, instead, elevated the ad to the centerpiece of their campaign, has continued to air it statewide, and has engaged in a media blitz defending the ad.
She must have known she was going to take some heat for this strategy, but one presumed she would have prepared to mitigate the damage she would do to her campaign by defending the ad. Even in clearly friendly venues, though, Davis is still doing her own campaign more harm than good.
Take, for example, a segment on MSNBC on Tuesday in which Davis joined Andrea Mitchell and proceeded to demonstrate why she was never ready for prime time.
As a case study in what not to do while on the campaign trail, this interview is invaluable for future candidates who, unlike Davis, stand a snowball’s chance of being elected to statewide office. In the interest of edification, let’s dissect this interview.
Question: “Do you think that the graphic showing the empty wheelchair, focusing on his being wheelchair-bound, crossed a line?”
The correct answer here would have been to acknowledge the genuine concerns of those who believe the ad was callous, and then to launch into a series of prepared responses which justify the issues introduced in the spot. Davis refused to do this, rendering much of her canned response meaningless; the persuadable voters who might have voted for Davis but were turned off by this offensive ad were no longer listening the minute she refused to acknowledge her mistake.
“We felt it was a very fair and important ad,” she closed. Well… it sure is important.
Question: “Could you have gone after what you see as his hypocrisy by pointing out what he did in these rape case, what he did in these other cases, without this stark image of the empty wheelchair which seemed to be trying to point people towards his own supposed disability?”
Mitchell’s claim here that Abbott suffers from a “supposed” disability is getting a lot of attention, as it should, but this comment was just one example out of many which indicate just how friendly this venue was for Davis. Abbott’s disability is empirically evident, and no qualifier was necessary. Davis, if she were a smart candidate, could have taken this opportunity – the second, if you’re keeping count – to acknowledge the concerns of those who were genuinely offended by her ad. Instead, she said that everyone she has talked with thought the spot was fair and illuminating. Davis added that the ad has been a benefit to the people of Texas who are “now informed about who he is.”
The Texas gubernatorial hopeful then launched into another monologue, uninterrupted by her MSNBC interlocutor. “The important thing about this ad is that voters now see Greg Abbott for who he is,” Davis said, in what could arguably be viewed as a compounding gaffe that amplifies the damage done by this embarrassment of a political ad.
Question: “Do you see this as the central issue of your campaign, rather than, for instance, the shutting down of the clinics throughout he state which have made it so difficult for women throughout Texas to go to planned Parenthood and get medically necessary abortions?”
Okay, this might be the softest softball ever lobbed at a candidate in modern political history. Mitchell is practically begging Davis to get back on message. “Remember why you’re here in the first place?” The MSNBC host might as well have asked. “Your unsuccessful filibuster in support of late-term abortions? Why don’t you talk about that a bit and remind us why we supported you in the first place.”
Davis, as bad candidates are wont to do, simply ignored this layup and went on to talk about something entirely unrelated. The state senator decided to take this question about abortion, perfectly teed up by the helpful but discomfited Mitchell, and talk about education policy instead.
You could practically hear Mitchell’s head collapse into her hands in despair as she allowed Davis to drone on for three unbroken minutes.
It was a disaster of an interview, but it was also the perfect encapsulation of Davis’s disastrous candidacy. It is almost like she was not ready for a statewide race and was merely thrust into the spotlight by national Democrats enthralled by her celebrity, her pro-abortion politics, and her pink shoes… almost.
Davis is an example of the perils that await politicians who believe their own hype. The left will soon forget they ever placed so much faith in Davis, and move on to the next flavor of the month who they will convince themselves can finally lead them to the destiny Democrats believe is their demographic due. All aspiring politicians should, however, watch Davis’s implosion carefully and study her missteps. When even your political allies in the press cannot save you from yourself, perhaps it is time to find another line of work.
This post has been updated since its original publication.