Linda McMahon has made a serious error. She has informed us, in no certain terms, what her position on an issue might be.
Up until now, McMahon has resisted the urge to let us know anything about what she thinks about actual issues. For instance, when asked about entitlement reform last month, McMahon said ““Here’s my position: I really do think we’re going to have strengthen all of our entitlement programs, but that’s not really a discussion for the campaign trail.”
This is genius. Without any actual positions for opponents to pick apart or supporters to embrace, voters are free to envision McMahon as whatever candidate they want her to be. It’s like she’s aping Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, except that Obama really did have an astonishing array of dull, moderate positions that his supporters and opponents both proceeded to ignore entirely. McMahon’s campaign, on the other hand, has decided against having any opinions beyond “Richard Blumenthal is bad in many ways” and “Linda McMahon looks very inoffensive and reasonable, doesn’t she?”
It’s the perfect campaign for our times. “Let’s change Washington! Let’s go! How? We’re not going to discuss it!” McMahon resists easy description, and is not helping us out by labeling herself. Is she a liberal? A moderate? A Tea Partier? I have no idea. Do you? Does anyone? Does Linda herself know? In today’s politics, though, it doesn’t actually matter. Someone who has no label, but is open to passively accepting labels from other groups, can draw support from everywhere without specifically alienating anyone.
I actually suspect that McMahon is a Jodi Rell/Susan Collins-style moderate-to-liberal Republican, in the grand old tradition of the New England GOP. There’s very little to base this on, except that McMahon and her husband gave plenty of money to both Republicans and Democrats over the years, Rell seems to like her, and that she makes her living selling sex and violence on TV. But again, this is mostly a feeling. I don’t actually know. Nobody knows! It’s brilliant.
Of course, she had to go and ruin it. On September 30th, McMahon accepted the endorsement of a conservative business group. On the face of it, this was a perfect McMahon event. She claimed she didn’t seek the endorsement of the group, thereby taking no responsibility for any of its positions, but suggested while accepting that maybe, just maybe, we ought to “review” the minimum wage, and that she wasn’t opposed to not increasing or even reducing it.
This seems like a particularly spineless sort of position, especially in light of her campaign’s subsequent attempts to walk it back. Still, this being the modern campaign era, McMahon’s opponents pounced as soon as it became clear what McMahon thought about something. Blumenthal went on the attack, a commercial was in the can by the next day.
This strange situation says a lot about the state of politics in 2010. Any position at all taken by a candidate is fodder for opponents to get their base riled up, and the last thing McMahon wants is for Democrats and liberal-leaning independents to get interested enough in the race to actually show up to vote in November. She also needs to make sure irate conservatives, who seem to have all the energy this cycle, don’t desert her, while simultaneously dragging in enough moderates and independents to make up for the fact that Connecticut has relatively few tea party types. Any solid position at all is a threat to this delicate balance. McMahon has to tread very carefully to let voters think that she’s on their side, whatever side that might be.
So far, she’s done a remarkably good job. This “gaffe” is news precisely because it’s so rare, and it’s likely that it won’t happen again if McMahon can help it. She seems ready to shut the media out when she needs to, and anyone looking forward to the debates as another way to pin McMahon down should prepare to be bored by the usual vague generalities. She has spent obscene amounts of money drowning us in direct mail and putting her smiling face all over the Internet, it will take a lot to throw her off course now.
We will eventually find out what McMahon stands for. At some point, it will come out, as it always does. It will just happen long after the election is over, and she has to finally cast a yes or no vote. Unless, of course, the U.S. Senate decides to allow members to vote “maybe.”
Susan Bigelow is the former owner/author of Connecticut Local Politics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and cats.