The average person has no idea who manages presidential campaigns. But that lack of knowledge doesn't mean that the person tasked with running the massive enterprise of a presidential bid doesn't matter. He or she does matter. A lot.
Which brings me to the news first reported in the Wall Street Journal on Monday afternoon that Danny Diaz will be the campaign manager for Jeb Bush's 2016 candidacy. Diaz's appointment to the top job is a swerve of expectations; Dave Kochel, an Iowa operative, had moved to Miami several months back and been widely expected to take the top job. Can you say shake-up?
Putting Diaz, not Kochel, in the driver's seat matters -- even if you've never heard of either of them before today. Here's why.
1. Diaz is a rapid-response/opposition research maestro. Diaz has made his name in Republican circles by being the guy who not only consumed more information on a daily basis than anyone else in the game but also was able to spray out relevant articles at a machine-gun pace to reporters. I can't tell you the number of times a phone call with Danny begins with, "You saw that article in the Santa Barbara paper, right?" (I typically have not.)
Jeb putting Diaz in the top job is, in many ways, similar to what Mitt Romney did in 2012 when he named Matt Rhoades, for whom Diaz worked at the Republican National Committee, as his campaign manager. Both Diaz and Rhoades had never managed a campaign at that level before, and both were (and are) largely-behind-the-scenes players known for their expertise in the dark(er) arts of campaigns and their unquestioned loyalty.
“Danny Diaz will bring unmatched intensity, intelligence and integrity to the position of campaign manager," Rhoades told me Monday. "Governor Bush will be well-served to have such a loyal and competent leader on his team.” (Worth noting: Tim Miller, communications director for Bush's campaign, also hails from the Rhoades stable.)
The Diaz move signals that Jeb understands the pace at which news moves these days -- and the importance of staying on top of and, ideally, ahead of it. Diaz is a modern operative who honed his skills in national campaign war rooms and the story-a-minute media world. Jeb, who hasn't run a serious campaign since 1998, needs that sort of metabolism and understanding.
2. The idea of Jeb playing heavily in Iowa looks unlikely. When I wrote a month ago that Jeb should think hard about skipping Iowa, the most common pushback I got was that Bush would never put Kochel at the helm of a campaign that skipped or downplayed Iowa. So, um....
Jeb has already announced he won't compete in the straw poll later this summer and, if polling is to believed, he's got a very tough road to even the top three in Iowa next year. My guess is that Jeb won't entirely skip Iowa -- too much bad publicity on a process story for his taste -- but will downplay it in the grand tradition of John McCain in 2008.
This is, almost certainly, the right strategic move. Yes, Jeb will have oodles of cash -- both in his campaign and in his super PAC -- but I am not sure money = success when it comes to convincing Iowa's conservatives that he is one of them. Given the size of the field and the number of well-funded super PACs kicking around, this will almost certainly be an extended fight for the nomination. Bush would be smart to conserve his cash.
3. Diaz is Hispanic. This is sort of a "no-duh" point but an important one nevertheless. Diaz is, without question, one of the best-known and most accomplished Hispanic operatives in the Republican Party. And he has made it a point over the last few years to speak out on the need for Republicans to diversify. He played a critical role in New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez's victory -- as the first Hispanic woman to win a governor's office in the country -- in 2010 and reelection win in 2014.
Bush has been outspoken -- and unwavering -- in his support for a comprehensive reform of the immigration system and, more broadly, the need for the party to broaden its appeal beyond whites. Installing Diaz in the top job sends a message that Bush means what he says.