Another Congressional primary wrapped up the other day, and Joshua Collins, a 26-year-old Socialist and ex-truck driver, who had gained a large online following on Twitter and TikTok, suffered an embarrassing defeat in Washington’s 10th district, gaining just over 1000 votes and only .09% of the vote share. This defeat comes to the surprise of very few.
Joshua Collins got his start in politics after witnessing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s victory against decade long-time incumbent Rep. Joseph Crowley, which insipred the politically disillusioned truck driver. Joshua launched his campaign shortly after, registering as a democrat, and hoped to unseat Denny Heck, who’d served in the WA-10th District since 2013 — a feat that now seemed all the more possible.
Collins quickly rose to prominence online, gaining tens of thousands of followers across both Twitter and TikTok, with his tweets regularly getting thousands of likes and retweets. He used this influence to raise just under $250k in campaign donations, the 4th highest amount of all candidates in the race. So how did someone with such a large presence, and with a quarter-million dollars in donations, barely beat Ralph Johnson, a Republican with no known policies or even a website? Simple. Twitter isn’t a substitute for actual campaigning.
Joshua ran his campaign entirely through Twitter and TikTok, with the overwhelming majority of his campaigning relegated to viral (and often controversial) tweets and TikTok videos, usually calling to “end capitalism” and things to that effect, and with his high follow count, successfully convinced his supporters and donators that he was a popular candidate who had a genuine shot of winning, but the reality was starkly different.
People living in Joshua’s district repeatedly noted that no one in WA-10 even knew who he was. You can get a lot of likes and retweets, but that doesn’t translate to meaningful support. It also became increasingly apparent that Joshua was making a concerted effort to appeal almost exclusively to the ‘online left’ communities, at the expense of mainstream outreach. Needless to say, this approach didn’t really work out.
Speaking of Twitter, Joshua’s conduct online overall was questionable. He was unprofessional, immature, and combative (something he takes pride in), with a tendency to make outlandish comments and push unnecessarily radical and niche policies like ‘Abolish the CIA’ and ‘Aquire all privately owned golf courses’ that lacked any kind of appeal. He didn’t show himself to be a competent, serious politician, but looked more like a run-of-the-mill twitter activist who just couldn’t log off. He came across as arrogant and overly confident, and loved bragging about how strong his online support was, and with this confidence, neglected to do any real life voter outreach.
Abolishing the CIA is a policy that stood out to me from the start, actually, and is a serious lesson in pragmatism for future progressive politicians. It just seemed…pointless. He wasn’t going to accomplish it, and it’s a proposal so far out of the Overton window that it just makes you look insane to the majority of people for even suggesting it. It eventually became a running gag between those who’d been following Joshua’s campaign, leading to an increasingly growing view that he wasn’t really a serious candidate. So that begs the question, why include it in the first place if it was only going to alienate voters? It seemed like Joshua cared more about radical purity than actually appealing to his district, a pattern of behavior that continued to worsen, especially with his proud mention of how he’s “read a lot of Lenin”, which should raise immediate red flags for anyone who doesn’t have a hammer and sickle emoji in their twitter bio, and a statement that would almost certainly end any chance of a political career, especially in America.
During his run for Congress, Joshua spent $230k of the $250k raised in donations, far outspending the majority of his opponents. Yet despite that, he didn’t have much — if anything — to show for it. His campaign had minimal ads, no ground game, and very little outreach. So what did he do with all of that money? A graph made by twitter user @Later_Tot breaks it down:
Most of the money went to 4 staff members, although the actual nature of their work was ambiguous, especially when people in his district noted the lack of mailers, commercials, or even any signs. His ‘Campaign Manager’ was also his wife, and while it’s not illegal to employ your significant other, it’s definitely sketchy. His other campaign expenditures included the typical expenses, such as office equipment and campaign tools, which I can only assume went unused, but also included a one-time Amazon Prime Video payment, ridiculously high Wi-Fi bills, and a lot of car rentals. His campaign funds were clearly mismanaged and ultimately wasted.
Collins was evidently in over his head and had no idea what he was doing or how to manage a campaign. When incumbent Heck announced he wouldn’t be seeking re-election, citing one of his reasons as “Success seems to be measured by how many Twitter followers one has which are largely gained by saying increasingly outrageous things, the more personal the better” and that “ Civility is out. Compromise is out. All or nothing is in.” (which seemed to be vaguely referencing Joshua), the race suddenly opened up, which further complicated issues for him, as Collins eventually found himself in the middle of a free-for-all fight between 19 candidates in WA-10th’s battleground primary, including other progressives such as Beth Doglio (endorsed by Bernie Sanders, no less), who was experienced, knowledgable, and serious, a stark contrast to Joshua.
Collin’s main draw — his progressivism — was now also shared by other candidates who knew how to campaign, and had local appeal, too.
