Matt Mackowiak left his job as press secretary for U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison on April Fool's Day. That means he can call a do-over, right?
“I wanted to take a risk,” he says. “In the downturned economy, I saw an opportunity to build a business and become a political consultant. I also wanted to get involved in the pundit side of things. Op-eds with my own name on them and TV and radio.”
Months later, he’s gotten what he wanted. His new political consulting firm, Potomac Strategy Group, opened its doors in June. At its launch, he listed New York Assembleyman George Ball and Texas Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams — an impressive get until Williams's campaign denied it. Mackowiak's byline appears on op-eds in newspapers like the Austin American-Statesman and on web sites like The Huffington Post. He has a website, mattmackowiak.com, that logs and promotes his many media appearances, and more than 2,000 people are following @MattMackowiak on Twitter. Every day he draws nearer to that coveted prize: ubiquity.
But is it really what he wanted? As can happen in the limelight, that name he was so eager to see in print is no longer his own, though exactly who has taken it — a Perry staffer? A Democratic operative? — is a much-speculated-about mystery.
“I TWEET and you stand in AWE. don’t you know how legit I am?” writes the anonymous author of @NotMackowiak, a buzzed-about Twitter account that has built a small but devoted following by parodying its namesake. The cyber doppleganger gleefully mocks Mackowiak’s efforts to get clients (“can you HOOK me up w/a client? I have a legit BUSINESS CARD & everything”) and media attention (“plz plz quote me? i have EXPERT insight!”).
The real Mackowiak’s tweets — @mattmackowiak — use capital letters more sparingly, but it’s tough not to notice how many of them enthusiastically begin, “RETIRE RICK PERRY.” These 140-character missives against the incumbent Texas governor — a man Mackowiak fears is “blowing a dog whistle to extremist elements” — come straight from a heart that never really left gubernatorial hopeful Hutchison’s press shop. “I hope others in their life find a candidate they care about as much as I do about Kay Bailey Hutchison,” Mackowiak says.
To hear the 29-year-old Austin native and University of Texas at Austin graduate tell it, when the Hutchison candidacy was at its most vulnerable, he appeared — or reappeared, free of charge — just in time to rescue the damsel in distress. “When they were getting the campaign set up early on and the infrastructure wasn’t in place, I got tired of the name-calling. They were calling her things like ‘Kay Bailout.’ As someone who worked for her and knew her record, I knew if I didn’t say something, in my own small way, I’d regret it.”
With the freedom of his new self-employment, he could tout her policy positions in op-eds. He could tweet daily — hourly, even — things like “MEMO TO GEORGE STRAKE, JR: #KBH is 100% in for #txgov & she is by far the strongest GOP general candidate, aiding all downballots.” And, as his social media shenanigans grew his public profile, he found himself standing on the perfect platform from which to publicly eviscerate her political opponents.
There's only one problem: No one asked for his help. Mackowiak has no official role with the Hutchison campaign, although his past employment history and his ardent advocacy convey a somewhat misleading impression. Meanwhile, the Hutchison campaign, while benefiting from Mackowiak's constant attacks on Perry, is in the awkward position of being at his mercy, unable to control what he says, what he does, or who he gets into the mud with.
Case in point: Mackowiak's mid-September skirmish with Michael Quinn Sullivan, the Perry-friendly president & CEO of the conservative public action committee Empower Texans.
“Contributions to Empower Texans PAC will go to funding @mqsullivan’s personal travel, awards presentations and backdoor support of Perry,” Mackowiak announced over Twitter. It was as if he had donned a wolf costume and shouted, “Let the wild rumpus start!”
A two-day tweet war unfolded. “@MattMackowiak should stick w helping DC liberals, ‘cause facts just don’t seem to be his strong suit,” Quinn Sullivan responded, calling Mackowiak “a tweeter, not player.” After Mackowiak suggested a reporter look into Empower Texas’s finances by using the Freedom of Information Act, Quinn Sullivan punched back: “FOIA applies to federal govt, not private entities. You have zero credibility, DC-dweller.” Mackowiak retorted by labeling his foe “Michael Queen Sullivan” and, true to form, repeatedly challenged him to debate publicly. Later, Quinn Sullivan tweeted that it was “not war, just fun with the attack-puppy.”
“I’ve tried to make everything I do be about policy,” says Mackowiak. “I do think it’s regrettable that I’ve had to suffer some personal backlash. I’ve done everything with the best of intentions.”
“He’s a good guy,” Quinn Sullivan says. “All of us, in our youth, say things we may regret. We have to be careful of how hard we go and how far we push. In some ways he’s set himself up for that kind of ridicule because he says, ‘I’m going to get attention by pushing hard.’”
“Anyone that knows me knows I’m pretty headstrong," Mackowiak admits. "It’s going to take an act of God to change my mind when I know I’m right. One little anonymous Twitter account isn’t going to do it.”
But it’s not just @NotMackowiak. In October, an "ad" was posted on Craigslist (and recirculated by Politico) advertising Mackowiak’s services, complete with a photo of a "contract." It was scribbled on legal paper as if it were the business plan for the lemonade stand of a barely literate child. Among the conditions for the advertised “$100 August Special” on his consultation were “I can crash on your COUCH sometimes” and, hinting that his path may be less than self-directed, “Due 2 past insadents, u agree not 2 FIRE me ever.”
It's not only Mackowiak's unnamed needlers who are focusing on the reason for his departure from Hutchison's staff. “Why did you leave KBH office?” Sullivan tweeted in the middle of their battle. “Lots of funny rumors.”
This week, Quinn Sullivan told me he takes Mackowiak at his word. “That was just me being silly,” he said. “He wanted to go out and start a business."
Hutchison's campaign manager, Terry Sullivan, professes not to know why Mackowiak left. "There’s nothing I can say about that,” he deflects. Does the candidate consider the hyper-eager Mackowiak a liability? “The senator and I don't sit around and talk about Matt Mackowiak,” Sullivan said. “It's just not a topic that comes up.”
That doesn't exactly sound like a job offer if Hutchison should beat Perry and eventually win the November election. And if Perry should defeat her — well, the aspiring consultant and pundit will have tethered himself to a sinking ship and elevated himself to favored target status in the peanut gallery. How will that look on a legit BUSINESS CARD?
Only time will tell if the attack puppy can parlay his political pseudo-celebrity status into best-in-show business. “Look, Politico is writing about him — he must be making some sort impact,” says Quinn Sullivan. “Does being famous translate into being successful? Only time knows that. He’s certainly gotten his name up there and out there in a way no other consultant has — for better or for worse.”
“Maybe in ten years, we look back and the Mackowiack model of self-promotion is exactly right. Or, maybe we look back and say, ‘Oh no, we don’t want to go that way’ — like the Edsel.”