Whaddya Need? Push polls? Race-Baiting? Dirty Tricks? Terry Nelson’s Crosslink Strategy Group: A Full Service Hacks & Flacks firm.
The U.S. senate candidate told his media consultant “no matter what happens I’m not going negative.” The poll numbers began to slide and the candidate found himself down by several points with only two weeks left. The consultant shoved a direct mail letter across his desk. “Sign this, he said, “and we can get it out to hit next week.” The consultant stood over his shoulder as the candidate read the letter, a vicious and wholly manufactured attack on the opponent’s record compiled from procedural votes that distorted the opponent’s actual stance on the issue.
Focused on the criminal justice system, the letter conveyed the impression that the opponent was “soft on crime.” The racial innuendos were clear. If distributed several days before the election, there would be no time to counter it. The candidate signed the letter, shook his head ruefully, looked up at the consultant and said “I don’t know how you sleep at night.” The consultant replied, “I sleep fine; I don’t have to sign the letter.”
I heard that story told in Washington D.C. a number of years ago. I don’t recall whether it was apocryphal or an account of an actual conversation. No matter. There are endless variations but the basic idea is a familiar one: except for a very few high profile operatives – and even they aren’t well known – the candidate signs the letter or signs off on the ad or the tactic. For the real nasty stuff, there are distancing techniques. Think Enron or Citigroup and the off-the-books entities where the toxic assets are stashed. As for the balance sheet that investors see – in this case voters – everything looks pristine.