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Stirewaltisms: With Consultants Like These, Who Needs Enemies?
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Stirewaltisms: With Consultants Like These, Who Needs Enemies?

How operatives like Steve Schmidt make our politics worse.

WITH CONSULTANTS LIKE THESE, WHO NEEDS ENEMIES? 

There is an old joke among physicians: “What do you call the person who graduates last in their medical school class?” The answer: “Doctor.”

Whatever standard you set for professional qualifications means that someone will be the last one to make the grade. If you see your surgeon graduated from Johns Hopkins University, you may not know their class rank, but you do know that they had the ability to get into and out of one of the best schools in the world. But what about where there is no ranking, say, a field like political consulting?

You would think that a win-loss record would be the thing, but that clearly doesn’t apply. Look at Steve Schmidt. He parlayed his work for Karl Rove in George W. Bush’s second term into the chance to run Arnold Schwarzenegger’s successful re-election as California governor in 2006. That led to his gig running John McCain’s presidential campaign. In that spot, he gifted the world the vice presidential nomination of Sarah Palin. After crashing and burning with that one, Schmidt used relationships with back-scratching political journos like Mark Halperin to maintain a high profile, including in the brown-nosing best-seller about the 2008 election, Game Change. Schmidt repackaged himself as an anti-Republican Republican for MSNBC, and spent much of the ensuing decade as a reliable source for articles with lines like “even top Republican strategists …” long after he was any such thing.

His MSNBC perch allowed Schmidt to monetize his role as self-loathing Republican with the Lincoln Project. The purported goal of the organization was to reclaim the Republican Party from Donald Trump for the principles of Abraham Lincoln. What it ended up being was a massive cash suck for Democratic online donations that reportedly paid one of Schmidt’s associate’s firms $27 million for consulting services, including those of Schmidt himself. Most notoriously, the outfit declared in 2020 that it would lead a purge of the GOP and oppose Senate Republicans, including moderate Susan Collins of Maine, whom Schmidt’s group declared “a fraud” and “a stooge.” After dumping more than $1 million donor dollars into Maine ads, Collins won anyway.

Three months after the 2020 election, the Lincoln Project imploded when allegations of sexual misconduct were leveled at Schmidt’s co-founder and former McCain campaign colleague, John Weaver. Schmidt stepped down but denied any wrongdoing beyond apologizing for attacks against accusers. 

Which bring us to this week when Schmidt, a man who very obviously provided access for reporters in exchange for positive coverage for himself, even when campaigns were failing, had the utter lack of self-awareness to put the following twaddle on the Internet: “Today will be my final series of tweets on Access JOURNALISM and the deep rot that afflicts so much of the American political press.” Schmidt’s concern about “JOURNALISM” is directed at New York Times White House correspondent Maggie Haberman over her coverage of the sex scandal and the group. Steve Schmidt complaining about access journalism would be like Steven Tyler complaining about the excessive use of scarves by rock ‘n’ roll lead singers.

One has to suppose that Schmidt’s efforts here are either related to some other forthcoming allegation or are part of another effort at reinvention. Anti-media ranting is a reliable seller on the right, so maybe one day we’ll get to see him as an anti-anti-Republican on Newsmax. But who cares, really? Schmidt is already rich, and the Lincoln Project is already a joke. Whether he can get another squeeze of the political consulting lemon won’t matter much to the course of history. 

Schmidt’s attack on the newspaper that once glopped sloppy praise on him as the man who made McCain’s campaign “an elbows-out, risk-taking, disciplined machine” (LOLZ) is important only to help us understand the pitiful spectacle that has been the effort by some Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to turn what should be ho-hum confirmation hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s elevation to the Supreme Court into a circus. Starting with the effort to describe her as a friend to pedophiles despite the evidence to the contrary, thirsty lawmakers like Sen. Ted Cruz have turned the hearing into a preposterous, unnecessary self-own for Republicans.

The only good to come of Cruz badgering Jackson over the books in the library of her children’s private school because she serves on its board will be for Cruz’s online donations and for the authors of the books—and perhaps whomever provides supplies for Senate visual aids. Rather than diminishing Jackson’s chances of serving on the court, Cruz, along with Sens. Josh Hawley, Marsha Blackburn and others, have insulated Jackson from more thoughtful criticism. Rather than helping Republicans win Senate seats in November, they have created more fodder for Democratic attack ads. Rather than seeking GOP gains with black voters, they treated the first black woman nominated to the high court with sneering disrespect.

None of those senators is crazy and none of them are noted for any particular political courage. So why do they do such things?

