Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Unspeakably Poor Timing of Ron Johnson's Re-election "Announcement"

So, Ron Johnson's been a member of the US Senate for a little over two years. That means he's got just under four year to go in his term. Four years is a long time. So why is Johnson telegraphing his intent to run for re-election so soon?
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) has dispelled speculation that he would only serve one term by announcing to GOP allies that he will run for reelection in 2016, according to sources. 
Johnson met with a small group of Republican strategists at the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) Thursday to discuss his future. 
“He had a meeting with some of the heavy hitters from the downtown GOP community at the NRSC. Sen. Johnson told them he would run again,” said a GOP source familiar with the meeting.
The reporter from The Hill got two people who attended the meeting to speak on the record about it -- which means this is less of a scoop and more of an intentional leak. Also, it's hardly a "kitchen cabinet" meeting when you meet with "heavy hitters" from the NRSC in downtown Washington; unless, of course, Cuisinart is producing a line of political consultants these days.

But back to the timing of this curious piece of Capitol scuttlebutt: Why, oh, why would a freshman Senator, just a few weeks beyond his first session in office announce his intentions to run for re-election so far from his appointed performance revue with Wisconsin voters? The subtext of the rest of the article seems to suggest Johnson's desperate to fend off being marginalized on account of his own irrelevance:

Unlike most of his Senate colleagues, Johnson came to the upper chamber without any prior experience holding elected office. Before running for office, he spent 31 years building a plastics manufacturing business. 
His direct approach to policy problems sometimes seems to clash with the culture of the Senate, where the culture of doing business is often circuitous. 
For this reason, some Republican lobbyists thought he might retire after one term.
“There was a lot of talk that he wasn’t going to run again, that he would walk off into the sunset,” said one GOP source.

Whomever dropped that quote did so with tongue planted firmly in cheek. That lobbyist wasn't passing along idle K Street gossip, he was using the media as a conduit to make a recommendation to Senator Johnson: lobbyists aren't speculating that he'll ride off into the sunset, they're hoping he'll do so. That's a bad sign, and by making his intentions to run again so early, Johnson seems to be proving the lobbyists point.

Every incumbent politician is constantly running for re-election every day that he or she is in office. That's part of the job, but part of the trick to doing that job well is at least keeping up the appearance that they really aren't running for re-election at all, that they are making the tough decisions based on conviction and informed opinion and extensive research and not, you know, politics. Now that Johnson has made his intention to run for re-election clear so early it will be next to impossible to view any of the decisions he makes for the remainder of his term in office as anything other than part of a re-election strategy.

Johnson keeps on insisting that he wants to have a genuine policy discussion about the issues, but he's made that conversation all but impossible now because when given the choice between horse race politics and "serious" policy discussion voters and the media will always gravitate toward the ponies. This little stunt isn't going to convince his colleagues that he's going to be around for the long haul; in fact, it'll likely make him even less relevant because it's just lousy politics. (Besides, Johnson not very good at serious policy discussions either, as anyone who saw his, er, "conversation" with Paul Krugman this morning discovered.)

Johnson clearly is not enjoying his time in Washington. His approval numbers haven't budged from the mid-30s almost since the day he took office. (Tammy Bladwin's figures are almost 10 points higher.) The GOP bench in Wisconsin is rather deep, so don't be surprised if he has a change of heart in the next four years.


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