Managing Hobbs' political brand
Is she a Democratic partisan brawler? Or the responsible adult trying to keep state government afloat?
Gov. Katie Hobbs and her advisors need to think more carefully and prudently about her political brand and persona.
Is she Katie Hobbs the Democratic partisan brawler, giving it to the Republicans in the legislature as good as she gets? Or is she Katie Hobbs, the responsible adult in state government attempting to keep things together and move forward despite the chaos and obstacles legislative Republicans are creating and putting in her way?
My guess is that the latter better serves her interests and those of the state.
Republicans are in the process of massively discrediting themselves, nationally and particularly here in Arizona, to all but the roughly 15% of voters who are true MAGA believers. By playing the political brawler and joining the scrum, Hobbs becomes part of the dysfunction and muddies, rather than clarifies, where the responsibility lies.
Let’s step through some recent developments by way of illustration.
The revelation that AG investigators had thoroughly examined all the major claims of misconduct in the 2020 presidential election and found them without merit, and that Mark Brnovich didn’t release their findings, was a double blow to GOP credibility. A Republican official suppressed the truth. And the truth was that what Republicans were claiming about the 2020 election had no basis in reality.
The unquestionably appropriate and useful thing for Hobbs to have done would have been to issue a press release congratulating and expressing appreciation to her fellow Democrat, new AG Kris Mayes, for bringing the truth about the integrity of the 2020 election to light. Instead, she attacked Brnovich, who is as dead of a political horse as there can possibly be.
And she attacked him in a highly questionable manner. Her general counsel, Bo Dul, sent a letter to the state bar suggesting that it should look into Brnovich.
This wasn’t really a bar complaint. The ethical rules for lawyers are prescriptive and detailed. Dul’s letter cited no specific ethical rule which she claimed that Brnovich broke. Instead, she vaguely alluded to non-specific “likely unethical conduct.” Frankly, it was not the sort of letter one lawyer should send to the bar about another lawyer.
Clearly this was a political statement, not a true appeal to the bar, intended to give Brnovich a punch in the mouth, even though he was already out for the count. And it gave Brnovich something to say, when he didn’t really have anything to say. He counterattacked Hobbs.
Legislative Republicans recently had a meltdown in their never-ending quest to capture an election malfeasance pixie. A forum was given at a legislative hearing for a woman to spout off alleging a wild conspiracy involving scores of elected officials and judges. It’s hard to imagine anything more discrediting to GOP control of the legislature, and the internal finger-pointing was rather intense.
Hobbs called a press conference to denounce the irresponsibility of giving a forum for the ventilation of such vile and groundless accusations. The denouncement was warranted. And since Hobbs was among the elected officials smeared, she had a personal reason to do the denouncing. However, tactically, this was a story that would have done more good, for her and for the state, if she had stayed out of it. It detracted from, rather than highlighted, how far off the rails the MAGA Republicans have gone.
Earlier, Hobbs’ political operation sent out a press release saying that it was raising big bucks to give Democrats the legislative majority in the next election. That Hobbs would prefer a legislature controlled by Democrats is hardly a revelation. Nor that she will raise big bucks to attempt to bring it about. This is all politics as usual. It is a competitive enterprise.
However, making a big, public deal about it less than two months into the job was a calculated effort to foster an image of Hobbs as a Democratic partisan brawler taking it to the Republicans.
Now, Republicans in the legislature are clearly unified behind a strategy of politically wounding and incapacitating Hobbs to the maximum extent possible. And to passing as much base-pleasing legislation as possible, knowing that it is veto bait. Letting Hobbs staff her administration and finding common ground on a budget and legislation isn’t on the agenda, at least as of now.
The temptation is for Hobbs to return in kind. And there is some expectation that someone in Hobbs’ position will strike partisan blows for her party from time to time. Moreover, political advisors never want to miss a news cycle. Staying out of a story is unnatural behavior for a politician.
The Arizona Republican Party, however, is in the process of self-destructing. Legislative Republicans are lost in a MAGA miasma, demonstrating an incapability and unsuitability for governing.
Staying out of their way, while fostering an image of being the responsible adult attempting to make the best out of the mess they are creating, rather than getting into the muck with them, would seem the superior approach for Hobbs to cope with the situation.
Reach Robb at firstname.lastname@example.org.