That’s when it’s good to remember the Steve Schmidts of the world. Each of those senators employs not one, but a team of political professionals who advise them on everything imaginable. Long before the proof for the first giant poster from Antiracist Baby was sent to the printing office, those members considered how to attack Jackson and relied on the input of highly compensated individuals. The problem, though, is that this high compensation relies on lots and lots of campaign contributions. And those Schmidt-like professionals, whether they know it or not, face an implicit bias in favor of the strategies that are most likely to produce them—such as acting like a jerk in a televised hearing.

I’m sure Cruz and Hawley might have reached the same conclusion for themselves, but a consultant class that unduly prizes small-dollar donations will reliably ratify the worst instincts of the politicians who retain them. And like Schmidt, they will not suffer the consequences for their failures, but simply roll along to the next race.


Holy croakano! We welcome your feedback, so please email us with your tips, corrections, reactions, amplifications, etc. at STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM. If you’d like to be considered for publication, please include your real name and hometown. If you don’t want your comments to be made public, please specify.


STATSHOT

Biden job performance

Average approval: 38.6 percent
Average disapproval: 53.4 percent
Net score: -14.8 points
Change from one week ago: ↓ 4 points

[Average includes: Ipsos/Reuters: 40% approve-54% disapprove; Grinnell College: 34% approve-52% disapprove; Gallup: 42% approve-54% disapprove; Monmouth University: 39% approve-54% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 38% approve-53% disapprove]

Generic congressional ballot 

Democrats: 43.6 percent
Republicans: 47.2 percent
Net advantage: Republican Party +3.6
Change from one week ago: Republican Party ↑ 0.4 points

[Average includes: Monmouth University: 46% Democrat, 46% Republican; Wall Street Journal: 41% Democrat, 46% Republican; ABC News/Washington Post: 42% Democrat, 49% Republican; Fox News: 45% Democrat, 49% Republican; Quinnipiac University: 44% Democrat, 46% Republican]


TIME OUT: ‘LIKE BEING IN COLLEGE, BUT WITH MONEY’

The New Yorker: “The first person I met at the Bar & Chill was a bald guy in a black T-shirt, black drawstring shorts, and flip-flops, with a Harley-Davidson tattoo on his right arm and a claddagh ring on his left hand. … His tone was cheerful, as you might expect at the Bar & Chill, the principal drinking-and-dining establishment that looks out on the town center of Latitude Margaritaville, an active-living community for Jimmy Buffett enthusiasts, aged “55 and better,” in Daytona Beach, Florida. … Stuart Schultz, a former summer-camp director who, as Latitude Margaritaville’s head of residential community relations, serves as a kind of cheerleading pooh-bah, told me, ‘It’s like being in college, but with money and without having to study. You have a great dorm room, you never have to go to class, and there’s always a party.’”


TRUMP DUMPS SENATE CANDIDATE OVER 2020 CLAIMS

Montgomery [Alabama] Advertiser: “Former President Donald Trump Wednesday withdrew his endorsement of [Alabama] Rep. Mo Brooks for [Senate], accusing him of not supporting [Trump’s] false claims the 2020 presidential election was stolen. In a statement, Trump called [Brooks] ‘woke’ and cited comments made by Brooks at a rally in Cullman last August, where Brooks echoed Trump’s false claims but told the crowd to ‘put that behind you’ and look ahead to future elections. ‘When I heard his statement, I said, ‘Mo, you just blew the Election, and there’s nothing you can do about it,’’ Trump said in the statement. … The decision, which Trump had telegraphed for months, could be a mortal blow to Brooks [who] had centered the former president’s endorsement in its advertising. Recent polls have shown Brooks falling behind Republican candidates Mike Durant, the owner of a Huntsville engineering firm … and Katie Britt, the former president and CEO of the Business Council of Alabama.” 

Trump Georgia rally will highlight GOP vs. GOP split: The Hill: “Former Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) and NFL star-turned-Senate candidate Herschel Walker are among the list of Republican candidates who will speak at former President Trump’s rally in Georgia on Saturday.  The upcoming rally in Commerce, Ga. will also feature remarks from other Trump-backed candidates, including Georgia Republican Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene… While Walker is the heavy favorite in the GOP primary to take on Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) this year, Perdue has so far struggled to pull ahead in his challenge to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R), a onetime Trump ally who drew the former president’s ire after he rebuffed his pleas to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in the Peach State. [T]he event will put candidates like Walker and Perdue alongside firebrands like Greene, a first-term House member who has drawn criticism from within her own caucus, including recently for speaking at a white nationalist conference.”

