In politics, authenticity has become the coin of the realm. Voters value “straight talk” over ideology and style. The ascension of both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, two men who never would have been serious contenders for the presidency 10 or 20 years ago, shows the value voters now place on people willing to speak their minds without fear.
The biggest mistake a candidate could make in this environment would be to pretend to be something they aren’t.
But that’s exactly what Republican gubernatorial candidate Shawn Moody is doing right now.
Moody spent the last eight years as an independent, sharply critical of the two major political parties. Now he’s proclaimed himself a “lifelong conservative,” and is seeking the Republican nomination for governor.
This isn’t an easy shift. As columnist Al Diamon recently pointed out, Moody ran as a pro-choice candidate in 2010. Now he’s attempting to distract from his earlier position through sleight-of-hand, taking a stand against government-funded abortions, which don’t even exist.
But Moody isn’t just shifting ideology to fit the party. He’s decided to become Gov. LePage’s Mini Me, buying fully into the LePage franchise.
He hired Brent Littlefield, the governor’s political director, to run his campaign. Then he hired Lauren LePage, the governor’s daughter.
Moody has thrown out his independent persona and is now touting his association with LePage as his prime selling point. In a recent interview with WAGM, he made sure to mention to viewers that the governor’s team is behind him. He’s got Lauren LePage writing his campaign emails in her own name, constantly referring to “my father,” and declaring Moody as the keeper of “Governor LePage’s legacy.”
Now Moody is supporting the governor’s most absurd policy positions.
At the Associated General Contractors’ debate last week, Moody declared full support for LePage setting up secret commissions exempt from public records laws, a position even former LePage Department of Health and Human Services commissioner Mary Mayhew distanced herself from.
Moody spoke in favor of LePage’s desire to merge the Maine Turnpike Authority with the Maine Department of Transportation, with the explanation that selling MTA Director Peter Mills’ office would offset the cost of road maintenance. This position is especially absurd, since the MDOT can’t handle its existing workload, and is currently contracting with the MTA to handle road maintenance for them.
It’s safe to say Moody is unaware of this.
He appears to be a man told to take positions he is completely unfamiliar with. He struggled through his answers at last week’s debate, appeared painfully uncomfortable on stage, and avoided answering questions with anything more than a garbled reiteration of LePage’s positions.
Here’s an example: When asked whether he supported “buy America”-type proposals to give preferences to Maine businesses, Moody answered by saying our economy needs businesses to fail, so that people like him could come in and buy up their equipment at a fire sale rate. This, he declared, was the true way to redistribute wealth.
Not only was his answer not in any way germane to the question, but his perverted explanation of the free market tenet of creative destruction would have made Milton Friedman reach for the Tums. But this is typical of Moody’s answers.
Moody appears to have no idea what he is talking about unless he is talking about his car repair business. And LePage’s team is simply inserting their pro-LePage talking points into the vacant vessel.
So when he’s asked to justify these ideas, Moody has neither the intellectual ability to do so nor the ideological belief in them. He is simply using them as a cynical way to win the GOP primary.
Pragmatically, it may make sense for a Republican gubernatorial candidate to be LePage’s Mini Me. In fact, all the other candidates, except for Senate President Mike Thibodeau, appear to be using the same strategy.
But for Moody, this approach carries much more risk.
Moody’s most marketable selling point was his earnestness. Though he was a terrible candidate in 2010, he left that race with a reputation for being a guy not tainted by the slimy funk of politics.
His trademark has been his position as an outsider, unafraid to be his own man. Now that he’s turned his soul over to LePage Incorporated, he looks like a typical politician, but without the skill set or experience of a good politician.
The guy who once declared “We’ve heard from the Democratic Party, Republican Party, Green Party and the tea party, but guess what? The party’s over” is now trying desperately to get added to the guest list.
If Moody were running as an independent, he’d have a much better chance at becoming governor for the simple reason that his authenticity would not have been compromised.
He’s trying to be something he’s not. And in a political era that values straight talk, Moody is on very thin ice.