Tag Archives: opposition research

In November, Winning Is Everything

Let me begin by emphasizing that I will definitely be a “blue no matter who” voter. (I would vote for a potted plant if the plant ended up being the Democratic nominee, because–as you know if you read yesterday’s post— the alternative is too horrible to contemplate.)

Let me also be clear that I tend to agree with many if not most of Bernie Sanders’ goals–national health care, support for working-class Americans, higher taxes on the rich. And I will cast my vote for him should he emerge as the nominee, although I do not believe he would win.

Bernie’s most devoted supporters insist that he will appeal to independents and energize the youth vote. Data on the preferences of self-described “independents” suggests that true independents are few and far between, and that those few prefer moderates; with respect to the predictions about turnout and young voters, New Hampshire–which he won by a whisker–may be instructive. 

Politico reports

Even counting for the fact that in 2016 he was in a two-person race, the comparison with his smashing victory over Hillary Clinton (22 points and 60 percent of the vote) and, as of late Tuesday night, his less-than-2-point squeaker over Buttigieg, is notable. Sanders dominated the state in 2016, winning every county. Buttigieg and Klobuchar ripped holes through that map everywhere, turning color-coded maps from 2016 that showed a Sanders rout into a patchwork of colors.

Perhaps more important, Sanders overpromised and underdelivered. He has premised his campaign on nothing less than sparking a political revolution in which disaffected and first-time voters — especially young ones — pour into American politics to carry him to the White House. It didn’t happen in Iowa, and it didn’t happen in New Hampshire.

The percentage of young voters actually declined from 2016 to 2020 in New Hampshire, from 19 percent to 14 percent. Independents were a larger share of the electorate, but they did not break nearly as decisively for Sanders as they did in 2016. He received support from just 29 percent of self-described independents this time, as opposed to 73 percent (!) in 2016.

Together, Buttigieg and Klobuchar (who would have been considered leftwing in previous election years, but are now characterized as moderates) won just over 50% of the primary vote.

Perhaps the best analysis of why a Sanders nomination would be very risky was written by Jeffrey Isaacs, an eminent political science professor at Indiana University. Isaacs is philosophically close to Sanders, but he notes that the most likely immediate consequences of Bernie’s nomination would be the (strong) probability of a Trump re-election.

Isaacs sets out the probable consequences of a Sanders’ nomination for down-ticket candidates, and I encourage everyone to click through and read that analysis in its entirety, because it is sobering–not least because it is based upon actual data rather than devotees’ self-deception. But the most ominous evidence in the article is a long quotation from a Never Trump Republican who saw the opposition research the GOP had gathered in 2016, in case Bernie became the nominee then.

So what would have happened when Sanders hit a real opponent, someone who did not care about alienating the young college voters in his base? I have seen the opposition book assembled by Republicans for Sanders, and it was brutal. The Republicans would have torn him apart. . . Here are a few tastes of what was in store for Sanders, straight out of the Republican playbook: He thinks rape is A-OK. In 1972, when he was 31, Sanders wrote a fictitious essay in which he described a woman enjoying being raped by three men. Yes, there is an explanation for it — a long, complicated one, just like the one that would make clear why the Clinton emails story was nonsense. And we all know how well that worked out.

Then there’s the fact that Sanders was on unemployment until his mid-30s, and that he stole electricity from a neighbor after failing to pay his bills, and that he co-sponsored a bill to ship Vermont’s nuclear waste to a poor Hispanic community in Texas, where it could be dumped. You can just see the words “environmental racist” on Republican billboards. And if you can’t, I already did. They were in the Republican opposition research book as a proposal on how to frame the nuclear waste issue.

Also on the list: Sanders violated campaign finance laws, criticized Clinton for supporting the 1994 crime bill that he voted for, and he voted against the Amber Alert system. His pitch for universal health care would have been used against him too, since it was tried in his home state of Vermont and collapsed due to excessive costs. Worst of all, the Republicans also had video of Sanders at a 1985 rally thrown by the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua where half a million people chanted, “Here, there, everywhere/the Yankee will die,” while President Daniel Ortega condemned “state terrorism” by America. Sanders said, on camera, supporting the Sandinistas was “patriotic.”

