In one of the more remarkable television interviews with a politician I have ever seen, ex-Rep. Shelley Berkley eviscerated her U.S. Senate campaign staff for bottling her up, not having a strategy and being too paranoid.
"If I had to do it over again, I wouldn't let these people run my bathwater," Berkley told Hugh Jackson and Elizabeth Crum on KSNV's "The Agenda" on Wednesday afternoon.
Berkley, who has been saying privately since she lost to Sen. Dean Heller in November that her campaign was awful, unburdened herself publicly in a fashion almost never seen in Nevada politics -- or anywhere else. It's clear that this bitterness has been churning inside her for months, and she released her bile throughout the 15 minutes or so.
Jackson seemed sympathetic to Berkley's complaints about her consultants having too much power, but when Crum asked if Berkley shouldn't have taken control of her own campaign, the ex-congresswoman replied, "I should have done that....If I had done that and been myself, I would be a United States senator right now and with all due respect I'd be sitting there with Ted Cruz instead of (with) you. I'm not sure I lost this election. Having said that, my campaign was so worried I would be Shelley and 'Oh it's not going to play up north...you gotta do this and that.' And I thought if I could just be me and then you think- and I know this must sound ' well you know look you want to be a senator, the least you could do is stand up and run your own campaign'. Yes, I should have done that and I didn't. I listened to these people and if I had it to over again it would be a whole different campaign"
That is highly debatable. Berkley unplugged might have resulted in digging the ethics hole deeper, although she has maintained that she and her husband, Dr. Larry Lehrner, did nothing wrong. The Ethics Committee, after the election, cleared her of some wrongdoing, but found her guilty of some.
But Berkley made the case on "The Agenda" that she was not served well by acceding to her consultants' strategy of avoiding the media. She refused for months after The New York Times broke the ethics questions about her congressional actions vis a vis her husband's nephrology practice to come on "Ralston Reports." Describing herself as "a media hound" who "loves the give and take" and is "good at it," she portrayed her staff, led by campaign manager Jessica Mackler, as determined to insulate her from the media and the public as much as they could.
I know from my own reporting that the Democratic powers that be, who did not think Berkley was the strongest candidate, believed her only chance to defeat Heller was by harnessing the Democratic machine and keeping her quiet. It almost worked -- she lost by 12,000 votes. But would a strategy of letting Shelley be Shelley have been better? That's like one of those parallel timelines that I would love to go back to find out -- but it could easily have made it worse.
It is true that Heller's campaign and his allies pounded almost exclusively on the ethics charges, creating a volume that drowned out almost everything else. That message was loud and clear. Berkley's?
"I’m not sure my last campaign for the Senate had a message," she said on "The Agenda."
And the blame lies.....
What's interesting is that after boasting she was no newbie and had been in politics since 1983, Berkley said, "I was not exactly the new kid on the block. I didn’t trust my own instincts and did trust the so-called experts who didn’t know anything."
Who hired these people? Who listened to them?
When pressed by Crum as to why she allowed herself to become so subservient, Berkley said she was too busy being a congresswoman. "After awhile you have just so many minutes…..you are paying these people an incredible amount of money…I have to listen to them….i had lost control of my campaign….i thought it would be so much worse to get rid of everybody," mentioning the potential media attention and Heller's campaign attacking her.
"I think we absorbed too much negative," Berklley lamented. "I felt like a punching bag by the end."
Her campaign tried to change the subject rather than address the subject, mostly because Democratic strategists feared they could not win on what looked like a congresswoman helping her husband's medical practice. They believed gagging Berkley was the best way to win -- the only way to win.
The rest is second-guessing, and when you lose by 12,000 votes, who knows what might have changed the outcome?
In addition to throwing her campaign staff under the bus, Berkley also obliquely outed (trust me, it was obvious who she was talking about) current CD3 hopeful Erin Bilbray, who has been hiding from the media:
Berkley: "I got a phone call from a candidate and I won't mention the person's name and we were talking about, she's been asked to go on Jon Ralston..."
Jackson: "Erin Bilbray...we've asked her to come on this show, too.."
Berkley: "I'm not at liberty to say, but I will say this: My advice to this particular candidate is go on. Say your own thing, do your own thing. You're going to end up going on anyway so why the drama?"
Good advice. (If you don't go on Ralston, you lose!)
Finally, Berkley told a silly story about how Mackler (surely hearing the voice of God, a ka Harry Reid) tried to whisk her away from trouble, including at a veteran's event where the campaign manager whispered, "“As soon as we’re done you got to get out of here because Dean has , your opponent has spies here."
Turns out, Bekrley asserted, it was her old biology teacher. "That's the level of paranoia in campaigns," she added.
By the end, I wonder if the teacher voted for Berkley.
Berkley claimed if she and her husband had publicly taken on the ethics charges, "It would have been a one-week story."
A sympathetic Jackson: "Would you say the consultants shut you down?"
Berkley: "Without a doubt."
The fault, my dear Shelley, is not in your underlings....
Some may see this as an understandable catharsis for a defeated candidate. Others may see it as very bad form (not to mention ensuring no one will ever work for her in a campaign again!).
I see it as a sad exclamation point, but undeniably fantastic television.