Trump goes deep on Kemp vendetta: Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “Donald Trump’s vow to exact revenge on Brian Kemp has morphed into an all-out effort to also punish the governor’s closest allies. For the second time in as many weeks, the former president endorsed a little-known Republican challenger to one of Kemp’s closest political loyalists. In both cases, the Trump-backed candidates launched last-minute campaigns against the pro-Kemp incumbents just ahead of a March deadline. The latest beneficiary of Trump’s blessing is John Gordon, a … lawyer who announced his challenge to Attorney General Chris Carr with effusive praise for Trump. Gordon renewed his expired law license last year to help Trump’s failed legal challenge of the Georgia election results… Before Gordon, the most obscure Georgia candidate he had backed might have been Patrick Witt, who had been a longshot contender for an open U.S. House seat until he announced a challenge to Insurance Commissioner John King, a Kemp appointee.”

Duncan fights back: Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan has a welcoming gift ahead of Donald Trump’s visit to Georgia: A spate of statewide TV ads criticizing Trump and other Republicans who would “rather talk about conspiracy theories and past losses” than the upcoming November vote. Duncan’s “GOP 2.0″ conservative advocacy group launched the 30-second ad on Monday as Trump prepares to headline a weekend rally for six Georgia Republicans he’s endorsed. While Trump’s blessing was once the “golden ticket” for Republican politicians in Georgia, Duncan said the former president’s influence is waning. He singled out former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, who is challenging Gov. Brian Kemp with Trump’s support. … The TV ad is the most aggressive step yet from Duncan’s “GOP 2.0″ group, which aims to refocus the party on conservative policies rather than pro-Trump ideology. The six-figure buy will run in cable, broadcast and digital in markets across the state.”

Outside group looks to turn Pennsylvania Dem Senate primary nasty: Politico: “A super PAC backing Pennsylvania Senate candidate Conor Lamb is warning prospective donors that he is trailing frontrunner John Fetterman by 30 percentage points in the Democratic primary — and that the public’s perception of his opponent’s ideology must change for Lamb to have a shot. ‘[P]rimary voters don’t yet see Fetterman as the liberal he is,’ reads a memo circulated by the pro-Lamb group Penn Progress, which was obtained by [Politico]. … The document highlights the testing of aggressive negative messaging against Fetterman … including that he is a ‘dangerous radical who proudly calls himself a socialist,’ ‘supports far-left policies like a $34 trillion-dollar government takeover of healthcare,’ and has ‘spoken at Defund the Police rallies…’”

Another ugly debate for Ohio Senate GOP: Columbus Dispatch: “U.S. Senate candidate Mike Gibbons said … women were ‘probably’ oppressed when they didn’t have the right to vote as he defended previous claims that his only female opponent has never worked.  His comments fueled a larger discussion about women and gender during a debate in Cleveland between the five leading contenders in the GOP primary. The event came days after Gibbons and former state treasurer Josh Mandel sparred on stage during another debate, one of them appearing to use a derogatory term for women as an insult. Mandel denies saying it, and Gibbons told a Cleveland radio host he doesn’t remember the exchange because he went into ‘fight mode.’ … Gibbons was addressing questions about a previous interview, in which he said former Ohio Republican Party chair and GOP Senate challenger Jane Timken ‘barely worked’ and insinuated that her money comes from her husband.”

Ohio primary date up in the air:  NPR: “Voters in Ohio are supposed to be able to vote in the state’s May 3 primary — up and down the ballot — but with just six weeks to go, the voting districts for the state legislature haven’t been decided. Most states are wrapping up their redistricting process, but Ohio’s Supreme Court has rejected the Republican-drawn state legislative maps three times for being unconstitutional, leaving candidates, voters and the state’s entire voting infrastructure confused about what comes next. After the court’s latest map rejection, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a Republican, told lawmakers and elections officials that it would be impossible under the current circumstances for state House and state Senate races to appear on the May 3 ballot. ‘Our bipartisan elections officials were ready to conduct this election on time,’  LaRose wrote in a letter to lawmakers. ‘However, those boards are now left once again without clear districts to certify legislative candidates, and they’re simply out of time.’”

BRIEFLY

Contest to fill Rep. Don Young’s seat will be Alaska’s first ranked choice voting  election—Anchorage Daily News

Pro-GOP group said to have used scam to get Ashley Biden’s diary—New York Times 

A second prosecutor quit in protest after Manhattan District Attorney nixed Trump probe—New York Times

WITHIN EARSHOT: YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT?

“Yes, Gino had a noise complaint. When well over 100 Italian family and friends get together, sometimes it gets a little noisy.”—Colorado Senate candidate Gino Campana’s spokesman, Jerrod Dobkin, to the Associated Press after the revelation of police records showing Campana risked being arrested after becoming argumentative with police during his daughter’s raucous high school graduation party in 2013. 


