SHIRLEY: Blaming the pollster

– – Monday, November 24, 2014

7daafc4463a17d2b640f6a7067008405_c56-0-4744-2733_s561x327The 2014 elections are over and the 2016 elections have begun. While newly elected officials are readying themselves by closing campaign offices, making moving plans, debating whether to take the spouse and the kids to Washington, their consultants have jetted off to toast their successes or drown their sorrows.

Political operatives in Washington, since the time of the Whiskey Rebellion, only need the barest of reasons to drink. They also need the barest of reasons to dump on each other. When they lose, it’s like watching a riot in a leper colony and when they win, it’s like the last decadent days of the French Monarchy, as they do battle over tribute and court favors.

They also engage in an inordinate amount of gossip and dropping dimes, especially inside their own political party, against their own species. It’s said in Washington you know your friends because they’re the ones who stab you in the chest.

Washington political operatives make eating one’s young look like a respectable society dinner party. To understand the world of campaign consultants, think of rabid animals caged up in close quarters, each armed with battery acid, a switch blade and an American Express card.

Such is the recent experience of conservative pollsters, John and Jim McLaughlin. They are grinning right now from ear to ear, having been vindicated over the errant polling by many of their colleagues and the fact that so many of their clients won on November 4th, but a couple of months ago they were badly smarting, mostly thanks to attacks launched by those same colleagues.

John and Jim McLaughlin–longtime conservatives, longtime Reaganites, have been in business for a long time because they are very good at what they do. Also, unlike other many GOP operatives, they happen to be ethical and honest men. They were unfairly tarred when their client, Eric Cantor was unexpectedly defeated in a primary earlier this year by Tea Party favorite, David Bratt.

Some insiders of the GOP did what they do best when Cantor lost; they courageously went on background with reporters and viciously blamed the McLaughlins. The insider gossip mongers–it seems an insult to the word to call them journalists–were only too happy to help pin the blame not on the candidate, but on a couple of hapless scapegoats.

As it turns out, the McLaughlins’ polling was simply anomalous (as was much of the 2014 polling), but nowhere near the egregious misreadings of the electorate back in 2012. How telling that this past election had all the pollsters on both sides showing the outcome much closer than it turned out.

Character speaks volumes. John and Mary McLaughlin have been happily married for 35 years, have five children and two grandchildren. Jim has been married nearly as long. They are utterly devoted in their faith, active in their communities, and give generously to the poor. They have reputations for honesty, fairness and integrity, qualities in short supply within today’s political class. Even after all the years, they remain by choice, outsiders to a system increasing in love with itself.

After the election Politico identified the ten worst predictions of 2014 and the McLaughlins weren’t even on the list. The McLaughlins successfully projected their client Nathan Deal would avoid a runoff in Georgia when everybody else said he couldn’t possibly get fifty percent of the vote on election day.

Typically, they contributed to many conservative victories this year–as did other Republican pollsters–but they win more often than most and with more grace and less profile. Northern Virginia’s Barbara Comstock was a client and she won by a bigger margin than others assumed; their clients won AG races, House races and Senate races and in each case attributed much of their success to the accuray of their polls and the advice that came with them.

They are stand up guys in an era when stand up guys are becoming a vanishing breed.

Craig Shirley is a Reagan biographer, a New York Times bestselling author and the chairman of Shirley & Banister.