Liz Mair Ousted from Team Walker: Must Consultants’ Personal Views Align with Those of Their Employers?
An unfortunate incident transpired last week in the world of Republican politics. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s PAC hired a digital strategist who, as it turns out, had previously posted negative tweets about the great state of Iowa. Adding insult to injury, she had opinions that–wait for it–weren’t in lockstep with those of her employer. The hiring of a communications consultant with a track record of expressing her own personal views on social media is not the unfortunate incident. What’s lamentable is that said consultant was dropped just one day after her hiring was announced, in response to outcry from conservatives, with the loudest squawking coming from within the Iowa GOP.
On March 16, Walker's political action committee announced the hiring of “prominent Republican strategist” Liz Mair to lead their online communication efforts. Iowa, of course, is prime political real estate, due to its “First in the Nation” status, and because Walker himself once lived in the Hawkeye State. In fact, he was the first of the field of potential candidates to officially open an Iowa office earlier this year.
Assembling a strong support staff is crucial for Walker and his all-but-announced presidential campaign, and Mair seemed like a great fit. Her official role was to oversee social media and blogger outreach for Walker's PAC, Our American Revival, with a focus on digital strategy and messaging. As a former online communications strategist to Sen. Rand Paul, Governor Rick Perry & Carly Fiorina, and previous RNC Online Communications Director, she seemed to have the tools to get the job done.
Of course, as someone who lives in the world of digital communications, Mair has a large social media footprint, and her every tweet and retweet was exhumed and analyzed upon the announcement of her position on Team Walker. Almost immediately, the Iowa GOP and Iowa media (with help from Democrat sources) found reasons to oppose her hiring. Iowa’s top newspaper, the Des Moines Register, immediately ran a story: Scott Walker's Digital Consultant Has Taken Swipes at Iowa. Within the story, the Register shared two of the more “offensive” tweets posted by Mair regarding Iowa:
Now, if you are an Iowan–in particular, if you are a major player in the Iowa GOP–you’re bound to cringe a little when you read those words. The chairman of the Iowa GOP, Jeff Kaufmann, wasted no time in speaking out against Mair. Kaufmann told the New York Times, "It's obvious she doesn't have a clue what Iowa's all about. I find her to be shallow and ignorant and I'll tell you, if I was Governor Walker, I'd send her her walking papers." The backlash was swift and furious, with many across the state calling for Mair’s ousting.
This isn’t the first case of staffers being released over their social media histories. Both former Governor Jeb Bush and Dr. Ben Carson, presumed 2016 candidates, removed staffers and volunteers from their campaigns in recent weeks over social media missteps. Still, my first impression was that Mair would keep her job with Team Walker. After all, Governor Walker has withstood a recall election, a reelection campaign, and has prevailed against the wrath of unions across Wisconsin, including the teachers’ union which has protested his Governorship with unyielding fervor. He’s the guy who stands up to detractors, right? He’s no wilting flower. He wouldn’t capitulate to anyone, would he?
Here’s where Mair’s words regarding Iowa actually ring true. In later tweets, she clarified what she meant regarding Iowa’s front-running status: “[Regarding] IA caucuses, I'll just say that I'm not a huge fan of the choose-by-convention/choose-by-caucus system... Ultimately, whatever state goes first, there will be a lot of candidates keen to, shall we say, "speak to their issues."…I think maybe we should debate whether 1st 4 or 5 primary states should alternate who gets to go 1st. I fully understand why Iowans would find that suggestion problematic.”
One of her main concerns with any one state owning “First in the Nation” status is that candidates would align themselves to the core values of whichever state owned the title, and we can already see that playing out. Walker has no trouble standing up to liberal adversaries, but when it comes to his target audience–in this case, Iowa politicians and voters–he caved in order to stay in their good graces. We have seen this play out time and again as candidates embrace Iowa every four years, gobbling up State Fair corndogs, smiling beside our massive wind turbines, and putting on the obligatory Hawkeye or Cyclone sportswear, depending on which Pizza Ranch location they are visiting. Don’t get me wrong, as an Iowan who covers politics I love having the candidates in my backyard–I just prefer they don’t change their positions based upon their surroundings.
Congressman Steve King
Still, as an Iowan and a conservative, I didn’t find what she said to be termination-worthy. It’s true that a lot of prospective candidates cozy up to Iowa. It’s true that any state with frontrunner status is going to use that cache to their own benefit, especially if election cycles are the only time they feel the heat of the national spotlight, except for stories about butter cows, tornadoes or floods. Even her comment about the Iowa GOP embarrassing itself is understandable in the broader context. She was speaking about an event hosted by Iowa Congressman Steve King, who has become somewhat of a figurehead for the Iowa GOP on the national stage. Mair clarified, “I do find some of the things Steve King says on immigration embarrassing, factually dubious, and objectionable… For example, I do not think his 1-100 ratio on DREAMER valedictorians to DREAMER drug mules is mathematically correct.”
Here is the statement King originally made, during an interview with Newsmax, regarding the DREAM Act: “For everyone who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.” When questioned, King said he stood by his remark and didn’t understand why anyone would have a problem with it. Further, he offered this suggestion for securing our southern border: “We could also electrify this wire (on the border) with the kind of current that would not kill somebody, but it would simply be a discouragement for them to be fooling around with it. We do that with livestock all the time.” While Mair may personally tweet opinions that cast Iowa in a negative light, she never did so while speaking for her employers, and yet the GOP called for her termination. Meanwhile King, an actual elected official in Iowa, pipes off such gems as the ones previously listed, as well as saying, “I guess I’m short and fat is what I am. So I’m safe in San Francisco”, and the Iowa GOP supports him.
A quick glance at Mair’s Twitter bio shows she considers herself a libertarian. As such, it is understandable that she would support gay marriage and a more flexible immigration policy, among other things that may not align with Walker’s positions. It doesn’t mean that she would not execute the duties of her consulting business with an eye for the best interest of her employer. Perhaps some don’t realize public figures are entitled to personal opinions. I am a public school teacher, and while I personally oppose a lot of what goes on within the Federal Department of Education, and am not a huge fan of mandatory assessments that have been pushed onto teachers in recent years, I carry out all of the duties of my job, and I love my students. I can have personal viewpoints and still respect the requirements of my employer–and so can Liz Mair, when given the chance to do so.