One week from today, voters across the country will head to the polls and elect a president and a Congress. Literally billions of dollars have been spent so far to influence the outcome, not to mention countless hours of personal sacrifice and effort. Alas, politics is a zero-sum game: there will be no return on investment for the losers. Even if a candidate wins by a single vote, his or her backers can be rewarded with extraordinary power, access and profit, while the very narrow loser gets nothing, and the supporters, less—just red ink on the ledger.
So in this last week of campaigning, all the stops come out. For too many political operatives that have long since discarded notions of professional ethics, the only question about a dirty tactic is: will it work? In July, the answer is likely to be “probably not,” because the trick can be discovered and the candidate branded as dirty, or a cheater.
But now, with so little time left—with no real time for tricks to be exposed nor for narratives about questionable tactics to shape up—dirty moves look pretty appealing. (It also helps that the national press, aside from being overwhelmed with the conclusion of so many important races, is also distracted by a historically catastrophic storm).
And so we’ve seen them. On the top line, this dynamic probably explains the Romney campaign’s decision to run a series of ads in Ohio claiming that, thanks to Obama’s auto bailout, Chrysler is going to move all Jeep production to China. This is not true in any possible interpretation of the facts, and I have to think that, despite his loose relationship with the truth, there’s no way Romney would go this far out on a limb in the summer time. (As John Nichols writes today, “Yes, Romney’s a Liar, but This Is Getting Ridiculous.”) The company itself has blasted this as “a leap that would be difficult even for professional circus acrobats,” while assuring panicked workers, and Vice President Biden has aggressively fought back, asking “Have they no shame?” Newspapers editorials across the state are blasting Romney’s lie.
Normally, this is the type of blowback that would really harm a candidate, but the Romney camp’s calculation is clearly that there just isn’t time for that—and meanwhile, many low-information voters can be scared into voting Romney. I’m not sure that’s the right calculation, but one they’ve made: after three days of pushback from the company and pretty much everyone else, Romney responded Tuesday afternoon by releasing a radio version of the ad that’s even more dishonest than the original spot.
But beneath headline-level antics like this, things are getting even dirtier. Scott Keyes at ThinkProgress reported today that the Romney campaign in Wisconsin is training volunteers to explicitly mislead voters:
Documents from a recent Romney poll watcher training obtained by ThinkProgress contain several misleading or untrue claims about the rights of Wisconsin voters… One blatant falsehood occurs on page 5 of the training packet, which informed poll watchers that any “person [who] has been convicted of treason, a felony, or bribery” isn’t eligible to vote. This is not true. Once a Wisconsin voter who has been convicted of a felony completes his or her sentence, that person is once again eligible to vote.
The poll workers are also being given incomplete information as to what can be used as identification to vote in Wisconsin.
Meanwhile, voters in Virginia—where both the presidential race and key Senate race are essentially tied—are receiving truly deceptive robocalls about President Obama’s relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
First, the phone rings and “William Kristol” comes up on caller ID. (Yes, that one). His group, the Emergency Committee for Israel, is paying for the call, which features random remarks from different Obama and Netanyahu speeches spliced together as if the two had a debate—and one in which Obama basically tells Netanyahu to get lost. Ron Kampeas at JTA has the transcript:
DEBATE ‘MODERATOR’: Welcome to the first debate between Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Mr. President, we’ll start with you.
OBAMA: I’ve made it clear that the United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran and is not interfering with Iran’s affairs.
“MODERATOR”: Mr. President, thank you. Mr. Prime Minister, your response.
NETANYAHU: The Jewish state will not allow those who seek our destruction to possess the means to achieve that goal. A nuclear armed Iran must be stopped.
“MODERATOR”: Mr President, your rebuttal.
OBAMA: Obviously there are some differences between us.
ECI: Friends, Americans and Israel cannot afford four more years of Barack Obama. This call was paid for by the Emergency Committee for Israel because your vote will make the difference in this election.
I highly doubt Kristol would try this stunt in September. But in one week, there will be earth-shifting news about either the re-election of President Obama or the election of Mitt Romney. Nobody would care about a silly robocall in Virginia, despite the impact it may have had on voters in a critical state.
Look for more things like this in the week ahead—they are a virtual certainty. And if you get a weird robocall, or visit from a misleading activist, jot down the details and contact a friendly reporter. (My information is above, and local news reporters are likely to be interested as well).
For more on the Romney campaign’s blatant lies, read John Nichol’s post on the campaign’s Jeep ads.