Muchnick on Brian Lockhart on ‘Teflon Linda’ McMahon

The thoughtful Brian Lockhart of Hearst reflects on the Linda McMahon surge in the polls – boomlet or historic boom? – in a blog headlined “Teflon Linda,” http://blog.ctnews.com/politicalcapitol/2010/09/28/teflon-linda/.

There is little to dispute about Lockhart’s review of the campaign to date. He gets especially high marks for listing the bullets of McMahon’s negatives in more or less the right order. I’m not sure living in a gated community and having a yacht called Sexy Bitch belongs at the top of the list – but the point is that the list as a whole involves mostly real McMahon scandals that have gotten scant play or, in the copout line, “failed to gain traction.”

However, Lockhart’s quotes at the end from analyst Ben Davol miss the mark, in my view.

Davol is correct in observing that the McMahon campaign anticipated anti-World Wrestling Entertainment sentiment and easily turned it to Linda’s populist advantage. But Davol is wrong is lumping every negative together under the category of attacks on a popular entertainment that were destined to backfire.

I see the flaw in the tactics of McMahon’s opponents – first Rob Simmons in the Republican primary and now Richard Blumenthal in the general election – a little differently. I think they played into the trap of defining these controversies in terms of values: raunchiness or degradation of women or the retarded. As soon as they targeted the content of the programming rather than the management practices and borderline-criminal activities of this mega-profitable corporation, they lost.

Since there’s no scientific control on any of this, I can’t prove that focusing from the get-go on death, occupational health and safety, independent contractor abuse, and obstruction or manipulation of government investigations would have been more successful. Maybe, at bottom, people truly don’t care about the unbelievable death toll of pro wrestlers, or they even think these things are funny, the same as a YouTube clip of a kick in the nuts. The fact that high-paid consultants for McMahon’s opponents, who had the most to gain from making the right call on this, went with the kitchen-sink approach to Linda negatives may suggest that I’m the one who’s wrong.

But I don’t think so. Vice plays counterintuitively in politics, but it plays. Let’s do the analogy game. If Linda McMahon ran a prostitution ring, the public (those who patronize prostitutes or who simply accept it as a fact of life) might not be drawn to stories of women who were beaten by pimps or otherwise abused and devalued. But scrutiny of how this sausage of popular entertainment got made in the sausage factory would not lead to a backlash of sympathy for the owner; it would still lead to a diminished inclination to vote for her.

Anyway, whether Davol is right or I am, we’re surely about to see some kind of reboot of Blumenthal strategy in the wake of poll numbers. It will be interesting to see what form that takes.

Irv Muchnick

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