The Republicans had at least four other damning Sanders videos (I don’t know what they showed), and the opposition research folder was almost 2-feet thick. (The section calling him a communist with connections to Castro alone would have cost him Florida.) In other words, the belief that Sanders would have walked into the White House based on polls taken before anyone really attacked him is a delusion built on a scaffolding of political ignorance.

Could Sanders still have won? Well, Trump won, so anything is possible. But Sanders supporters puffing up their chests as they arrogantly declare Trump would have definitely lost against their candidate deserve to be ignored.

It is striking to me how easily many of Sanders’s hard-core supporters dismiss these concerns.

Are all of these attacks fair? Of course not. But arguing that they would not be effective is delusional–and so is attributing malign motives to every Democrat who doesn’t want to take that chance.

Bernie has made a difference in American political life; he has moved the Overton Window left, and that is no small feat. His movement has made it easier for a less tarnished Democrat to win in 2020, and he deserves great credit for that. But if you read yesterday’s compendium of horror stories, you know that in 2020, nothing is more important than nominating someone who is most likely to eject Trump’s criminal cabal from the White House.

We can indulge in intra-party conflicts and conspiracy theories and reconstitute the famous Democratic circular firing squad once we’ve come together to do what is absolutely necessary to save America.

 

Journalism Declines And Scandals Rise

I know I harp a lot on the importance of accurate, credible journalism–especially at the local level, but it is really, really important.

Believe it or not, the ongoing scandals in Virginia, which have embroiled the top three state officeholders, are illustrations of what happens when local coverage goes missing.

As Amanda Marcotte observed in Salon, 

The Virginia scandal is a reflection of a larger trend where politics will be driven more and more by revelations, gotcha moments and resulting scandals. The decline in robust, in-depth journalism, particularly on the local level — coupled with the rise of social media and well-funded partisan opposition research — is creating an atmosphere where political scandals, legitimate or not, will increasingly dominate politics and media.

“You have this degradation of resources in local journalism, which has been going on for a while now,” said Joshua Benton, director of the Nieman Journalism Lab, which is currently offering a fellowshipfor local investigative journalism. “You also have this counterpart, which is that it’s easier than before for opposition researchers on all sides to dig up dirt of this sort.”

Benton explained that the decline in local journalism allows politicians in the early stages of their careers, when they are likely to be running for school board or city council,  to escape the scrutiny they would previously have gotten from the relevant local media.

Philip Napoli, a professor at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy, added that this trend has coincided with another, “the rise of social media and the ways that political candidates are able to communicate with their constituencies directly” and present a version of themselves that’s more to their own liking.

The result is that politicians simply don’t get the vetting they might once have received as they climb the career ladder from smaller offices to statewide and even national offices. Red flags that might have been noticed before a politician reached a position of significant power get overlooked, because local papers simply don’t have the resources to catch them.

The decline in local coverage has coincided with the rise of partisan outlets– not just national networks like Fox and Sinclair, but local talk radio and blogs less concerned with accuracy than with scoring points.  Add to that the gift of the internet– the wealth of materials that vigorous opposition research can now unearth– and you have a recipe for ongoing scandals appearing at extremely “inconvenient” times in politicians’ careers.

In the “old model,” Benton said, people  who wanted to share damning information like sexual assault allegations or past episodes of racist conduct would “go to a reporter and hand him or her the documents or the evidence,” and that reporter would “determine whether the information that’s being handed to them is correct or not.”

 “Now, increasingly you can just post it online and skip that step in the process,” he added. So questions about whether the information is true and legitimately newsworthy don’t get answered in advance.

It appears that the Virginia accusations are all true, although the stories were “broken” by a sleazy partisan web site. But in other cases, innocent parties and organizations sustained real (and sometimes permanent) damage before manufactured allegations could be debunked. Remember when Breitbart accused the nonprofit ACORN of being involved in sex trafficking? Its story was entirely false, but it led to the group’s collapse. A doctored video was used to accuse Planned Parenthood of selling “baby parts” from aborted fetuses and was gleefully spread far and wide. It was later shown to be part of the ongoing, deceptive effort to convince lawmakers to stop funding Planned Parenthood, but pro-life groups continue to cite it as “evidence” of the organization’s evil doings.

In the absence of adequate, reliable reporting, conspiracy theories and partisan invention will fill the void. And citizens won’t know what they can and can’t believe.

The problem is national, but far more prevalent at the local level.