George Allen and Dick Wadhams
by Matt Stoller, Tue Aug 15, 2006 at 05:14:29 PM EDT
George Allen is a fascinating candidate, at once a silver spoon rich California playboy pretending to be a good old boy Southerner, and someone who's 'regular guy' schtick is tailor-made for Republican Presidential primary voters. Ryan Lizza effectively captured Allen's history of racism and sadism in his profile of the candidate earlier this year, and now it's coming out in the controversy over Allen's racist comments concerning an Indian-American volunteer for Jim Webb who was mocked in front of an all-white audience. George Allen, bigot, is becoming a de facto narrative.
There's more scandal to follow, of course. Garance Franke-Ruta has a great article on George Allen's tenure on the board of directors of a company, Xybernaut, that looks basically like a corporate pump-and-dump scheme in the late 1990s. I swear, the echoes of George W. Bush here and his corporate malfeasance while on the board of Harken Energy are simply stunning. Allen of course won't comment on his time as a Board member.
The racist incident is now national news, and Allen is seriously reeling because he won't apologize. What's causing the problem in his campaign is that he has a Karl Rove look-alike named Dick Wadhams running his campaign, and Wadhams only believes in offense when it comes to the press. Wadhams is the mastermind behind the Daschle loss in 2004, and he has a long history of manipulating the press to further the ends of his gaffe-prone clients.
Republican Sen. Conrad Burns of Montana, for example, nearly blew his re-election chances in 2000 when he called Arabs "ragheads."* Instead of featuring candidate speeches or press conferences, Wadhams understands that controlling the message starts with making sure you don't hand ammunition to the opposition, so he deluges reporters with written press releases and phones them himself, sometimes as many as five times a day.
Another way to control a campaign is to shape its news coverage, and Wadhams found a new way to do that for the Thune campaign. South Dakota Republicans had long accused the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, the state's most influential paper, of being pro-Daschle. When two bloggers, Jason Van Beek and Jon Lauck, began cataloguing alleged acts of bias like lack of criticism of Linda Daschle's lobbying practice, Wadhams hired them as campaign researchers. Wadhams insists he wasn't underwriting the bloggers' online enterprises. But Van Beek and Lauck didn't disclose that the Thune campaign was cutting them checks. And they succeeded in aiding Thune: The assistant managing editor of the Argus Leader admitted that the paper's coverage had been affected by the online criticism, implicitly acknowledging that it was tougher on Daschle in the Thune race than it had been in the past.
I have no idea if Marc Ambinger is correct and Dick Wadhams bullying approach to the press corps has created the antagonism necessary to have this come out. What's clear is that George Allen is a sleazy, corrupt, and psychologically damaged man who cracks under pressure. This may sound strange, but the ability of Republicans like Allen and Bush to keep up a mask of genial affability is key to their image of strength and resolve. The tribal identity of center-right (as opposed to far-right) voters demands that they not see themselves as racist, but merely as 'strong', and so the emergence of real racism, while not affecting the far right knuckledraggers, will have an impact on them. They won't like that Allen brought this attack on himself through his barbaric behavior, and they won't like that he won't apologize, but sort of will. That's weak, and one thing that Allen can't be seen as is weak.