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Headfake Advocacy

Claire McCaskill photo

Image by DonkeyHotey

Senator Claire McCaskill made public the widely known secret that her campaign did what it could to help Todd Akin become her Republican opponent in 2012:

So how could we maneuver Akin into the GOP driver’s seat?

Using the guidance of my campaign staff and consultants, we came up with the idea for a “dog whistle” ad, a message that was pitched in such a way that it would be heard only by a certain group of people. I told my team we needed to put Akin’s uber-conservative bona fides in an ad—and then, using reverse psychology, tell voters not to vote for him. And we needed to run the hell out of that ad. {…}

If we were going to spend that kind of money on ads for Akin, I wanted to get him nominated and start disqualifying him with independent voters at the same time. By that prescription, our ad would have to include Akin’s statement that Obama was a “menace to civilization” and that Akin had said of himself that he was “too conservative” for Missouri. This presentation made it look as though I was trying to disqualify him, though, as we know, when you call someone “too conservative” in a Republican primary, that’s giving him or her a badge of honor. At the end of the ad, my voice was heard saying, “I’m Claire McCaskill, and I approve this message.”

This is hardly the first time that this has been done. The GOP has been known to pump money in Green Party efforts to split the left-of-center votes. And, of course, there is always at least talk of crossing during the primaries in order to vote for the weaker candidate on the other side’s roster. And while it’s been done before – or tried – it’s also going to be done again.

This may be sketchy, but it is presumably legal. Isn’t it? Rick Hasen, who initially believed it was, had second thoughts:

On reflection, I think the stronger issue is whether McCaskill made an unreported and excessive in kind contribution to the Akin campaign by sharing the results of her polling data. If she gave the campaign something worth more than the limit (which was probably $2600 in that election) she’d be giving an in-kind contribution, and a contribution worth that much would have to be reported.

Well did the Senator give Akin something of value? It looks like it. After all, we know it is valuable to him because the Senator writes “Akin did not have money for polling,” and she provided the information he needed to clinch the primary (at least in the Senator’s telling). Elias’s response to this point is: “There’s no suggestion she shared ‘polling data’. She only ‘gave clearance, allowing [pollster] to speak in broad generalities.” Perhaps that distinction will work, but I still think the issue is a serious one and merits a fuller analysis (and certainly fuller than I can give it now). I’m not suggesting the Senator broke the law, but there is enough here to justify a closer look.

I wanted to buy into this argument, and it may indeed be legally correct. However, if I am being honest with myself, if this is in fact illegal it’s likely against a law that I oppose or would oppose application in this particular case. This strikes me as free speech and free assembly on a pretty fundamental level.

I will also say, in defense of it, that it’s not strictly dishonest. McCaskill opposes Akin and all she did was say so! And it’s hard to get too excited about it, given the inevitability of Use Every Tool At Your Disposal, even if it involves things like improving your odds with reverse psychology.

Be that as it may, this comes across to me as sausage-making stuff and there is something unseemly to me about bragging about it. Harry Reid’s lies about Mitt Romney were constitutional, and a part of the game so to speak, but not exactly something to be proud of. The same goes for Jon Huntsman’s shot across the bow to Mitch Daniels, though in that case being silent about it while everyone blamed Mitt Romney was itself a bit of a problem.

This one at least has the virtue of assisting people, in a way, finding their preferred candidate. A plurality of Missouri voters preferred Todd Akin. And people who voted for Ralph Nader wanted Ralph Nader as their president or at least wanted him to make more rather than less of a dent in the tally. In addition to the other bad things it’s not, it’s not cheating.

It is, however, hard for me to overlook the bad faith. I have the notion that things work better when the elections are between the best possible holders of the position. “Best” is subjective here, but it seems unlikely to me that if McCaskill were to lose, that she would prefer lose to Akin instead of Brunner. That she would actually consider Akin rather than Brunner to be the representative of state. And it’s not inconceivable that Akin could have won, creating a Lester Maddox situation. As it is, of course, the gambles often pay off for the gambler. The voters in Missouri were left with McCaskill and a more undesirable option. Arguably, the responsibility of the party system, and the primary system, and the current state of the Republican Party, more than McCaskill herself… but a deliberately engineered in good part by McCaskill.

Perhaps it can be said that more light is better. That McCaskill’s fessing up merely makes the phenomenon more known and that maybe voters will avoid being manipulated – if we want to call it that – in the future. I personally see if as taking the dirty part of politics, and reveling in it. Finding something of a glitch in the system and bragging about its exploitation. Haha, we didn’t even like the guy, but we did everything we could to bolster his chances at becoming a US senator because it helped our odds somewhat. Aren’t we clever! A cleverness not only accepted, but celebrated.

I have a friend from Louisiana who argues – and truly believes – that Louisiana politics is no more corrupt than an any other state. It’s just that Louisiana is more open about it. It’s a function of honesty, rather than corruption, that Louisiana has the reputation that it does. No doubt corruption levels outside of the usual suspects (Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, etc) is higher than we sometimes believe, but the land of Edwin Edwards gets a lot of attention in part because it becomes so audacious that even Louisiana cannot ignore it. And even then, the voters accepted it repeatedly. Which is what happens when something becomes a norm and, to a degree, celebrated (“Edwards may be a crook, but he’s our crook!”).

All of that bringing to light Edwards’s last re-election, with the informal slogan “Vote for the crook, it’s important!” The slogan was bandied about because the alternative was David Duke with incumbent Buddy Roemer finishing third. Edwards got lucky because it’s unlikely he would have been able to beat Roemer. Perhaps today the wiser course of action would be to lend money to the Duke campaign, and give Louisiana the choice that favored him. With the added bonus of being able to express in a book how clever you are for lending support and aid to a fascist.

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25 thoughts on “Headfake Advocacy

  1. This goes well-beyond the GOP supporting Greens. Nixon did it with his rat-fucking because he didn’t want to face Ed Muskie or Ted Kennedy in 1972.

    The truth is that this is something that can probably happen in any jungle primary unless you are dealing with a mono-party place like San Francisco. What is to prevent voters (on all sides) from voting for someone they oppose in order to make sure a nutbar is representing the other side in the general?

    I suppose the big risk is that this can all backfire and your “This guy is so crazy, he can’t win” guy actually wins.

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  2. Hell, this ain’t half as bad as I’ve heard of.
    This is public, and nobody went to jail for it, neither.
    Nor was anyone sprung out of jail just to do a fucking prank, either.

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  3. The thing that most people neglect when talking about the rodent carnality of this – McCaskill’s gambit almost didn’t work. It was only after Aiken flapped his gums one too many times and put his mouth in them that he permanently ceded the lead to McCaskill.

    McCaskill’s almost certainly going to get a cabinet-level appointment in Hillary’s first term so McCaskill won’t have to run again, esp since the next election is a midterm.

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