In 1999, Matthew Dowd became a symbol of George W. Bush’s early success at positioning himself as a Republican with Democratic appeal.
A top strategist for the Texas Democrats who was disappointed by the Bill Clinton years, Mr. Dowd was impressed by the pledge of Mr. Bush, then governor of Texas, to bring a spirit of cooperation to Washington. He switched parties, joined Mr. Bush’s political brain trust and dedicated the next six years to getting him to the Oval Office and keeping him there. In 2004, he was appointed the president’s chief campaign strategist.
Looking back, Mr. Dowd now says his faith in Mr. Bush was misplaced.
In a wide-ranging interview here, Mr. Dowd called for a withdrawal from Iraq and expressed his disappointment in Mr. Bush’s leadership.
See, the thing is, there are a few things that either Mr. Dowd didn't address or the Times chose not to talk about.
Like the party switch. Mr. Dowd addressed that in an interview with, well, the Times
Mr. Dowd, who started his political life as a 13-year-old Nixon fan transfixed by the 1974 Watergate hearings (his parents were Republicans), said he became less enamored of the Republican Party at Newman College, a now-defunct private Catholic school in St. Louis. He credits Mr. Bush with converting him from conservative Democrat back to Republican when Mr. Dowd was working for Bob Bullock, the Democratic lieutenant governor of Texas who was close to Mr. Bush when he was governor.
although that's not the version he gave to Frontline. On Texas becoming a red state:
How much of the shift was driven by somebody like Karl Rove? You hear sort of Svengali-like intimations about strategies and policies and metrics, etc. And how much of it was other things?
Well, Karl is obviously a very, very, very bright strategist, has been a bright Republican strategist for 30 years. I knew Karl. Karl and I used to co-teach some classes together when I was a Democrat. We'd sort of do a Democratic/Republican thing. He and I got to know each other fairly well in that time, and he was a big reason why, besides my fondness for the governor, that I went over and became a Republican, basically a Bush Republican, in that time.
We have a young man on the make, a cradle Republican and big Nixon fan who jumped the aisle (I'm sure by complete coincidence) when he was networking at a college which voting patterns back then suggest was predominantly Democratic and then graduated into a predominantly Democratic political environment. Then it wasn't Democratic any more.
And neither was he..
Anyway, the Times isn't the first outlet Mr. Dowd has visited on his personal rep resurrection tour. He stopped by Texas Monthly earlier in the year
In this respect, I think the president suffered from his success in the 2002 midterms. As most of us know-and it's why I switched parties and went to work for him-he was best at what he did in Texas, which was working with Democrats like Bob Bullock and Pete Laney. The biggest hope and aspiration of those of us who were brought in as former Democrats was that we could make Washington into a place, like Texas, where people could sit down, have a conversation, socialize, not judge one another as good or evil, not question intentions, and actually get things done. But when all the levers of power in Washington became Republican, creating consensus seemed to become unnecessary at the White House. That hurt him. Now, near the end of his presidency, when many of us thought we would have helped solve the problem of polarization, we're in an even more polarized place.
You campers may recall the '02 elections. The '02 election featured a guy with a deferment smearing a guy who lost three limbs as a traitor. The '02 elections were butt-ugly elections. The '02 elections couldn't have been uglier if they'd've been planned that way.
But we'll never know, because they were planned that way.
Who would have done such a thing?
Matthew Dowd is a Senior Advisor at the RNC, a position he held during the 2002 election cycle.
Confused. Why would a nice bipartisan guy like Matthew Dowd do such a thing?
Well, as digby points out, it was the only way he could win an election for his candidate
And what came from that analysis was a graph that I obviously gave Karl, which showed that independents or persuadable voters in the last 20 years had gone from 22 percent of the electorate to 7 percent of the electorate in 2000. And so 93 percent of the electorate in 2000, and what we anticipated, 93 or 94 in 2004, just looking forward and forecasting, was going to be already decided either for us or against us. You obviously had to do fairly well among the 6 or 7 [percent], but you could lose the 6 or 7 percent and win the election, which was fairly revolutionary, because everybody up until that time had said, "Swing voters, swing voters, swing voters, swing voters, swing voters."
And so when that graph and that first strategic imperative began to drive how we would think about 2004, nobody had ever approached an election that I've looked at over the last 50 years, where base motivation was important as swing, which is how we approached it. We didn't say, "Base motivation is what we're going to do, and that's all we're doing." We said, "Both are important, but we shouldn't be putting 80 percent of our resources into persuasion and 20 percent into base motivation," which is basically what had been happening up until that point, because of -- look at this graph. Look at the history. Look what's happened in this country. And obviously that decision influenced everything that we did. It influenced how we targeted mail, how we targeted phones, how we targeted media, how we traveled, the travel that the president and the vice president did to certain areas, how we did organization, where we had staff. All of that was based off of that, and ultimately, thank goodness, it was the right decision.
and he wanted to do that because
It’s almost like you fall in love,” he said. “I was frustrated about Washington, the inability for people to get stuff done and bridge divides.
and where did love take our bipartisan friend?
Stanley Greenberg, the Democratic pollster who advised Bill Clinton when he won by appealing to swing voters 11 years ago, said: "Things have changed over the decade since 1992. The partisans are much more polarized. And turnout has actually gone up because the partisans have turned out in much greater numbers and in greater unity."
"I don't see a decline in independents," Mr. Greenberg added. "But what has happened is the partisans have dominated because their turnout is higher and they vote with greater and greater unity."
This shift signals that the 2004 election will have a much greater reliance on identifying supporters and getting them to the polls. That would tip the balance away from the emphasis on developing nuanced messages aimed at swing voters, who make up 10 percent to 20 percent of the electorate, pollsters said.
The change has the potential, several strategists said, of encouraging the presidential candidates to make the kind of unvarnished partisan appeals that they once tried to avoid out of concern of pushing away independent-minded voters. "If both sides are concerned about motivating their base, the agenda difference between the two is much more dramatic," Mr. Dowd said. "I actually think it could make for a much more interesting election."
Now Mr. Bush is hovering at around 30%, and of the two candidates Mr. Dowd assisted in the last cycle, the one who didn't get whupped is being attacked by Rush Limbaugh for being too much of a kittywhipped lefty (in fairness, the two had other things in common). The other candidate was that remarkably centrist fellow Dick DeVos. This Dick DeVos. Whose campaign the instinctively bipartisan Mr. Dowd worked for on a volunteer basis.
OK, so it's not ideology or conscience, but it might not be completely about the money either. The man's son is being sent to Iraq soon. The thought of someone he gives a shit about dying (and three thousand plus dead soldiers haven't hit that button yet) might give anyone pause.
Or, you know, maybe it's just product positioning. He knows a fair amount about that.
Pretty good at it, too.
He, on the other hand, thinks he's changed quite a bit.
Over Mexican food at a restaurant that was only feet from the 2000 campaign headquarters, and later at his office just up the street, Mr. Dowd recounted his political and personal journey. “It’s amazing,” he said. “In five years, I’ve only traveled 300 feet, but it feels like I’ve gone around the world, where my head is.”
I, on the other hand, suspect it's still wedged firmly pretty much where it was all along.
I'm a bit of a cynic.
I'm afraid I'm just not in this guy's league.