EDITOR OF REDSTATE
In Defense of Nick Ayers
I’ve got to take issue with this post by Matt Lewis going after Nick Ayers. It makes Ayers out to be some sort of arrogant jerk who gets handed things on a silver platter — not to mention being blessed with a lot of luck.
Just as major league baseball managers probably get too much credit when things go well and too much blame when things go badly, top political operatives are sometimes anointed “the next Karl Rove” when they are lucky enough to work for a talented candidate during a great year. This phenomenon is aided by the fact that political writers are always looking for the next “it” operative. For example, fresh off of Sen. John Thune’s win over former Majority Leader Tom Daschle, operative Dick Wadhams was seen as the next rising star. This designation abruptly ended when his candidate, Sen. George Allen uttered the word “Macaca.”
The point is, working for Barbour in 2010 made Ayers look good — maybe too good for his own good.
I laughed when I read this because I used to think the same thing as Matt. I venture to say I’ve known Nick a lot longer. And anyone who knows anything about his background knows he neither gets things handed to him on a sliver platter nor is some silver spooned brat.
Our paths first crossed back in 2002. I was helping a friend run for Congress and Nick was a deer-in-headlights true believing College Republican from North Georgia whose goal in life was to drop out of school and drive a Democrat turned Republican named Sonny Perdue around the State of Georgia until Perdue lost.
That year changed everything.
The GOP had a surprise victory, took the State Senate, and made other major gains. People, myself included, forgot that it wasn’t a done deal. Everyone thought Democrat Roy Barnes would win.
But the GOP’s luck kept getting better. In 2004, the GOP took the rest of the state. And a lot of us, me too, just said, “Nah, Nick’s just lucky. Right place. Right time.”
But then 2006 came around and it was a terrible year for the GOP across the nation — except Georgia. Largely due to Nick and hand picked team, Georgia Republicans made gains while the GOP was going down in flames across the nation like Atlanta after Sherman.
Perdue bumped Nick up to the RGA. At the time, the RGA wasn’t a heavily respected group. They had a fancy office, had excellent parties, and burned through their budget every cycle. Nick Ayers convinced Perdue who convinced the Governors to restructure and hang on to their money through cycles.
Nick’s first big test came with Bobby Jindal in 2007. He did targeted ad buying that surprised a great many people and worked. In a bad year for the GOP, Jindal won. In 2009, Chris Christie and Bob McDonnell won. They ran their own races, but the RGA played a good tactical role.
More importantly, behind the scenes, Nick Ayers was willing to get involved to try to get weak candidates out of the race. He didn’t pick moderate over conservative. He focused on the weak guys and worked to get them out. And that was Nick. I saw it in several states first hand.
Then comes 2012 and everyone wants Nick.
From the time he signed with Pawlenty, other top operatives have had it out for him. Even the email he sent out in April, announcing he was joining Pawlenty’s staff, drew immediate ridicule. As Politico’s Ben Smith noted at the time, “Ayers, in his own email, writes a bit as though he’s the one who will be running for president.”
That email isn’t an ego trip. That email is a heartfelt expression of a practicing evangelical Christian who all his friends knew had decided to step back away from politics for a bit and get the lay of the land. He could have gone to work for Palin, Perry, Barbour, Daniels, Huntsman, or many of the others.
I suspect that Nick Ayers knew Haley Barbour wasn’t going to run. In fact, I’m pretty confident had Nick thought otherwise, he’d have sat out till Barbour was sure he would be running. As I said at the time Ayers went with Pawlenty, it was the clearest indication that Barbour wasn’t running.
I think you can also interpret it as a clear sign that Rick Perry was seriously not running when Nick went with Pawlenty.
They all wanted him. They all could have had him. His email was explaining, as best he could, why he chose Pawlenty instead of waiting and an expression of his desire to remain friends even with those he did not go with. Nothing more. Nothing less.
I once thought Nick Ayers was a no nothing kid who got lucky. But he has proven me wrong in some very bad years for the GOP. He’s proven himself uncompromising in his faith and he’s proven himself, surprisingly to me, to be much more of an ideological conservative than people in his position typically are.
I don’t underestimate him anymore.