Austin at Large: Seek, Matt, and Ye Shall Find
In the battle for Texas' attention, Dowd and Mackowiak each amble toward the center
"The Democrats are really awful on messaging. Really awful." So says Matthew Dowd, who is again a Democrat, after having drifted from D to R to I and back like so many white politicos with centrist leanings in his adopted home state. He's also a messaging guy, having honed his comms chops in Austin working for Dems in the 1980s and 1990s, then most famously for George W. Bush as a strategist in the White House and at the helm of his 2004 reelection campaign against John Kerry, then as a pundit, most recently for ABC News. He is now, unexpectedly, running for lieutenant governor, seeking to become the first Democrat to hold the state's most powerful office since his old boss and mentor, the late Bob Bullock. Should he win, "I'm willing to be a consultant as lieutenant governor to any Democrat who wants to run for office any way I can." His key advice? "People want to understand your values, and then they want to understand issues and policies as a way to live those values. Democrats too often appeal to the head before they get to the heart."
Dowd was speaking, extemporaneously, to a decent enough crowd at an Eastside brewery this past weekend, including many well-informed and highly engaged Austin politicos. Among them was his might-could-be future colleague, state Sen. Sarah Eckhardt, who helped Dowd stick the landing on why he's running: The current man in the job is, you might say, really awful. "Dan Patrick is on a march to authoritarianism. And he is conscripting reasonable people in his own party out of fear," Eckhardt said of her Senate colleagues.
It can be difficult, when one gets rolling, to stop saying bad things about Dan Patrick, as the reservoir of his bad faith and demagoguery is so deep. "The idea of public service has been abandoned by Dan Patrick and other Republicans. They no longer care about the public or about service," Dowd said. "I know there's a lot of bad, but in my view, he's the worst, because he pushes all the others to be even worse than they normally are. Because he does not believe he will ever be held accountable in a general election."
The Voices in Texas' Head
Yet if Dan Patrick has one political skill, other than brute force, it's messaging, honed through his years on talk radio and his endless Fox News hits. The Lite Guv, far more than misanthropic and unfocused Greg Abbott or bumbling shyster Ken Paxton, is driving the Red Texas narrative, speaking MAGA before, and better than, President Apesh*t. Dowd is right that blue-team messaging has been less assured and nimble, which it always will be as long as Democrats are expected to tell the truth more often, about more things, to more diverse audiences, than the rump GOP base of MAGAmuffins demands of their side. Dowd's own remarks over the weekend – admittedly, those of a new candidate workshopping material before the media blitz to come – were more of a piece with what Dems typically say than what he might recommend to a client.
In fact, they echoed what a specific Dem might say – Mike Collier, the other decent and smart servant-leader white guy in the primary race, who came within a few points of taking Patrick out four years ago and has never really stopped running since. It would be off-brand for either Dowd or Collier to throw hard punches at the other, although Collier's team was quite ready to remind people that Dowd worked alongside not just Bush 43 but Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, et al. in the Aughts. Of course, now, all these people occupy the Reasonable Center of U.S. and Texas politics, where (as Dowd put it) "common sense, common decency, and the common good" still thrive. It's a popular destination for people like Dowd and Collier as well, and for the current president, whose Texas campaign Collier served last year as a senior adviser, and for the mainstream punditry such as Dowd has contributed to the Discourse in recent years. It's assumed to be the native soil from which spring the state and nation's most legitimate political aspirations. Only problem is, like a shrinking small Texas town, not many people live there anymore. Things have changed since the end of the 20th century.
Certainly Not Mackowiak
Y'all may have seen on the socials in recent days a mocked-up Chronicle "Best of Austin" award proclaiming Matt Mackowiak, the Travis GOP chair and Save Austin Now co-founder, as "#1 Loser." The award is, of course, #FakeNews: "Best of Austin" is the one week each year where we go out of our way to be nice. As for the substance, when I first spotted the graphic (in sticker form, on the Butler Trail boardwalk) back in September, Mackowiak hadn't lost, yet. Now? Not so much!
In his post-drubbing comments to the daily and elsewhere, Mackowiak has owned up, kinda, to the fact that the voters' rejection of SAN's Prop A police hiring binge is more than just "surprisingly emphatic" (although you may not have been surprised since you read the Chronicle) or even "a blow to his ambitions," but raises real questions about what happened to the $1.5 million or more he raised and spent in just six months. "We have to show we learned from this," Mackowiak told the Statesman's Ryan Autullo, but also that "our resolve has deepened" to hold City Hall accountable on "standard of living issues" and to "elect problem-solvers, reasonable people." He sounds a bit like Matthew Dowd.