Democrats fawn over John Brummett, could care less about Conner Eldridge, and still groan at the mention of Tom Cotton. Those are my takeaways after participating in the Talk Business & Politics panel for the Political Animals club last week, moderated by Roby Brock.
The Central Arkansas club – a fixture in state politics and led by Rex Nelson – meets monthly to hear speakers, pundits and politicians. It’s likely the only gathering in Arkansas where a majority of the attendees still call themselves Democrats, so I consider it a healthy sampling of the current liberal mood.
That mood, it’s safe to say, is discontented.
When next year’s race for the United States Senate was raised, progressive panelist Jessica DeLoach Sabin talked less about announced candidate Conner Eldridge and more about why Democrats should nominate candidates who act like Democrats. Maybe it wasn’t a direct criticism of Mr. Eldridge, but it seemed like most agreed. There were many heads nodding while she made her points.
I imagine most liberals, after enduring Republican landslides and dominance, would rather just nominate a leader who at least articulates what they believe, not one who panders to a Republican base and gives complicated, evasive answers on every major issue. It’s the Conner Eldridge way versus the Vic Snyder way. Neither can win in 2016, so why not just do what feels good and maybe even provide a contrast for future years?
Instead, the real liberals will be stuck cheering their conservative-acting nominee to certain defeat. John Brummett, a competent liberal spokesman who also happens to be a political columnist, seemed inclined to agree with DeLoach Sabin. His vote prediction for Mr. Eldridge was around 42%.
On presidential politics, many seemed to almost relish the Donald Trump surge. They want to believe that Trump-mania shows how shallow the Republican voter really is, and that maybe Hillary Clinton has a chance. I assured them it only shows how shallow American celebrity culture is, and that this time next year Republicans will have a nominee who won’t be Trump. I predicted Rubio or Bush and that either would defeat Hillary. That created some audible shifting in seats.
But the groans came when Mr. Brummett brought up a website created by Representative Charlie Collins. It’s called CallingCaptainCotton.com, and it encourages Senator Cotton to make a run for the White House. Upon the mention, what seemed like dozens of audible moans came out from the crowd, so loudly that Rep. Collins might have heard them from his home in Fayetteville.
A majority of this crowd was, after all, the same ones who this time last year still believed in Senator Mark Pryor’s supposedly superior yet totally secretive voter turnout machine. As political director for the Cotton campaign, I heard all of the hopeful and unrealistic theories. Now, to them, the reality of Sen. Cotton is unbearable. The thought of President Cotton is nearly coma inducing.
I told them not to worry, that I suspected this wasn’t Tom’s year to run. That didn’t seem like much consolation, so I instead bragged on Rep. Collins and said that I trusted his judgment on almost every issue, including his choice for Commander-in-Chief. I was later accused of sucking up, but it’s not sucking up if you mean it, which I do. Charlie Collins is as valuable to the Arkansas legislature as Tom Cotton is to the United States Senate. It’s not surprising that one sees value in the other.
Both have a reputation for hard work and passionate beliefs. Voters, it seems, value that above most things. They want to know a person is sincere. If you can fake that, you can accomplish almost anything.
That’s what makes young Conner Eldridge’s campaign so difficult. He might have a good personality and millions of dollars in family money, but many seem skeptical about him having much else. Ambition and money aren’t really enough. Nominees for major offices actually need to believe in something.
Opponents called Tom Cotton a young man in a hurry, but at least he slowed down enough to volunteer for infantry deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he’s clearly conservative believing. Conner Eldridge’s biography is noticeably thinner, and his Obama-denying contortions have already dispirited Democrats. It’s a fakeness that most see through and all find uninspiring.
If I were a Democrat, I’d want to nominate a liberal, maybe even one who was at Political Animals. There were plenty to choose from. They should nominate someone who makes them fawn, not one they could care less about. Nominate someone who makes the Republicans groan. The parties are supposed to stand for different things, after all.
Democrats should have a nominee for U.S. Senate who makes the choices clear, not one who tries to conceal them.
That’s what real political animals want to see.