Political Animal


November 11, 2011 1:35 PM A Crossroads GPS pattern emerges

By Steve Benen

It’s ironic that Karl Rove has been whining for months about President Obama’s re-election strategy. To hear Rove tell it, Obama won’t highlight his accomplishments, but rather, will run a relentlessly negative campaign, built on smears and distortions.

I believe there’s a field of study that refers to this as “projection.”

Rove’s attack operation, Crossroads GPS, has invested quite a bit of money of late in several new ads. The first spot blatantly lied to make it seem as if former President Bill Clinton disagrees with President Obama on tax policy. The second featured obviously bogus claims to smear Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts.

And the third, as Greg Sargent reports today, targets former Gov. Tim Kaine (D), running in a very competitive U.S. Senate race in Virginia.

The thrust of the ad — which is backed by a $600,000 buy — is that Kaine can’t be trusted to manage fiscal affairs. To buttress that case, the spot makes a series of claims about his tenure as Governor of Virginia and about his support for Obama’s stimulus.

For instance, the ad suggests that the stimulus spent $39 million on “office upgrades for politicians.” That sounds terribly wasteful! But this claim has already been thoroughly debunked — the last time Crossroads made it, in an ad in 2010. PolitiFact looked at the assertion and noted it was based on a project to renovate the Kansas State Capital, but concluded the money is not direct funding; instead it comes from a stimulus bond program to help local governments save money on capital projects. Politifact pronounced the claim “mostly false” — nearly a year ago. Crossroads is now airing it again anyway.

The new ad also claims that under Governor Kaine, Virginia ran “a big deficit.” But the Associated Press politely pointed out that the ad made this assertion “erroneously,” noting that the state constitution forbids finishing a “fiscal year with insufficient funds.”

Taken together, Crossroads has clearly put together a deliberately deceptive ad. Rove’s outfit hopes to fool voters with garbage, assuming they won’t know the difference.

It comes a year after Crossroads raised millions in secret donations to blanket the airwaves with other dishonest attack ads.

Now, I can appreciate why this seems like the ultimate in dog-bites-man stories. “Karl Rove’s loathsome operation? Lying in attack ads? You don’t say.”

But as Greg put it, “At risk of sounding terribly earnest, I’m going to continue to insist that it kind of matters that Crossroads GPS … is again blanketing airwaves across the country with millions of dollars in ads containing demonstrable falsehoods and distortions.”

And I’m going to join him in insisting the same thing. Crossroads GPS is lying. They’re getting caught, which only seems to encourage them to lie some more. Rove and his cohorts are going to raise an enormous amount of money from secret sources, and will use that money to try to buy an election cycle for Republicans, based on nothing but deception.

Mark Kleiman wrote a line several years ago that always stuck with me: “In politics, lying is cheating.”

That’s true, and it speaks to the character of those behind the Crossroads operation. The next question is what the political world will do about it. Will stations stop airing ads proven to be wrong? Will the political world start to consider “Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS” and “professional liars” to be synonyms?

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • johnny canuck on November 11, 2011 1:46 PM:

    The positive conclusion to draw from this is that Rove doesn't think they can win if they tell the truth.
    (Some cynic here will say Rove doesn't know how to tell the truth so that my conclusion is based on a ridiculous premise and therefore can't be relied on)

  • rockfish on November 11, 2011 1:53 PM:

    Clearly I agree that this is a tremendous problem because the lies seep into the consciousness of low information voters. All of us progressives grow tired of trying to continually debunk the same set of lies over and over. So a suggestion. Since all broadcasters operate under a license to serve the public interest, has anyone ever sued a broadcaster for accepting advertising from a RICO-lite criminal(ly) distortion factory like Crossroads GPS? Is there any recourse to truth in advertising laws here?

  • gaardvark on November 11, 2011 1:56 PM:

    Can we please just drop the nice euphemism falsehood and just call them lies. PLEASE!

