Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Robocalls: What's The Fallout For The State GOP?

One aspect of the robocalls scandal which I have not yet explored pertains to the long-term implications for the state’s GOP. In other words, how long will those of us working for the cause of two-party competition in Maryland have to contend with the fallout from this scandal?
When news of the indictments broke, state GOP Chairman Alex Mooney issued the following statement: “The Maryland Republican Party believes in winning all voters. The out of touch Democrat agenda of reckless spending, higher taxes, redefining marriage and many other far left policy proposals gives all voters plenty of good reasons to get out and vote Republican.”
That wasn’t good enough for some in the media, including WBAL’s Jayne Miller. In a June 20th blog posting, she faults Alex Mooney and “the Republicans” for not taking responsibility for the robocall affair.
But I think Mr. Mooney’s response was spot-on.  "State Republicans” have no responsibility, not even in a generic sense, for the scandal. The blame belongs solely to the individuals who conceived and planned it.
The indictment makes it very clear that the idea for the robocalls was incubated and hatched by only a few individuals acting on behalf of a single candidate.  Save for a handful of senior Ehrlich campaign aides, no one in the outer rings of the campaign hierarchy knew anything about it. Nor did members of the GOP state central committee or any other GOP activists, candidates, or officeholders.
In 1998, a series of scurrilous mailers surfaced in Prince George’s County and Baltimore City accusing gubernatorial candidate Ellen Sauerbrey of wanting to roll back the landmark civil rights laws of the 1960s. I don’t recall any push by the media to assign the blame for this racially-charged stunt to “state Democrats.”
And, it is also worth mentioning that the two individuals indicted for the robocalls are not even Republicans. In fact, both are registered Democrats.  
This fact has gone curiously unreported by the members of the media covering the scandal. Perhaps it is not the magic shield for dodging all blame that some of my fellow Republicans want it to be. After all, these two Democratic pariahs were hired and paid by a Republican candidate’s campaign.  But their partisanship is certainly relevant when it comes to assigning responsibility for the scandal, and should therefore be part of the conversation.
So state Republicans, who picked up 40 legislative seats across Maryland last year, should resist pressure by the media and others to veer off message to respond to the misadventures of a few.  In the short-term, state Democrats have a juicy talking point with which to play.  But as long as Republicans talk about the future and the things that matter to voters – creating jobs, holding the line on taxes, and curbing tuition breaks for non-citizens – it will quickly fade.
In the end, the only lasting consequences for the robocall affair belong to those who caused it. 


  1. Excellent Richard. I was waiting for the fact that the 2 responsible parties are registered democrats. Everyone else seems to ignore this fact.

  2. Richard,

    What you seem to be forgetting is that the state party establishment put their collective thumbs on the scale for Bob during the primary. If Alex had any misgivings about that, I don't remember hearing them. They did this in spite of the fact that Bob was employing the same bunch of idiots who thought busing homeless men from Philadelphia to handout fraudulent campaign lit was a good idea. There's an old saying the MDGOP ought to take to heart: "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."

  3. Richard, yours is the best case scenario for a very weak and ineffective party- hope the public forgets, but the public will not. Ehrlich's homeless stump was not forgotten, his negatives were never higher, his vote total never lower than this last race.

    Blaming the media's liberal bias is so trite and ineffective, I hesitate to address it. The Saurbrey flyer was not done to surpress the vote, it was the opposite. It was tough campaign mail but not on the same level as the Ehrlich campaign's repression efforts.

    The GOP's refusal to condemn their nominee's actions is not going to fade away; this is the party that preaches accountability. The GOP nomminee hired Henson knowing his past-the party didnt speak out or counsel against.

    The GOP nominee kept in place the creators of the homeless stunt, designed to misguide voters. EHRLICH WAS THE GOP NOMINEE. Of course this reflects on the the state party, they endorsed him as the best candidate to represent the State Republican party and are stuck with his horrific behavior.

    Additionally, this nominee 4 years ago BUSED IN HOMELESS MEN and CREATED PHONY ENDORSEMENT FLYERS trying to trick the black community. The GOP establishment said nothing, and renominated him. He got stomped in his effort, voters did not forget. Your assessment that this will fade away, advising candidates to move on is very poor advice.

    GOP electeds and candidates should show some courage and condemn the pattern of conduct of the Ehrlich campaign. The candidate and party should pledge to stay away from these tactics in the future because they are contrary to the democratic process (not to mention they don't work). The party should conduct a series of out reach events to better understand issues facing the black community and work with community leaders to develop a platform that will address these issues. Take a different tact, open the tent and make an attempt to diversify the party. Condemn wronggul actions, committ to doing better and maybe then, voters will look at the GOP as a credible entitiy in this state. Until then, the party will continue to be the Washington Generals of Maryland politics.

