Daily shorts Nov 24

Dear KMT, is anyone over there driving the bus? Why are you allowing Ma’s campaign to get continually sidetracked by extraneous fluff that at best would be a two day talking point? Right now you are single-handedly giving Tsai’s (deliberate and effective) low-key campaign the buzz it needed going in to ‘rally month’. As a political scientist who studies strategic behaviour, Ma’s campaign is exasperating. If it keeps going like this, I’m going to have to reserve a chapter in the book I’m writing on Taiwanese elections on ‘how not to run a campaign’.

Nobody cared about the piggybanks until you made a big deal out of it. Tsai is Hakka, why shouldn’t she appeal to that constituency? Tsai is popular with Hakka voters, and you’re not going to endear yourself by questioning her Hakka identity. So what if Tsai wants to be Robin Hood–if Robin Hood himself was standing for election do you think he would win? Do you really think filing a lawsuit against the DPP for allegations about the propriety of Ma’s meeting an oddsmaker will make it go away? Don’t you think it might make it more salient instead? Don’t think it’ll remind voters about the bad old days of heijin and using litigation to curb freedom of speech? Flip-flopping on farmers’ subsidies does not say “I’m in charge, I’ve got a plan, trust me” (albeit adopting a more viable position on a highly salient campaign issue). And that ‘peace pact’ gambit speaks of someone out of touch with public opinion and desperate seeking a keystone campaign issue.

I wrote a while back that KMT candidates always want to campaign on the economy but invariably let themselves get sidetracked; I guess I should be grateful that Ma’s campaign is making me look good. I don’t know if it is a sign of desperation, incompetence or hubris, but when your own legislative candidates are steering clear of you, its indicative of a problem. And when your campaign manager starts talking up your EQ, you know you’re in trouble.

Can Ma turn it around? Of course. The election is not for another 7 weeks-an eternity at the back-end of a campaign. But the way things are going, those 7 weeks must seem like an unending and terrifying gauntlet to Ma right now. Furthermore, Tsai Ing-wen is a careful and clean candidate, and I doubt there are any Chen You-hao’s hiding in her closet to come to Ma’s rescue. Is it too late to register a Ma-Soong joint ticket? (Just kidding).

Alex Huang says Ma should ignite a grassroots campaign by “sleeping less and shaking more hands“, but I don’t think that’s the answer. As charming as Ma can be on camera, KMT elites don’t do “smalltalk-with-little-people-in-crowded-smelly-markets” very well. Remember when Lien went to visit with emotional (and muddy) typhoon-affected villagers in 2000? When people started imploring him to send aid he reacted like someone took a dump on the 18th green right before his putt. This Soong ad in that vein (don’t forget hand-hygiene kids) has the added bonus of ‘Soong as Savior’.

In my view, a better strategy is to forget China, eliminate all the extraneous frippery, develop the ‘KMT are good stewards of the economy’ frame and attack Tsai’s plans for the economy. King Pu-tsung, you know what to do…

Mail me at jonathan.sullivan@nottingham.ac.uk, follow me on Twitter @jonlsullivan, or access my papers at http://jonlsullivan.com