Rick Perry is pressing the reset button on his campaign, touting that Holy Grail for conservatives everywhere—a flat tax proposal. The candidate who has given very few interviews since the start of his campaign and fared poorly in most of the debates is holding a press conference, where he’ll have to answer much tougher questions than Anderson Cooper or Charlie Rose can dream up.
Finally, he’s revamping his campaign staff, hiring big guns to help him recharge a sagging run for the GOP nod. Joe Allbaugh, President George W. Bush’s campaign manager in 2000, is coming on as a senior adviser. The Texas governor also hired Tony Fabrizio, a top aide to Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign, to do polling; Nelson Warfield, also a Dole staffer, to work on commercials; Curt Anderson, who worked on Bush’s 2000 and 2004 campaigns, to also help with advertising.
Perry’s flat-tax ideas may give him a boost with the base—Herman Cain, for one, has certainly done well by advocating a simpler tax plan, and though not original, the flat tax idea has long enjoyed favor among conservatives. A press conference, if done well, could help Perry shake the reputation he’s earned in the debates for poor off-the-cuff responses to tough questions.
But the staff shake-up could be a riskier step. As Bush campaign adviser Matthew Dowd told Post reporters Perry Bacon Jr. and Karen Tumulty, “I don’t see a lot of evidence in the history of campaigns that when you [change staff], it increases your odds of success,” he said. “When you go from a close-knit group to people who are essentially hired guns — every time I’ve seen it happen, it’s never turned out well.”
Conventional leadership wisdom often says the opposite. Presidents frequently change out their senior staffers and advisers mid-term—whether poll numbers are up or down—to recharge a burned out team and make sure the staff doesn’t become too insular. Faltering sports teams must make critical personnel changes if things aren’t going well. And any executive team on the planet has watched its ranks morph over time, especially if it’s struggling to perform.
Why might campaign management be any different? The short time frame of most campaigns—just 14 months in the case of Perry, who announced in August—is surely one factor. Making big changes over that short a period of time could be more of a jolt for a tightly knit team. Secondly, the intensity of the working relationships and time spent together during a campaign could make it harder to make a change midway through. That much time together creates bonds and deep ties that won’t be easy to reestablish with a brand new outsider, especially one who’s coming in as a so-called expert to tell everyone what to do now.
Most of all, a presidential campaign, at least purportedly, is not just a job. Unless we’re all so cynical to think otherwise, the people who work on a campaign from the beginning tend to believe in a person, his or her ideas, and a different future, seeing their efforts as a way of changing the country. Hired guns might offer wisdom, experience and sage advice. But if there’s any doubt about their enthusiasm for the candidate, it can dampen that of the people already around him or her, too.
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