Rick Weiland's unseemly outburst against the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee yesterday was squirm-worthy and sad. He basically accused the DSCC of sabotaging his senate campaign by running attack ads against Republican Mike Rounds, which made Weiland look mean and nasty as a result. That the strategy may have misfired is one thing, but to call it a deliberate act of sabotage? Weiland is nuts. DSCC is scrambling to hold on to its U.S. Senate majority, and it just started pouring serious money into Weiland's campaign a few weeks ago when it looked like the open seat here, once thought to be locked up by Mike Rounds, was actually in play. Now all of a sudden this is a party that's trying to work against one of its own just as Weiland looks like he might be able to pull it off? Come on.
Even more delusionally, Weiland accused his own party of scheming to derail his campaign in favor of Independent Larry Pressler's. Weiland claimed that "my national party--that I'm a member of--was trying to drive votes to Larry Pressler and trying to drive up my negatives." That strained political calculation would mean that DSCC was further trying to split the anti-Rounds vote, essentially handing the election over to the GOP. Much as I like Rick, I think the stress of this campaign, added to a just-released batch of polls showing that Rounds has widened his once-tenuous lead, got to him.
The episode is also a pretty clear indicator that Weiland just won't accept the fact that ultimately he's responsible for his own fading fortunes. Finger pointing is not becoming to a composed and self-confident leader. Throw in the shrillness of Weiland's outburst and the whole thing comes off as a tantrum that just doesn't sit well with friends and makes for a gleeful source of mockery from his enemies.
What Weiland may probably never get is that his campaign is a dud from the get-go. Rick's prairie populist theme is about two generations behind the times. USA Today last year did a piece on disappearing prairie populists and asked, "what is left of the political breed?" The question is asked with good reason. Weiland keeps urging his supporters to "take it back," but the meme never got much traction. Why? Because the era of small farmers and tradesmen who felt exploited by the big banking and political interests back east, those men and women of the soil and the small towns who made the careers of political giants like Truman and Humphrey, don't dominate the social landscape of South Dakota anymore.
You just don't have a bloc of small family farmers, classically waving their fists at those "rich folk back east" who manipulated commodity prices and had the politicians in their pockets back then. Nowadays farms are sizable enterprises, and like all sizable enterprises, they identify with the elements of the very power-matrix that they once deplored. Telling these folks they need to "take it back" is futile. They're too busy scanning the grain and livestock futures boards at their laptops and hand-held devices while making sophisticated marketing decisions to pay much attention. In short, these people have learned much about controlling their own destinies, so much so that I believe there's an element of condescension to Weiland's quaint exhortation to "take it back."
This is the tragic flaw of the Weiland campaign--not a paranoid scenario about a conspiracy within his own party to do him in.