Dan Maes didn’t exactly “win” the Republican primary for governor; he took advantage of scandal-plagued Scott McInnis losing it. But Maes did earn the support of many Tea Party activists through hard work and amendable rhetoric. He is now losing much of that support. Now, even if Tom Tancredo does not split the conservative vote, Maes has little chance of pulling off a victory. So what are the lessons?
First, being an “outsider” is not enough. Indeed, merely lacking political experience is no qualification whatsoever. The problem with McInnis was never that he was an “insider” (a former congressman), but that he held no stable or well-articulated positions, he seemed to routinely tell people what he thought they wanted to hear, and he made some unethical decisions in his work on the water papers. While it is true that “power tends to corrupt,” it is also true that any given individual in power need not grow corrupt. Moreover, the powerless also can suffer corruption. (Indeed, some people remain “outsiders” simply because they are corrupt.)
Second, what matters most is ideas, not status. I’ll pick a credible candidate with good ideas every time, regardless of that candidate’s level of political experience. The critical issue is simply this: does a candidate understand and support individual rights? Does a candidate endorse freedom of speech and religion and liberty in economics? Frankly, Tea Partiers were so worried about Maes’s “outsider” status that they neglected to check whether his rhetoric reflected deep principles or a calculated effort to win.
Third, credentials do matter. Please notice the qualifier “credible” in the paragraph above. No, political experience is not necessary to successfully hold political office. However, a candidate — especially one for so high an office — needs an established and credible resume. Maes lacks that. Not only has Maes’s experience in business and as a police officer provoked some tough questions, but Maes has, so far as I can tell, devoted very little of his life to the study of political philosophy.
As they tend to do, Republicans probably have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in glorious fashion. Democrats everywhere are on the ropes, and Governor Ritter has put in a lackluster performance. John Hickenlooper, while a nice guy and a credible candidate, remains the mayor of Denver. Practically any high-profile Republican could have beaten Hickenlooper: Shawn Mitchell, Hank Brown, Mark Hillman. If the race continues on its present course, Maes and Tancredo will split the conservative vote and Hickenlooper will skate to an easy victory.
Of course, this race has already taken more odd turns than anyone could have predicted. So perhaps it will take some more.