On her television ads, Linda McMahon is cast as the colorful political outsider, whose supporters giddily ask, “Think she can shake things up in Washington? Oh, yeah!”
But the reality of her U.S. Senate campaign has been one of tight discipline and message control, crafted to give no offense as McMahon offers safe promises of tough fiscal medicine.
On the campaign trail, her audiences say they love what she says, even as McMahon barely hints at what she means when talking about slashing federal spending.
“I’m on your side,” said Tony Albano, after McMahon walked into his Pazzo Cafe in Glastonbury last week. “I can’t believe you walked in my door.”
No one ever has lost a vote promising to cut waste, and McMahon is for the elimination of duplicative services. Social Security and Medicare are a different matter.
McMahon is new to politics, but she has learned to shun conversations about how to trim entitlements that amount to 40 percent of federal spending: Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare.
“I can certainly tell you I’m not adverse to talking in the right time or forum about what we need to do relative to our entitlements,” McMahon said in an interview. “I mean, Social Security is going to go bankrupt. Clearly, we have to strengthen that.”
But those forums will not occur before Aug. 10, when she faces Rob Simmons and Peter Schiff in a Republican primary, or even Nov. 2, when the winner will face the Democratic nominee, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.
“I just don’t believe that the campaign trail is the right place to talk about that,” McMahon said.
Her assertion may draw ridicule from some quarters, but probably not from the White House.
In April, President Obama created the Bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform as a means to defuse the politics of taming the burgeoning federal debt, which McMahon decries as costing taxpayers $1 billion a day in debt service.
McMahon entered the race as a celebrity, burdened and boosted by her roles as the chief executive officer and an occasional performer for World Wrestling Entertainment.
On the night she accepted the endorsement of the Republican State Convention, McMahon joked about going to Washington to inflict a WWE-style “smack down” on a recalcitrant Congress.
But she talks more today about the need for bipartisan compromise.
“We have to have more cooperation and smart people having really honest debates about the issues,” she said. “That’s what I’d really like to see.”
McMahon talked about her executive experience as a negotiator.
“When I’ve done deals with WWE, big deals, network deals, deals with even working outside of the United States, where there would be more government influence in deals you were doing with television stations, you just always had to sit in a room,” McMahon said. “You finally had to sit in a room, and you just had to keep going at it and talking about it, while everybody put their cards on the table.”
Asked to name a model of bipartisanship and collaboration in the U.S. Senate, whose history is full of politicians who filled that role, McMahon only mentioned Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota, a GOP leader not generally known for lowering the temperature of political debates.
“I’ve met with him and sat with him on a very preliminary basis,” McMahon said. “I certainly think he has some good ideas to offer and would like very much to work with him.”
Despite her concern about the deficit, McMahon favors extending the Bush tax cuts, which are due to expire next year without Congressional action. She said she would prefer that they be offset by spending cuts.
“When you talk about cutting taxes, you can’t just cut taxes,” McMahon said. “You’ve got to cut spending. You cannot not do both.”
Again, how exactly she would do that is a conversation for another time, another forum. Some cards won’t be shown until after Nov. 2.