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Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Warning For The Next Scott Brown

While Democrats of all stripes are taking pot shots at each other over Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts, others are preparing to make sure the next Scott Brown is smeared before he or she can get traction.

Martha Coakley's many gaffes were of her own creation. From the comment about shaking hands outside Fenway Park, to the claim that Kurt Curt Schilling was a Yankees fan, to the slap at devoutly religious emergency room workers, Coakley created her own problems. Even the incident with the reporter being pushed to the ground outside Coakley's DC fundraiser was of Coakley's own creation as her handler attempted to prevent a reporter from asking perfectly sensible questions.

Coakley's image problem was not the result of smears, but a result of the blogosphere and mainstream media publicizing Coakley's own words in context.

There were, however, three key smears directed at Scott Brown, none of which took off because of the overall momentum in the race. Nonetheless, these smears are a road map as to how the next Scott Brown will be attacked.

The first type of smear was the traditional policy smear, in which a policy position is twisted beyond recognition.

The most prominent of these smears was the claim that Brown wanted to deny medical care to rape victims. As I posted before numerous times, this claim was both false and exaggerated. The worst example of exaggeration was the now-notorious rape mailer which claimed that Brown wanted to turn away rape victims from hospitals. This smear reflected a Democratic intention to use identity politics, in this case gender, as a wedge issue. That is a tried and true tactic, but it didn't work here because the charges were so over the top that the mainstream media never joined the fray.

A second policy smear was the claim that Brown wanted to deny financial assistance to 9/11 workers. Brown voted against a piece of legislation which was not specific to 9/11, but would have given all state workers 15 extra paid days off (in addition to all their other paid vacation and sick time) if they volunteered to help the Red Cross in an emergency. This smear never gained traction because with Brown's military background, raising 9/11 against Brown was ludicrous.

These policy smears were of the usual campaign variety. Next time, however, they may be more effective if Democrats pick their issues and targets more carefully.

The second type of smear was that Brown was a "birther" because in an interview Brown questioned whether Obama was born out of wedlock. Assuming that Brown raised such a question, that would not make him a "birther" so the story line was that "birthers" claim that Obama was a "bastard" so if Brown questioned Obama's parentage, Brown was a "birther."

This smear was false on many levels. The video used to generate this claim, publicized by the Blue Mass Group and other blogs, was tightly edited to take the language out of context. The context was that the moderator was questioning the Palin family's "morals" because of Bristol Palin's teenage pregnancy, and Brown simply commented that it doesn't matter, and in fact Obama's mother was a teenager when he was born.

The moderator then interjected that at least Obama's mother was married, to which Brown responded that he didn't know about that. Brown did not raise the issue, and did not take a position on the issue, but that was enough to cause numerous left wing blogs to run with the story. (As an aside, Michelle Obama herself has stated that Obama's mother was single at the time of his birth.)

The lesson of this second smear is that the left-wing blogs will do anything, and stretch as far as they need to, to paint opponents as "birthers." In this sense, "birther" is the new "racist" for Democratic operatives attempting to destroy a Republican; the truth of the accusation doesn't matter, as long as the label sticks.

The third type of smear, which appeared in the final couple of days of the campaign, was that Brown had agreed with someone in a crowd who shouted that someone should "shove a curling iron up HER butt." The line most likely was a reference to a controversial case in which Coakley failed to prosecute someone accused of doing a similar thing to a toddler.

The video showed Brown standing on the back of his truck with a megaphone in his hand giving a campaign speech, and there are numerous things being shouted at him. In the background noise one does hear this line shouted, although there is no way to tell who shouted it. At the same time many people were shouting, and Brown paused for a second and the continued with his speech saying "we can do this." The always disgusting Keith Olbermann used this statement by Brown to launch a rant claiming that Brown agreed with the shout. Many left-wing blogs ran with it as well.

Well-known blogger, Dave Weigel, noted that left-wing activists were late to the fight and to this story:
A reporter/blogger for ThinkProgress who asked Brown uncomfortable questions only arrived on the trail 24 hours before the election, too late for videos of Brown trying to explain, for example, a vote against financial assistance for Red Cross workers assisting in post-9/11 efforts, to have any impact. A video of the viral curling iron” story backfiring on Brown as a supporter yelled a crude remark about Coakley also appeared too close to the election, after the momentum was sealed.
This lesson of this third smear is that anything said in a crowd will be used for viral footage if the candidate does not respond on the spot, even if the candidate did not hear the comment. This happened during the McCain campaign, when someone supposedly shouted that they wanted to kill Obama at a McCain rally. The claim turned out to be false, but it dominated several news cycles.