    Black voters make up the majority of two of the State's major three jurisdictions. Ignoring past wrongs, refusing to engage the communities leadership or address the community's concerns will forever doom the GOP to back bench status.

  4. As long as the Republicans ignore this fiasco and pretend it didn't happen, it will fester.

    Pretending this is a Democratic problem because Henson and Schurick are Dems is ludicrous.

  5. I think your root point that both sides have engaged in less than savory campaign tactics is valid and worth acknowledging in an editorial rather than just as a blog post. It's too bad the Democrats wish to take the 'moral high ground'. They will abdicate said high ground with Jack and Leslie Johnson of course.

  6. Anon 05 July, 2011 14:23:

    You are correct that the Jack and Leslie Johnson affair will prevent the Dems from seizing the moral high ground, but the converse is also true--- a corruption scandal that might have been a once in a generation opportunity for the GOP will be lost because we aren't in a position to grab that moral high ground either

  7. To “Anon” posters @ 14:16 & 19:25 on 6/30/11: Thanks for your comments. Sorry for the delay in responding. I tried a few days ago but it ended up in the "Spam" filter for some reason.
    I just have a few points to make in response.

    First, no one is saying that the GOP should just sweep the robocall affair and resulting scandal under the rug. Last week I had an op-ed in the Baltimore Sun in which I argued that all Maryland politicos should use this episode as a teachable moment as far as future campaign conduct is concerned. Some things are simply wrong, even in the rough and tumble world of politics, and the robocalls certainly qualify.

    Rather, my point is that the state GOP should not fall into the trap of providing the media endless mea culpas on behalf of the Democrats working for the political campaign responsible for this misadventure.

    Republicans need to look forward. A jury will soon be responsible for sifting through past responsibilities. Maryland’s ruling political establishment tends to run amuck (e. g. the in-state tuition for illegal immigrants) when the minority party does not function as a proper counterbalance. We need the state GOP to challenge the establishment and posit alternatives in aggressive a manner as possible. When the GOP becomes more dysfunctional than it historically has been, that becomes far more difficult.

    Second, as for the point about all Republicans sharing culpability for the robocalls because campaign workers serving the party’s own gubernatorial was responsible for them, that’s an interesting question. Voters often hold the party of a candidate or official involved in a scandal accountable for that person’s misdeeds. Watergate is the textbook example (Republicans lost ground in Congress in 1974, and lost the presidency in 1976). While voters held Republicans accountable for the Nixon Administration’s misdeeds in a general sense, no one can say that the defeated Republicans caused Watergate.

    Similarly, Bill Clinton’s scandals contributed to Al Gore’s loss in 2000. But while Al Gore may have been held accountable (especially his home state of Tennessee...had he won it he would have captured the presidency regardless of the outcome in Florida), he was not directly to blame for them.

    I think it is a stretch to say that Maryland voters will hold the party’s new, post-Ehrlich era nominee accountable for this episode in 2014. The robocalls will long be forgotten, and voters will be focused on more pressing issues.

    As for whether all members of a political party deserve the blame for one individual’s bad hiring decisions, I think the best person to blame is the person who did the hiring.

    Third, I disagree with the “fair game” assessment of the 1998 anti-Sauerbrey mailers above. The intent of both the 1998 mailers and the 2010 robocalls was to deceive voters. The former used fear(no governor can roll back federal civil rights laws even if he or she wanted to, as the mailer alleged); the latter resorted to crude trickery. And both are examples of racially divisive politics in action.

    Lastly, as pertains to the 2006 Election Day episode involving homeless people, that too was an unfortunate and foolish stunt. So was the unsigned 2010 campaign leaflet which attempted to paint Baltimore County Executive candidate Joe Bartenfelder as a racist. So were the disturbing anecdotal reports I heard of African-Americans overheard at the polls saying that they had to vote against Ehrlich because he would “impeach” President Obama. This stuff happens during campaigns – and it shouldn’t. But, again, it is unfair to assign one party blanket responsibility for all of it, or for the actions of a few.

    Moving forward, both parties should embrace a no tolerance policy when it comes to this kind of thing. Perhaps the kind of dialogue with African Americans suggested by Anon # 1 has a role to play in such an effort. But an effort like that will only work if both Republicans and Democrats participate in good faith. RJC