Matt Dunne has achieved the impossible: he’s made me feel sympathy for Peter Galbraith.
The latter, whom I once dubbed “The Most Hated Man in the Senate” for his narcissistic rampages through the fields of parliamentary procedure, is the author of this post’s headline. Galbraith was speaking of Dunne, who continued a series of stunning, unforced errors that has almost certainly landed his once-promising political career in the dustbin of history.
And to think that one week ago none of this had happened, and I was actively pondering which Democrat to vote for in the primary. Seriously, I didn’t vote early because I couldn’t make up my mind.
The latest in Dunne’s cavalcade of blunders concerned his late decision to loan his own campaign some $95,000, as he desperately tried to pull his candidacy out of a self-inflicted tailspin.
The problem, as Seven Days‘ Paul Heintz first reported, is that Dunne had stated throughout his campaign, as a matter of high principle, that he would not use his own money to fill his campaign coffers. The statement is still on his campaign website:
I will personally be adhering to the contribution limits set for an individual Vermonter, and will not be self funding the campaign above those limits.
And we’re calling on all the other candidates in the race to do the same and abstain from self-funding their campaigns.
The bold print is Dunne’s.
What’s worse, he took to the airwaves in a VPR debate and attacked Galbraith for self-funding his campaign. Which prompted Galbraith to chuckle and tell Heintz “Can you believe that fucker?”
No, I can’t. I mean, when Dunne accused Galbraith on Thursday, he had already “loaned” his campaign $95,000. And he had to know that this fact would emerge.
Dunne’s ill-considered attack on Galbraith came one day after an equally ill-considered news conference in which his campaign manager Nick Charyk blamed just about everybody in the state EXCEPT his candidate or himself. Then, and in a subsequent press release, Charyk has blamed the media (more on that in a moment) and “the establishment” for the mess that Dunne put himself in. He tried to promote Dunne as such a dangerous figure that “the establishment” was conspiring to defeat him.
Which is laughable. At his core, Dunne is a moderately liberal technocrat who might actually make a pretty good governor. This whole presentation of Dunne as the second coming of Bernie Sanders has never been a good fit. It’s even more absurd to present him as a revolutionary threat to the established order.
To reiterate, last Friday’s press release on renewable siting policy was carefully crafted to make it appear that Dunne was taking the side of the opposition — those who want to create new barriers to siting renewable energy facilities. The first wave of blowback came immediately, not just from the Democratic “establishment”, but even more so from the environmental community, which saw the release as a betrayal.
Dunne then tried to explain that his position hadn’t really changed much — which infuriated opponents of ridgeline wind, the very folks he’d hoped to bring on board with the Friday statement. Hence, he wound up with all sides mad at him. And it was his own damn fault.
As I’ve said before, Dunne (and presumably Charyk) tried to be too clever by half, and they got burned big-time.
Now, about Charyk’s attempt to blame the media. Unfortunately for him, it fails the calendar test. Let’s look back at the sequence of events.
Dunne’s press release was issued on Friday afternoon. Only one media outlet — the rabidly establishmentarian Seven Days — ran a story on Friday. I chimed in with the first of a series of blogposts on Friday evening. (I guess that makes me part of the Shumlin/Minter/Blittersdorf cabal. I’m honored to be nominated, but I’m still waiting for my payoff.)
That was about it until Monday, when the Vermont Press Bureau and VTDigger posted stories.
By the time most of the media ran their reports, the damage had already been done. Environmental groups, along with climate change advocate extraordinaire Bill McKibben, had formed their opinions. McKibben had already withdrawn his earlier endorsement of Dunne, and the enviros were set to do the same. I also began hearing almost immediately from Democrats who were furious with Dunne.
The anger was not based on the slanted reporting of Seven Days or Yours Truly, but on their reading of Dunne’s press release.
Matt Dunne did this to himself. He seemed to realize this, at least partly; at his Wednesday presser, he let Charyk take the lead in attacking everyone else, while he expressed some regret for the original statement that triggered the avalanche.
It’s hard not to see the events of the past six days as an unintentional political suicide — a remarkable series of mistakes at the most crucial stage of the primary campaign.
To think that the conventional wisdom had Dunne as the smartest political mind in the race. I certainly thought he was. And I strongly considered backing him because I thought he’d be the strongest Democratic candidate for the general election.
As it turns out, he’s not even the strongest Democrat in the primary campaign. I hope Google is keeping his seat warm; he’s gonna need a job on August 10.
Bonus Irony Points: the Dunne campaign had planned to turn away from renewable energy on Wednesday and focus on a different issue: restoring trust in government.
That’s rich, and reveals a dangerous degree of self-unawareness. Dunne had just spent five days exploding everyone’s trust in him, and then he was going to come out and explain how he would restore trust.
Stranger than fiction, I tell you.