The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

The Two-Step Response to Candidate Accusations


I’m in Colorado for a few days, speaking to local Republicans at the invitation of my friend Chris Robbins with the Jefferson County Republican Committee.

This morning I spoke to a group of Republicans, and there was a palpable intensity to the audience’s appetite to see Barack Obama beaten, and beaten soundly, in 2012. One woman asked how Republicans can push back when the eventual GOP nominee is inevitably hit with every allegation under the sun.

There are a couple of points to remember when we look at the political scene and see Democrats circling the wagons over everyone from Eric Holder at the Justice Department to Charlie Rangel and Barney Frank in the House to Tim Geithner at Treasury to no-bid contracts under Kathleen Sebelius at HHS to members of the District of Columbia government. Perhaps Jon Corzine is going to find himself without many friends on Capitol Hill soon, but all he did was lose $1.2 billion of his clients’ money.

One, we’re not them. A party and movement based on individualism is going to naturally be less unified and cohesive than one based on collectivism and group identity. I would rather be in the party that holds its members accountable when they fail to live up to standards than be in the one that always defends members of the party, no matter the circumstances. Sometimes Republican officeholders deserve to have their political allies turn on them, and I’m sure we can think of folks who earned their criticism: Duke Cunningham, John Ensign, Mark Foley. I’m not so sure that we should look at the opposition party and conclude that their lockstep loyalty to everyone within it, and willingness to overlook corruption, scandal, and bad judgment, is what drives them to victory.

Secondly, when a seemingly credible allegation is made against a candidate, I think John McCain offered the right playbook. Don’t hide from the press. Go out, offer the facts, and answer every question about it for one day and one day only. Turn it into a one-day story. (All of this presumes the allegation of wrongdoing is false, of course.) Herman Cain seemed to be trying this approach with his press conference in Arizona . . . but it became more complicated with the claim of the consensual long-term affair, with text messages, cash payments, etc.

Then the Republican can counterpunch, and point out how Obama pledged to keep lobbyists out of his White House and then wrote waivers whenever needed, or how no one at the Justice Department has been held accountable for Fast and Furious (a scandal that involves a murdered American law-enforcement officer!), or how no one has been held accountable for Solyndra and how the president essentially shrugged his shoulders at $550 million in taxpayer money covering the unpaid debts of a company part-owned by one of his campaign donors, or any other comparable scandal from this president.

Clear the air, then counterpunch. If you go straight to the counterpunch, people think you’re hiding something. If you clear the air but don’t point out the other guy’s scandals, a guy like Obama will skate through the election season with people like Alan Lichtman and Jonathan Alter writing, with a straight face, that the president is “scandal-free.”

Tags: Barack Obama , Scandals


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