MAILBAG

“Let me start with the last thing first. If you’re in The Dispatch break room and Steve Hayes tries to grab some pickles from the cabinet, would it be necessary to bite him or would a simple lick of the arm be enough to make him stand down?  And is this an allegory of the whole Ukraine thing, where [Vladimir Putin] is trying to bite Ukraine but he may have to draw back and claim it was just an overly sloppy lick?  Also, when you worked at Fox as a numbers wonk did you get that ‘oh crap, I hate this’ feeling if your numbers fit the Fox nighttime hosts’ current story arc?  I’m thinking when you’re working on the numbers side at Fox, you just know that if your polling fits [Tucker Carlson’s] latest obsession everyone will dismiss your hard work as agit-prop for the network.  I always thought that must be a difficult position to be in, trying to deliver facts knowing you’ll be seen as a lackey if the numbers come out one way and ‘not a team player’ if they come out the other way.—Craig Berry, Frankfort, Illinois

I’ve never seen any pickles at Dispatch HQ, but I’m not going to lie: If there were pickles, I would be in far more often. As for what I’d do to protect my own stash, it depends. If it was super crunchy half sours, I might go for a full bite; whole sweets, a possible lick; and dill pickle spears, I’d let Steve take with no reprisals. As for worrying about what people do with your work or how they receive it, I can only tell you that kind of thinking is a trap. One of the big reasons I don’t go on Twitter anymore is that it’s an invitation to counterproductive anxieties such as those. I’ve somehow been able to sustain myself and my family for more than 20 years just by writing and talking about politics. I find that astonishing every day. What I’ve learned to do along the way is that I can express my gratitude for that miracle by doing my best and leaving the rest for God to figure out. 

“If the Supreme Court were to directly overturn Roe v. Wade (I think unlikely, but possible), do you think that would eventually lessen the partisan rancor over each Supreme Court nomination?  I am trying to think of another issue that animates both sides as much as the abortion issue. Voting rights, minority and LGBTQ rights, campaign finance, First and Second Amendment issues and other issues out there just don’t seem to resonant as much as abortion.  Without that issue that really rallies both sides, could we see in 5-10 years a more civil nomination process?”—Steve Arthur, Woodland Park, Colorado

While much of the problem with rancorous confirmation processes is certainly about the undue powers taken on by the Supreme Court since the middle of the previous century, a lot of it is just what Sen. Ben Sasse referred to in Wednesday’s hearing as “jackassery.” The behavior of ball hogs like Ted Cruz isn’t about abortion. It isn’t even mostly about matters of jurisdiction of the court. It’s about getting airtime and sucking up to primary voters and small-dollar donors. The Senate will always have members like Cruz, but members like Cruz don’t need televised hearings to strut and preen. Like the Supreme Court itself, we’d be better off reading about these hearings than looking at peacocks preen.


You should email us! Write to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM with your tips, kudos, criticisms, insights, rediscovered words, wonderful names, recipes and always good jokes. Please include your real name—at least first and last—and hometown. Make sure to let me know in the email if you want to keep your submission anonymous. My colleague, the intrepid Samantha Goldstein, and I will look for your emails and then share the most interesting ones and my responses here. Clickety clack! 


CUTLINE CONTEST: SMELLS LIKE IRISH SPRING

There’s one week left in the month of March, so make your last captions count! As usual, we’ll be picking the winner and sending them a special prize. Our winner this week is . . . 

“I couldn’t find a pocket square but luckily found this in the hair of one of those Tik Tok stars.  She smelled terrific, by the way.”—John Ellis, Honolulu, Hawaii

Honorable mention: 

“Well, what if we use the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow to pay for it all?”—Karin Bergsagel, Williamsburg, Virginia

Readers should send in their proposed cutline for the picture that appears at the top of this newsletter to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM. We will pick the top entrants and an appropriate reward for the best of this month—even beyond the glory and adulation that will surely follow. Be hilarious, don’t be too dirty, and never be cruel. Include your full name and hometown. Have fun! 


BAD PENNY 

Patch: “You can lead a horse to water, but sometimes it needs help getting back on land. At about 7:50 a.m. on Saturday, Suffolk County [New York] Police responded to a 911 call of a horse stuck in the pool cover in a pool on a Pond Road residence. In assistance with the Bohemia Fire Department and Emergency Service Section officers, police were able to rescue the horse from the deep end of the pool through the shallow end. The horse, a 3-year-old mare named Penny, was not injured, police said, and lives at the Pond Road residence.” 

Chris Stirewalt is a contributing editor at The Dispatch, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of Broken News, a book on media and politics available August 23. Samantha Goldstein contributed to this report.

Chris Stirewalt is a contributing editor at The Dispatch, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, the politics editor for NewsNation, co-host of the Ink Stained Wretches podcast, and author of Broken News, a book on media and politics.