WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – This is a golden era for political consultants – well, except for those Republicans still smarting from the November elections.
But Americans’ political tastes tend to run in cycles, so there is always a mix of hope and wariness when consultants at both ends of the ideological spectrum gather, as they did in Washington last week, to toast the profession’s top operatives.
Five months after Mitt Romney was thumped in the race for the White House – a loss that some placed at the feet of the small group of men and women who advised the Republican presidential challenger – the meeting of the American Association of Political Consultants threw together Democratic and Republican operatives who have dedicated their lives to undoing one another’s work.
Even those whose clients lost in November feel they have plenty to celebrate in a business that boasts of increasing sophistication as well as profits.
In a video message played at the conference’s Hall of Fame luncheon on Thursday, President Barack Obama paid wry respects to an industry that is populated by over-the-top personalities but seen by many Americans as fathering the bitter and costly ways of U.S. politics.
“There is nothing political consultants love more than celebrating their own genius,” Obama said.
The 2012 election left many of the Republican campaign professionals feeling less like geniuses after their candidate was outmaneuvered by a sitting president they had believed to be vulnerable.
“Elections make you look smarter than what you are, and more stupid,” said Ed Goeas, president of The Tarrance Group, a Republican strategy firm. “This was not an election for Republican consultants that made us look smarter.”
After the loss in November, complaints among the Republican activists directed at the party’s consultant class have been at full boil.
Appearing last month at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), a gathering for influential right-wing activists, former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin blasted party leaders such as Karl Rove, the former George W. Bush adviser, who she said have led the Republican Party astray.
“Now is the time to furlough the consultants, and tune out the pollsters, send the focus groups home and throw out the political scripts, because if we truly know what we believe, we don’t need professionals to tell us,” Palin said, calling for more staunchly conservative candidates.
(Never mind that Palin’s own political action committee doled out hundreds of thousands of dollars to consultants in 2012.)
CPAC also featured a panel with the indelicate title: “Should we shoot all the consultants now?”
Dale Emmons, a Democratic strategist from Kentucky and president of the consultants’ association, said Republicans should hold their fire.
“To those who want to shoot all the consultants, I don’t advise they do that,” Emmons said. “I know the abilities of the people I compete against are strong.”
Emmons said that perhaps no collection of advisers could have steered Romney around an incumbent president with a superior organization on the ground – one that was well positioned to take advantage of the nation’s growing minority vote, which went heavily for Obama.