Serving the Flathead Valley & Montana since 2006. A reality based independent journal of observation & analysis. © James Conner.

21 January 2014

John Walsh is in big trouble, and may not survive


Democratic Lt. Gov. John Walsh (Col. U.S. Army, ret.), his human frailties notwithstanding, would serve Montana in the U.S. Senate far better than tea party Republican Rep. Steve Daines. Walsh cares about regular people while Daines cares about rich people.

But Walsh may never win election to a six-year term. He’s bleeding from self-inflicted wounds that I suspect will leave him just strong enough to win the primary, but too weak to defeat Daines in the general election.

The Army inspector general’s finding that Walsh abused his position for personal gain when he used his Army email account to urge subordinates in the Montana National Guard to join a nonprofit organization that lobbies for better equipment and funding for the Guard was survivable. Walsh made a mistake, but it was a small mistake made in furtherance of improving the lot of the men he led. A pardonable mistake.

Army vice chief of staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli thought otherwise, however, placing in Walsh’s jacket a reprimand concluding that Walsh’s misstep “causes me to question your ability to lead.” Whether justified or not, Chiarelli’s judgment stings. Expect to see it repeated hundreds of times in devastating anti-Walsh ads.

Walsh concealed the IG’s report and Chiarelli’s reprimand from the voters in 2012, and he may have concealed the reprimand from Steve Bullock (he did tell Bullock about the IG’s report). Wondering whether these embarrassing parts of his service record would come out may have accounted for his foot dragging prior to announcing for the Senate. But once he decided to run for the Senate, he should have disclosed what happened.

Self-disclosure is not fun, but being upfront from the gitgo earns a man credit for being honest. Concealing embarrassing information, however, puts a man on the on the defensive when the facts are released by someone else, and raises questions about his character.

Character is now Walsh’s problem. In a month’s span, he’s gone from being a soldier’s soldier who led Montana’s Guardsmen in combat in Iraq to being a politically ambitious officer whose ability to lead was questioned by the vice chief of staff of the Army, and who was concealing that damning judgment from the voters. As Mike Brown observed this morning at The Western Word, that may scare away donors and deprive Walsh of the ability to raise the millions he needs to win. And even if Walsh can raise millions, his credibility may be too damaged to seal the deal with the voters.

What should Walsh do now? Three things:

  1. Announce immediately that he wants to spend as much time as possible in Montana talking with the voters, and therefore has asked Gov. Steve Bullock to appoint someone else to the Senate when the seat becomes vacant upon Baucus’ resignation to serve as ambassador to China.

  2. Explain himself to the voters, quickly, thoroughly, and convincingly.

  3. Consider withdrawing as a candidate for the Democratic nomination to the Senate. I’m not yet calling for his withdrawal, but I’m not ruling out doing so if it becomes clear his political wounds are mortal.