Will Democrats have to stomach a former Bush strategist?

by | Sep 22, 2021 | 2022 Elections, Politics

Matthew Dowd has been teasing at a run for statewide office in Texas, particularly a bid against Lt. Governor Dan Patrick.

The former George W. Bush strategist turned political pundit shares a similar journey to a number of other conservatives who have switched sides during the Trump presidency. 

In Dowd’s case, he’s already switched teams twice.

Dowd began his political career as a staffer for Lloyd Bentsen, the last Democrat elected to the U.S. Senate in Texas. He also helped the election and re-election of Democratic Texas Lt. Governor Bob Bullock before becoming enchanted by George W. Bush and switching parties in 1999. 

He joined the Bush-Cheney campaign as a senior strategist and returned in 2004 as chief campaign strategist. 

After working to elect Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor of California, Dowd had an epiphany of sorts and in 2007 publicly broke with Bush in a New York Times article that revealed he had lost faith in the president. Dowd cited the unpopular Iraq war and Bush’s failure to bring a spirit of cooperation to Washington, a pledge the president had made on the campaign trail. 

Ironically, Dowd himself holds a fair amount of blame for Bush’s failure to reach across the aisle.

In a 2005 interview with PBS, Dowd said he looked at data that showed swing voters made an increasingly small part of the electorate. He stressed to Karl Rove, Bush’s most senior adviser, that the majority of the campaign’s resources should go to motivating party faithful. 

The “base strategy” as it was called was revolutionary, Dowd said, “because everybody up until that time had said, swing voters, swing voters, swing voters, swing voters, swing voters.”

According to Rove’s autobiography, Dowd’s numbers about the declining number of swing voters were so impactful to “the Architect” (as Bush called Rove) that he had a graphic of the data put on a card and laminated, although Rove contends this was to remind him that swing voters were more important than ever because there were fewer of them. Hmm. 

Like the rest of the Bush administration, Dowd shares responsibility in helping push the misinformation and lies that led to the Iraq war, a conflict that cost the lives of more than one million Iraqis and destabilized the region. 

“Events in Iraq and removing Saddam Hussein is all part of the war on terror,” Dowd told NPR during the Republican National Convention in September 2004. When interviewed by NPR again in 2007, Dowd was pressed about publicly linking Saddam Hussien to the war on terror. “Whatever information I have and what I feel in my heart, I say it,” Dowd said, explaining himself.

After his Bush years, Dowd became an independent, began his work as a political pundit, and has continued to criticize Republicans. In 2017, he considered challenging Sen. Ted Cruz as an independent, although nothing came of his plans.

This time, Dowd would run on the Democratic ticket. For now, he hasn’t committed to anything, and Mike Collier, the auditor and accountant running — sorry, exploring a run — for lieutenant governor continues to campaign and fundraise for the Democratic nomination. 

Regardless of how Dowd decides to return from the political wilderness, we can only hope voters have a fresh memory of the early aughts and a healthy skepticism of a candidate that bemoans the very politics they helped propel into power.

Photo: Joe Kohen/WireImage via Getty Images

fernando@texassignal.com | + posts

Fernando covers Texas politics and government at the Texas Signal. Before joining the Signal, Fernando spent two years at the Houston Chronicle and previously interned at Houston’s NPR station News 88.7. He is a graduate of the University of Houston, Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, and enjoys reading, highlighting things, and arguing on social media. You can follow him on Twitter at @fernramirez93 or email at fernando@texassignal.com

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