  • square1 on November 11, 2011 2:01 PM:

    Now, I can appreciate why this seems like the ultimate in dog-bites-man stories. “Karl Rove’s loathsome operation? Lying in attack ads? You don’t say.”

    Yes, that is exactly what it sounds like. And if Benen's point was that this is an example of why we need further campaign-finance and single-issue funding reform, even if it means that an amendment to the Constitution is required, then I would say "by all means, keep sounding the alarm."

    But that isn't what Benen has been saying. Rather than getting rid of SuperPACs, Benen has defended the use of SuperPACs when created by Democrats.

    And yet, this is the logical outcome of SuperPACs. If you allow corporations and wealthy people to donate massive sums of money anonymously, the inevitable outcome is going to be well-financed but deceptive media campaigns for various issues. It is a natural consequence of the system. Don't hate the playa, hate the game.

  • T2 on November 11, 2011 2:10 PM:

    uh, the stations are PAID to run ads. That's how they make what's known as "income".

  • Redshift on November 11, 2011 2:18 PM:

    The Virginia Senate attack is also an example of the classic Rove tactic of attacking your opponent's strength which is your own weakness, to try to preempt the inevitable attacks on your side as "both side do it" (which all too often our media cooperate with.)

    The reality is that GOP Senate candidate George Allen's chosen successor, Jim Gilmore, is the one who actually left the state with a massive deficit (despite the constitutional requirement), and furthermore, covered up the extent of the deficit until he was safely out of office. Fixing it required emergency action on the part of his Democratic successor, which is how Mark Warner became a star.

    (And for more Rove irony, Gilmore got into office on a bumpers-sticker slogan to eliminate the property tax on cars, and replace it with nothing, because economic growth would supply the necessary revenue.)

  • The DeMBA on November 11, 2011 2:20 PM:

    Unfortunately, in politics lying is cheating in the way that fouling is cheating in basketball.

    It only matters if the ref sees it, and even then it may be a good strategic move especially if the impact of the penalty is less than that of the foul. A stylish foul with a positive strategic outcome may even be admired by many observers.

    Actually, this analogy would work better if the refs in basketball were blind, stupid, or paid off, as opposed to trained professions who take their work seriously, but no analogy is perfect.

  • N.Wells on November 11, 2011 2:23 PM:

    My modest proposal to simultaneously solve both the deficit and the plethora of political lying is to encourage politicians and political advertisers to say whatever they want (First Amendment and all that), but to fine them one cent per demonstrable lie, times the estimated number of instances of people having heard it. (Just add up circulation and audience numbers for the newspapers and networks that reported the lie, multiplied by the number of times they mentioned it.) Call it a tax for polluting the public discourse. I estimate that we could get the national debt paid off in about half an election cycle, or much less if competitive Republican primaries are involved.

  • jjm on November 11, 2011 2:23 PM:

    Rove has always lied to get his candidates ahead.

    What this shows is something a little different.

    1) The first line of attack (Obama will run on smears, not his record) is actually recycling the campaign strategy for the re-election of Bush in 2004.

    2) Lying about Clinton's attitude toward Obama is not terribly germane and is deeply disproved by the two Democrats' actions, words, even books...

    3) The blatant lies about Tim Kaine, easily disproved, are not on the same order of the 'swiftboating' of John Kerry, say, as that tapped into some public unease with Kerry's anti war sentiments and fed doubts. No such possibility here.

    Kaine was well liked, the people of his state should know how the state budget forbids deficits, etc.--plus all this has already been disproved.

    But the fact that this strategy #3, like strategy #1 is RECYCLED from Rove's past efforts tells me that he is starting to run on empty--no new diabolic plans, no creativity, no way to make anything he says really 'stick.'

    So what this shows to me on Rove's part is this: DESPERATION, leading to such exaggeration that his work becomes incredible.

  • deanarms on November 11, 2011 2:24 PM:

    Following up on Redshift's comment, it's pure Rovian projection. A misdirection that still fools the media into saying both sides do it. You'd think they'd be hip to it by now, but that's expecting too much. Like thinking that maybe Judy Woodruff would challenge Herman "You want a job, right?" Cain when expounded on the threat of China being on the verge of getting nuclear weapons.