This "failure to respond" smear is a favorite line of attack by Think Progress, which frequently sends reporters to confront Republicans in situations where they will not have a chance to respond to a question. The story line then is "Senator X refused to" take a position on a controversial subject.

This, I believe, will be the tactic most frequently used against the next Scott Brown. A shout out in a crowd, whether real or planted, or an ambush interview to elicit a non-response, will be the tool of choice.

This is a warning to the next Scott Brown. Be ready.

Update: I just noticed this predictable nonsense from Think Progress based on someone at the Brown victory party waiving a flag which might be construed as calling for a "civil war" (TP's words):

And similar garbage posted this morning about Brown supporting a "birther":

The left-wing attack machine did not have its act together in the Brown-Coakley race, but we have seen the model of what other candidates can expect.

Added: The "Birther" charge in the screen shot above has been "updated" to include a denial by a Brown spokesman that there ever was an endorsement of that candidate:
"(Update, Thursday, 3 p.m.: Brown spokesman Felix Browne says the senator-elect neither saw nor approved of the press release Hudak put out claiming Brown’s support.)"

This false story has allowed Think Progress to amplify the accusation:

And the aforementioned Dave Weigel is pushing it as well, clinging to the birther language even though the endorsement has been disproven, based on Brown having thanked the candidate at a rally for his work on the campaign.

Trust me on this, for the nutroots, Birther is the new Racist, and we will see the Birther Card played with the same vigor and unseemliness as the race card.

Related Posts:
The Brown Campaign from the Ground Up
What A Day
Bangladesh Lost The MA Election

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  1. Again, excellent analysis. I think, too, that HillBuzz deserves some credit for defusing the potential damage of the 20-year-old Cosmo photo; while "the next Scott Brown" is unlikely to be as hot as our Hottie McAwesome, the lesson taken is a good one: get ahead of the negative by making it a positive, or at least by defusing it by owning it (or send a note to the HillBuzz guyz to do it for them?).

  2. somebody pops up in front of you with a camera and an awkward question, don't answer, just tell them to contact your campaign and you'll personally guarantee them an interview... then you surreptitiously film the interview.

    "that's a really good question and we should sit down and talk about it... Jim: get this guy/lady an appointment"

  3. One minor nit -- as a Phillies fan, I have to point out that it is Curt (not Kurt) Schilling. Then again, you probably type faster that I do, and neither of us are running for office!

  4. Outstanding analysis. Somebody important needs to print it out and distribute it to all Republicans running in November and beyond. Maybe Michael Steele?

  5. Actually, I think the fact is that these smears were stupid acts of desperation that had no effect on the race. They were too obviously BS of the sort that voters tend to tune out.

    More to the point, endangered Dems will be more likely to go negative early to "define" their challengers and "shape" the campaign more favorably. But such early negative stuff has to have some semblance of a grounding in reality or they will backfire on the Dems.

    There are problems with this, too. Early paid media can help with the defining and shaping but it can also fritter away money better spent in October when people are paying attention. And early negative campaigning can draw unfavorable attention from the "free media," as well as back-at-you attacks from the challengers.

    All that said, Professor, you are right to anticipate that going negative may be more appealing to incumbents who don't have a very good argument against challengers who do.

  6. 1. Since Weigel is one of the main promoters of smears and lies relating to the birther issue, perhaps this site could point that out.

    2. This post is great echo chamber material, but it's not going to much long-term impact and it's not going to convince anyone who wasn't already convinced.

    3. The Dems are going to keep crying "birther!" and - even more than racism charges - much of the damage that will result will have been self-inflicted. If others had simply told the truth about this issue, dozens of Dem-linked sources could have been discredited. Instead, others decided to ignore the truth of this issue (or weren't smart enough to know what was and wasn't true) and thereby helped the Dems. Read this through a few times.

