By Alan W. Cohen
Three days after Josh Hawley announced his bid for the Republican nomination for senator to oppose Claire McCaskill in the Trumpland known as Missouri, mainstream news organizations were already measuring his chances for victory in the general election. For more than a month after Austin Peterson announced his bid, those same news organizations claimed no one had emerged on the Republican side to challenge McCaskill. It was if he were never there, that he did not exist. And that is exactly where Mitch McConnell and the mainstream media want him.
Yet, Judge Roy Moore’s victory in Alabama gives Peterson hope. McConnell and his cohorts in the Establishment outspent Moore in their primary by more than ten to one, attempting to whitewash him as anti-Trump, while at the same time claiming their establishment clone, Luther Strange, was a Trump supporter. They didn’t fool the voters, and Moore won handily thanks to help of Mark Levin and his fellow conservatives. Alabama is much like Missouri in one respect. Donald Trump won the state by double digits. And, in its Republican primary, Alabamans continued a two-year wave of anti-establishment fervor in voting against Strange as much as they voted in favor of Moore. Of course, Moore, a highly controversial figure in his willingness to take a stand in federal government overreach, was a well-known public figure.
That is Austin Peterson’s first big problem. Name recognition. Yet, being known is not enough. It is what he is known for. Peterson not only needs to be viewed as a valid candidate, but as the anti-establishment candidate. Historically, Peterson is facing the same dilemma as the Founding Fathers. He is up against steep odds, facing a vastly organized and heavily financed machine bell bent on keeping him irrelevant.. Heck, a St. Louis County millionaire kingmaker selected Hawley as the establishment candidate in the public square at least a month before Hawley even formed a committee.
Peterson must draw on true Conservatives like Mark Levin, Sean Hannity and especially Steve Bannon. Yet, they have limited resources and are not going to waste their time and money on someone who cannot win. He must have develop a winning strategy. So here is my proposed gameplan for Austin Peterson:
- Go on the offensive against Hawley immediately. Unlike Strange, who was already a Senator, Hawley is not that well known himself, having won only one statewide election. Poll the Republican electorate and get a pulse on how the electorate feels about Hawley. I am willing to be that there is no opinion at all. Thus, the time will be ripe to paste him with the reputation of being the insider. Two years ago, former Democrat pollster Pat Caddell saw the anger of the electorate, and predicted Trump’s victory on Fox News on a weekly Sunday evening show on a regular basis. McConnell and the establishment still don’t get it. They are beholden to their donors and disdain their voters. Bob Corker spoke for all of them. They hate Donald Trump. When Josh Hawley took up the mantle of the establishment candidate, he could very well have doomed his candidacy. It is up to Peterson to attack this weakness, and, in doing so, create his own name recognition as the candidate willing to slay the lion.
- Be the Conservative. Peterson needs to paint himself as a combination of Missouri’s favorite Senators, Mike Lee, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz. Paul is the smart one, the tactician that was the architect of President Trump’s new Obamacare cutbacks. Peterson is a brilliant scholar, but being brilliant is not enough. Missouri Republicans must view him as the savior, a Swamp drainer, a person they can truly trust to keep their promises. Missourians are very aware of pretenders like Jeff Flake, Ben Sasse and Bob Corker. Be Mike Lee. Be Ted Cruz. Be Rand Paul.
- Avoid the Libertarian Label. Even though Conservatives like Sean Hannity proclaim themselves as Libertarians, voters see it as a negative when it comes to politics. Two years ago, I attended the Libertarian Party statewide event in Columbia expecting to find hundreds of fellow thinkers, only to find a dozen attendees, most focusing on the legalization of marijuana. That’s how Missourians see the Libertarian party. Peterson has already begun the process in establishing himself as anti-abortion. But that is not enough. Missourians are common sense Conservatives who care most about their pocketbook and their personal freedom.
- Be a Common Man. Missourians feel much like those Jews in Anatevka in Fiddler on the Roof. When asked about a prayer for the Tsar, the rabbi thought and said: “God bless and keep the Tsar …. far away from us!” So, for Peterson, my advice is keep it simple. You are anti-government, especially anti-federal government. Be that person, not the esoteric thinker who wrote policy papers. We all know that you would best Josh Hawley in an IQ test. But Hawley is a great pretender, a man who was able to reach enough voters to obtain the Republican nomination for Attorney General in the last election. And, again while few people even know Josh Hawley, fewer know you. Thus, while Hawley has already donned the label of the establishment, you have time to go out among the people and be that common man. Sean Hannity likes to say that the last election was about the forgotten man. Be the savior. Listen to farmers and ranchers as well as city folk. Talk the talk. Listen and learn.
- Avoid Roy Blunt. Talk about your insiders. I met Roy Blunt’s father more than 35 years ago when I was a journalism student at Mizzou and he was campaigning in a highly Democrat district that was my beat. I followed his career closely, and then of his son. Greene County Republicans protect that name regardless of insider status. No doubt that he will endorse Josh Hawley and support his nomination. But Roy Blunt is not that popular outside of Greene County, and his coattails are highly suspect. Nevertheless, crossing him is a very bad idea. So the best choice is to ignore his existence.
- Take Advantage of the McCaskill plan. In 2006, Claire McCaskill rode the wave of Obama supporters to a narrow victory. In 2012, she was supposed to be done, a supporter of Obama, a left-wing extremist in a right leaning state. The Republican field was full of possible contenders and was Nixonest in her thinking, taking out all but the one that she wanted to run against, Todd Akin, an uncouth redneck who was susceptible to the attacks from her friends in the left-wing media. His comments on abortion and rape ended his bid, and he became the butt of jokes nationwide. As soon as the donors chose Hawley, she went on the offensive against him. She will ignore you because she thinks, as the establishment does, that you have no chance. And there is little to gain by attacking her directly. Just focus on Congress and the establishment and how they don’t care about the common man, how Hawley will only be another crony. Missourian’s know that McCaskill and how her clan got rich on the taxpayer’s dime, how she is corrupt. Save that for the general.
So good luck Austin Peterson. I look forward to meeting you at the Student’s for Liberty conference on October 14.
Alan W. Cohen is a retired attorney and author. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism and the Washington University (St. Louis) School of Law. His books include (2017) Private Vows: The Case for Ending State Regulation of Marriage and Divorce and (2015) America Solved: A New Family for the 21st Century.