As we entered 2020, Joshua was very vocal about both his disdain for the Democratic Party and his Bernie or Bust position, refusing to vote for the presumptive Democratic Presential nominee, Joe Biden.
His Bernie or Bust position eventually found himself featuring in an online debate panel on Twitch. Joshua stumbled through the 3-hour long debate, and when pushed for his policy positions, struggled to name any. After googling his own website, he finally managed to list a few, including his classic ‘Abolish the CIA’, as well as ‘Community Armories’ (a policy that had little relevance to his solidly blue and anti-gun district), and ‘The Green New Deal.’ Joshua was unable to elaborate or explain his proposals, looking woefully incompetent and unprepared for a life in politics, which was further exacerbated when he consistently cracked under even the slightest amount of pressure and push-back. This was a problem, because Joshua was marketing himself as a no noneness rabble rouser, who would defiently challenge his “corporate democrat” peers, who are perceived as out-of-touch and unconcerned with the issues average Americans face (a perception that’s all too common among fringe parts of the left, despite being patently false). How could anyone trust Joshua to led an in-house rebellion against the so-called “Washington Elite”, when he can’t even fight against concerns from his own side?
With his flaws exposed, and doubt about his abilities as a politician at an all time high, even his most ardent twitter follows began to turn their backs on him.
The final blow to his campaign came in May when he unexpectedly deleted his social media with no prior warning or explanation. This immediately caused speculation and rumors to spread like wildfire, which festered and developed unopposed. This also happened a day or two before the deadline to officially file to be on the ballot. Accusations that Joshua was a ‘grifter’ and a ‘scammer’ were rampant, people were confused, and his donators were more than a little angry, especially as there was zero communication on the part of Joshua or his team.
Hours later his Comms Director issued a statement:
Joshua was overwhelmed by notifications and needed to take a break. Understandable, but it doesn’t give much faith in his ability to act as a congressman, a highly stressful job that demands constant attention.
This entire situation was a massive failure on the part of Joshua and his team. Joshua, whose campaign we’ve established relied almost exclusively on social media interaction, could’ve handed control of his account to another member of his team, or even used some of his $250k to hire a social media manager. Even something as simple as just issuing a statement before deleting the account would’ve prevented rumors spreading and quelled the panic of his supporters before it even began.
But no, Joshua didn’t take the money and run. During his time away, he officially filed to be on the ballot — but not as a democrat, as he previously promised. Before his leave, he kept hyping up a ‘surprise’, and sure enough, it was the creation of an all-new 3rd party, the “Essential Worker’s Party.” No doubt Joshua was trying to take advantage of the new spotlight placed on essential workers thanks to the Coronavirus pandemic to bolster his appeal. However, his supporters were less than pleased. They’d donated under the impression that he’d run his campaign as a democrat, making use of DNC resources and using the democratic party label to attract voters, which is especially important in a deep blue state, which proritizes party affiliation. Now, he was running as a member of a niche party that no one had heard of.
When he eventually returned to social media, his huge online support had started to fizzle away. Supporters rightly felt like he was wasting their donations, not even trying to win. Discussions of him were now more often than not, met with criticism and apathy, even from the online left he’d tried so hard to build his entire campaign around. As most of his core support base began to jump ship, Joshua went mostly unheard of again until his election date.
Which brings us to this week, when Joshua Collins lost his district race in a humiliating 15th place, behind Richard Boyce, who was running as a member of the “Congress Sucks” Party. Joshua still hasn’t acknowledged his loss, where he barely attained 1000 votes for a campaign with a budget of a quarter-million dollars, an investment of around $250 per vote, a result that has surely killed any potential political career for the 26-year-old.
But who knows what the future holds for the socialist trucker? He’ll likely stick around on social media as an activist, and while he’s not fit for congress, he’s very good as generating buzz and going viral…so he should stick to that.
Joshua’s campaign is an important lesson in “influencer politics.” Being controversal, getting into drama, and being popular on the internet doesn’t win you votes. Joshua was so confident in his online popularity that he spent more time building up his Twitter clout than boots-on-the-ground action in his district, which was undeniably his biggest mistake. Collins’ non-existent ground game, neglect of local issues, and his behaviour online ultimately doomed his campaign, and his whiplash-inducing switch to a 3rd party after sweeping up thousands in donations as a democrat was the final nail in the coffin.
It’s important to keep your policies realistic and focused on the needs and concerns of your district. There’s nothing wrong with talking about M4A or the Green New Deal, but it shouldn’t be what you run your entire campaign on, you need reach out to voters and listen to them regarding local issues, too. Joshua noted at times that the water quality in his district was poor, and yet there was little mention of it during his campaign, choosing instead to focus on large scale national issues that weren’t realistically attainable, such as the abolishment of the CIA, shutting down the world bank, and ending global emissions by 2025, which failed to resonate with voters on a local level, if they were lucky enough to hear about them in the first place.
If you’re thinking about running for congress, remember, Twitter ≠ real life…
and also, don’t mention Lenin.