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Thursday 21 August 2014

Derek Mooney: Quick quips will not get you out of this mess, senator. You need to hear some things you don't want to hear

I like West Wing quotes. They are not just well written, they can neatly sum up a situation. The one which comes to mind as I watch the evolving Norris campaign saga is from an episode in series one.

In it, the fictional President Bartlett character advises a colleague on selecting a campaign manager/ chief of staff. "Do you have a best friend ... Is he smarter than you... Would you trust him with your life?"



DEVOTED

When the guy answers "Yes sir" to all three questions, Bartlett tells him: "That's your chief of staff."

That's precisely what David Norris has needed from the start of this whole thing.

Though I have criticised some of them, he has had many loyal and personally devoted campaigners.

He has a huge social media support network too. But sheer enthusiasm is not enough. The one thing he has lacked most was someone who could challenge him and tell him the unpleasant facts he has not wanted to hear.

Many months ago I said that David's gift for the quick quip and caustic comment may prove to be his Achilles heel as it suggested a lack of gravitas.

This proved only in part to be true. The tone, content and nature of his lengthy 1997 letter to his former partner's lawyers was ill considered, ill advised and exposed poor judgment.

With due respect to the senator's continuing supporters, this assessment is really not in question. One in Four founder Colm O'Gorman put it more forthrightly on Twitter saying: "my views on his writing the letter are clear and unequivocal. He was wrong. Very wrong."

Some, like Senator John Crown, attempt to explain the context of the letter pointing to ones written by Kathleen Lynch, Bobby Molloy and Trevor Sargent.



DIRTY

Besides the "two wrongs don't make a right" argument, in those cases the authors accepted their ill judgment and in the cases of Molloy and Sargent they resigned.

Yes, there are nasty people and vile groups who want to see Norris's candidacy scuppered. Yes, there are those who would have employed dirty tricks to frustrate him.

But this isn't a mafia movie. The enemy of your enemy is not always your friend.

The contemptibility of some of those who oppose David should not blind us to the legitimate questions this letter and saga raise about his candidacy.

This is not a slanted leak from his detractors. The damage here comes from what the candidate has said and the material he has made available.

Running for the presidency is not like a really big Trinity senate campaign -- and this campaign has not really started yet. We are still in the pre-campaign stage. The last presidential race saw major negative campaigns with the targets being Adi Roche and Mary McAleese. I fear we may have more to endure when this race hits its full stride in late September.

So where does that leave David's campaign now?

David now says he wants to fight on, even though he recognises his chances are slim. His courage and tenacity is admirable: but it is time to face realities. Alastair Campbell famously said that you have 11 days to kill a story or you're toast. This is the second crisis for David, so he will have even less time.

I would suggest that one of two things may happen over the coming days to decide his future prospects. The first is that some new Oireachtas members may rally to his cause. He already needed five more, the damage this crisis is inflicting on his campaign means he needs them today.



PLEDGES

If there are five more nominators out there: right now is the time to them to declare, not next September.

The second and more likely scenario is that some of those who have already declared for him will tell him, either privately or publicly, that they cannot now follow through on existing pledges of support. That will end his chances.

Whatever happens, this presidential race has changed completely. Past back markers may soon emerge as front runners ... and there is still Dana to consider.

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