  • Anonymous on November 11, 2011 2:24 PM:

    Karl Rove is to projection as Michael Jordan is to basketball.
    Karl Rove is to projection as Einstein is to physics.
    Karl Rove is to projection as Van Gogh is to painting.
    Karl Rove is to projection as Woody Allen is to neuroses.
    ...You see where this is going? If the political world has not grasped this bit of obviousness by now, they never will.

  • Alex on November 11, 2011 2:29 PM:

    I understand that it is going to be very difficult to restructure campaign financing, but rockfish does have an interesting angle to this

    Demonstrably falsehoods (okay.. lies indeed) should be illegal. I don't think the broadcaster could be legally held accountable (then the burden of checking for accuracy would be on the broadcaster.. and that would be a whole can of worms) but the ad provider most definitely should.. If there is no law that applies to this, It could be written and presented .. I'd love to see how repubs would argue that dishonest advertising should be protected.

    As for what happens if found misleading, there could be a retraction played on same networks on equal airtime as the misleading and should be payed by the organization that financed the add in the first place.

    Just an idea. It certainly would change the dynamics of campaigning for the better

  • pacato on November 11, 2011 3:23 PM:

    Recommended reading: The Language of the Third Reich, by Viktor Klemperer, who described this type of tactic as "deafening mendacity."

  • Anonymous on November 11, 2011 4:20 PM:

    The appropriate response uses the phrase "phony Republicans."

  • ottercliff on November 11, 2011 4:21 PM:

    I can't read anything about this filthy human being without wondering if, when his time on this earth is up, he will pull a Lee Atwater: "Sorry for a lifetime spent getting fat and rich by lying, scheming, and ruining other's lives - now can somebody open the gates?"

  • Anonymous on November 11, 2011 4:44 PM:

    And once again we must ask why Karl Rove is not in prison for treason!!!

  • jsjiowa on November 11, 2011 4:53 PM:

    We're already getting hit pretty hard by 2012 ads in Iowa. And at least one made me tilt my head and say "that doesn't sound right" the first time I heard it -- and wouldn't you know, it was from Crossroads. And then I said "of course". But how many voters can make that kind of connection? The PAC names all sound alike to most of them.

    @Alex: Having drafted campaign finance laws, I can tell you it is tougher than it seems it would be to require truth in political advertising. It was a perennial issue, especially right after elections when the winning politicians would still be steaming about the lies their opponent told. Of course, most political advertising is not black & white, but more like shades of grey, and it is tougher to declare something a lie (even Politifact and such have had some trouble from time to time). But the biggest problem is enforcement. Who is willing to pay for policing political speech? And how do you craft a remedy? What about an ad that's run in the last few days before an election? Probably can't get a decision on it in time to pull it off the airwaves, and what good does a fine do, when so many campaigns have debt at the end anyway? And how do you justify a temporary bureacracy that focuses only on truth in campaigns? Most campaign finance agencies are poorly funded as it is. It is a noble idea to require truth from candidates, but it is very hard to put into practice.

  • MGLoraine on November 11, 2011 6:50 PM:

    The object of this particular game should be to put Karl Rove in jail for life for his crimes against humanity and domestic felonies while serving as a capo for the Cheney-Bush Gang. Rove is the American Himmler. Justice demands punishment for his crimes.

  • Mark on November 11, 2011 8:48 PM:

    There's something to the suggestion that Rove is a sleazy piece of shit who knows his candidates could never win on their merits. But a share of the blame must be reserved for the voters who are lazy and who, when they hear accounts of Democrats playing fast and loose with their money, ask themselves "Am I doing as well as I could be?", answer, "Hell, no!", and then follow it with, "It's HIS fault".

    The Republicans have proved over and over again that they will appeal to your loyalty only until it gives them access to your money. If voters are incapable of learning that lesson, then they deserve to be governed by the Republicans.