THE CARLSON CHRONICLES: One candidate’s uphill battle

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There’s an old expression, “pride cometh before the fall.” Ancient Greek dramatists wrote great theatrics around this all too common human foible. In these tragedies, they wrote about hubris, the excessive pride many people in power possess though they falter at fair exercising of this power.

The Greeks had another expression: “Those the gods rise up they then lay low.” It doesn’t take a fortune teller looking into a crystal ball to see that Tommy Ahlquist, the doctor/developer running for Idaho governor and pledging to spend whatever it takes to win, is headed for a classic fall.

Whether it happens soon enough for him to recover remains to be seen. As the one with the deepest pockets, his recent announcement that he was launching an “attack website” is rather ironic. It’s an attempt to pre-empt his opponents by attacking their records before they start attacking his non-record.

It’s right out of the Republican advertising/media-spinning playbook that says first spend a lot of money giving your biographical story, preferably one which portrays you overcoming adversity and triumphing over obstacles placed in your way.

Ahlquist followed this to a tee during this past summer and fall, saturating the Boise television market with his “rags to riches” narrative. The game plan then in phase two calls for you to go negative with sometimes questionable charges that negatively define your opponent.

The goal is to put your opponent on the defensive and to keep him there, always responding to you.

Former President Lyndon Baines Johnson early in his political career was an aide to a Texas congressman. He once asked his boss why on the campaign trail he kept repeating a totally bogus negative charge. The congressman simply smiled and said, “Let him deny it.” In denying the charge, he would have to repeat the negative. Think, for example, about the infamous headline in which Richard Nixon stated, “I Am Not a Crook!” Johnson never forgot the lesson and it has become a staple of modern campaigning.

Phase three is when the candidate, about four to six weeks before the election, comes back with flight after flight of positive advertising emphasizing his personal characteristics and his positive policy agenda. The last flight just before the election usually has the candidate looking into the camera radiating sincerity and asking for your vote.

In modern times, Idahoans have never voted into the governorship someone who has no previous political experience and has not been vetted by an electorate. They recognize the governorship is no place for on-the-job training.

When asked about this at a small town hall meeting in St. Maries, Ahlquist was quick to dismiss it, citing the fact that 13 current state governors had been elected with no prior elective experience.

He then let slip that he had stopped by a Republican governors meeting in Chicago in September to introduce himself to his (in his mind) future colleagues.

He indicated in particular he wanted to discuss the looming crisis in the nation’s health care challenges. Some may admire the chutzpah of such a presumption. Others might see it as an act of sheer arrogance and an egregious taking of the Idaho voters for granted. You can decide which.

Calls to the campaign office and to his campaign manager asking whether Ahlquist had also flown to Austin, Texas, in November to attend the formal national meeting of the Republican Governors Association were not returned.

Last Sunday, the three major Republican candidates for governor (Lt. Governor Brad Little, First District Congressman Raul Labrador and Ahlquist) all submitted statements to the Coeur d’Alene Press about their candidacy and why they each believe they can lead the state into a better future.

Only one, though, used the royal or imperial “we” — as in “we announced,” “we know better,” “we know it’s time” and “we will get things done.” You want to guess which one?

Hubris, pure hubris and pure balderdash.

• • •

Chris Carlson is a longtime Idaho political writer who resides in Medimont.

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