  7. This needs to be tacked to the walls of any and all campaign HQ. Words of wisdom and should be heeded.

  8. Excellent advice. I also have faith in the immediacy of the social networks to explode any and all lefty smears that have no basis in fact. As soon as the left started a smear the right came out and dismantled it. That said, we need smart and quick candidates who can think and speak on their feet. Someone NOT like Coakley and Obowmao.

  9. TO: William A. Jacobson, et al.
    RE: Welcome!

    others ['Progressives'] are preparing to make sure the next Scott Brown is smeared before he or she can get traction. -- William A. Jacobson

    Welcome to the New Roman Empire. Or rather, the collapse of the New Roman Republic and the subsequent replacement with an Empire.

    A year or so ago I was reading a history of Rome and noticed that the political parties started resorting to stupid name-calling instead of cogent debate.

    And when that happened, THEN the Republic was doomed.


    History repeats itself.


    [History repeats itself. That's one of the problems with it.]

  10. Yes, it's true.
    They'll be smearing and lying as they always do, but more intensely than ever.

    But it's not working.

    And it won't work.

    See, it used to be that when the press reported some claim Democrats made, people would think, "Whoah. We'd better check it out. Did they really say that?"

    Now everyone knows that so-called journalists are lying chunks of Olbermann.

  11. P.S. Re-reading my comment, I am reminded of something rather important....

    Between the fall of the Roman Republic wherein cogent debate slid into name-calling and the rise of the Roman Empire, there was a nasty period of Civil War.

    I suspect that leaving the cogent debate for ever-more exciting name-calling in political venues LEAD to the bloody nature of the conversion.

    I find it a fascinating possibility that the vaunted American education system has generated a generation that ONLY KNOWS how to use name-calling instead of honest, cogent debate in settling political matters.

    I thank all those 'wonderful' I hear at debate tournaments I judge, prattling away about THEIR 'children' and how well THEY 'teach' them, between rounds in the judges lounge. They've done a splendid job of preparing US for the interesting times ahead.

    You wanna see REAL 'lounge lizards'? Become a high school debate judge....

  12. This is exactly why people like Dick Cheney and Sarah Palin are smeared from the get-go. The Dems wanted to make sure they ruined Cheney from day one so he could not later run for President, and they had to smear Palin as a dunce from day one for the same reasons.

    If the Republicans were smart, they would have done the same to Obama when he ran basically unopposed in 2004.

  13. ERRATA:

    That P.S. SHOULD have the comment of....

    I thank all those 'wonderful' TEACHERS I hear at debate tournaments....

    Getting ahead of myself.

    P.P.S. Another aspect of the vitriol in the name-calling we're witnessing is that we've got a generation on our hands that's been raised on how GREAT they are, vis-a-vis fed on steady diet of 'self-esteem'. I'm confident that THAT is an important ingredient to the proper mix of mindless name-calling and vitriol we're seeing.

    I'll wager dollars against donuts that the more vitriolic of these attacks are from people who graduated from high school after 1995.

  14. msspurlock is living in a bubble of her own making. The MSM and the subsidiaries have a huge influence, and anyone who takes her advice and thinks they don't matter will lose.

    Also, for an example of that self-inflicting damage I talked about above, see this guy. Why is a loony libertarian in effect helping the Dem establishment rather than telling the truth and trying like me to discredit them. He deleted the comment I left, but feel free to go ask him why he's helping what to him is the other team. Just don't question his intelligence like I did lest your comment is deleted under his rules.

  15. This is a great article. I also believe that Alinsky smear campaigns are becoming more difficult as the populace generally becomes more aware of the tactic itself, and therefore more skeptical.

  16. The negative campaign strategy doesn't seem to be working (it failed in VA and in NJ and was an epic fail in MA), so why they even bother doing it is the mystery here. But hey, as long as it keeps failing, I say, keep smearing, Dems!

  17. If you have candidates like Brown smearing will not only not work --- it will backfire in a big way. He is the best I have seen in dealing with 'issues'.
    On the other hand if you have candidates that are the same-o, same-o brand of interchangeable POLITICIANS then you don't deserve to win anyway.

    Conclusion: Get Good Candidates.

  18. I think this is starting to backfire on the Democrats. The Dean of Boston College Law School called Martha out on the hideous rape flyer. I think the moderate Dems are beginning to realize just how rabid and dangerous the Nutroots crowd are,