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How to Rig an Election: Confessions of a Republican Operative

Allen Raymond, a former Republican National Committee operative, shares secrets from the GOP bunker.
 
 
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Allen Raymond worked inside Republican election circles for years, until he was convicted of illegally jamming telephone lines to New Hampshire Democratic Party offices on Election Day in 2002. After serving five months in jail, he and co-author Ian Spiegelman wrote How to Rig An Election, Confessions of a Republican Operative. The book details Raymond's rise in GOP campaign circles; the attitude, tactics and strategies used to win; and how the RNC asked his firm to jam Democratic phone lines, but would not defend him in court after Democrats fought back and pressed court charges. AlterNet's Steven Rosenfeld interviewed Raymond about his political education, GOP tactics and his take on the current presidential field.

ALTERNET: The title of your book is How to Rig an Election . Can elections be rigged?

RAYMOND:: Sure. We're not talking about what people often think about, like ballot box stuffing. Certainly, that stuff goes on here and there. What we are really talking about in the book is how messages are created and delivered to the voting public, in a way that orchestrates and manipulates response. It's all about feeling an emotion; it's not about raw issues and logic.

In the book I give a lot of examples of rigging elections by, put it this way, guys like me -- I used to be a campaign manager. Once you are all said and done and deliver a message, two plus two equals whatever I want it to equal. The facts and sometimes even contorting the facts to lead voters to conclusions that may not necessarily, if you step back, make any sense -- but, in context, make all the sense in the world.

There's that aspect of it. Then there's just the more raw aspect of it, which leads up to the culmination of the book, which is the 2002 New Hampshire phone-jamming scandal.

ALTERNET: Why is emotion more important than facts?

RAYMOND:: Well, because people are looking at the candidates. The candidates are on television, mostly. That's where they get their information, particularly on presidential campaigns. Less so in congressional campaigns and local elections, but in presidential campaigns, that's where voters get their information -- by watching the television news. The characters are there. They are defined for them. They know what they look like. They can read their facial expressions. They can hear their words if they're spoken. Largely, that's where people are getting their information, as opposed to information from print media, which is just not the case anymore.

The candidates can't help but speak and emote. It's that famous saying from the Roger Ailes book, "You are the message." You have to believe what you are saying. And so, in that way, it's the medium in which most voters are getting their information.

ALTERNET: Is television particularly conducive to contorting the facts?

RAYMOND:: Or just manipulating the emotions, or even orchestrating emotions. Look at the reasons given for Hillary Clinton's win in New Hampshire, and that's because of two emotional moments. It wasn't winning the day with argument. It was two emotional moments.

ALTERNET: Do you buy that?

RAYMOND:: Absolutely, I buy that, because that's how I practiced the trade. It's kind of that saying, 'Don't believe your lying eyes. Listen what I have to tell you.' So yes, I do believe that. In the New Hampshire contest, there are a lot of things I don't believe, but the two emotional moments are what I do believe helped her win.

ALTERNET: What don't you believe?

RAYMOND:: Well, I didn't believe the polling. As a rule of thumb, I believe in polling, absolutely. I just didn't believe that the polling numbers that were being reported in the press were accurate. If you think about it, she went from being up by 6 (percent) to down by 13 (percent) and then winning by 3 (percent). That's a 19-point swing in one direction and a 21 point swing in the other, and I just don't believe that.

ALTERNET: You wrote that winning is more about dividing voters than uniting voters. Can you explain that?

RAYMOND:: Most of your readers will remember that George Bush said that "I'm a uniter, not a divider." But if you look at most presidential elections, they are won with pluralities. They are not even won with majorities. I think President Clinton won in '92 with something like 48 percent. So, that's not even a majority. So you can't be claiming to be uniting anybody when you don't even have a majority. That's one aspect of that.

The other aspect of that is what people commonly know as polarization, wedge issues. These are issues that incite people to vote on an emotional level. Often times in a survey you look for that wedge issue that gets a positive response, or the response you are looking for, from at least 60 percent of the electorate or those surveyed. And what that means is that's an overwhelming good issue.

So, for instance, if you said, "Would you be more or less likely to vote for candidate A if you knew that he had been indicted for embezzlement?" Well, I'd be less likely. Probably 75 percent of the people would say that. Well, there's your issue. And that doesn't have anything to do with the fact that maybe candidate A is also the best candidate for other reasons. That cancels all things out.

ALTERNET: So you're not trying to make the best case to bring people together, you are trying to make a case to parse the electorate and bring out the segment that will support your guy or your gal.

RAYMOND:: To win, you only need 50 percent of the people who vote plus one. That's it. You don't need 75 percent. You don't need 65 percent. If there is an issue that 49 percent of the people are repulsed by it, but 50 percent plus one are not, then there's your issue. And generally, those are the issues that you are looking for. You are looking to thread that needle at the 60 percent threshold.

ALTERNET: How do you think the candidates are doing given that kind of analysis?

RAYMOND:: I think they are doing well. In the Democratic primary, you are seeing a debate that is flirting with race and gender. That is exactly what I'm talking about. Hillary Clinton says something. It opens the door, and the Obama campaign steps through that door. The reason for that is obvious, because you're going into two contests -- Nevada and South Carolina -- that have far more minority voters than Iowa and New Hampshire. That's why you are starting to see race and gender.

The other reason is -- the factor for gender -- is that's Hillary Clinton's strength. And that gets back to those two emotional moments in New Hampshire. So I think that is what is going on in the Democratic primary as we are speaking today.

ALTERNET: What about the Republican side?

RAYMOND:: I think there is a different dynamic going on. You have to remember that Republicans always vote for the guy whose turn it is. And the only reason that John McCain seemed to lose favor, or did lose favor, was immigration. But he's back. And voters are saying, 'Well, he ran in 2000. He's a senior senator. It's his turn.' That's in the Republican DNA. You pick the guy whose turn it is. I think that's more of the dynamic going on.

ALTERNET: What tactics would you expect to see in the primary and not in the general election, and vice versa?

RAYMOND:: In both, you see tactics that seek to tap into latent bigotry and racism. That's just part of the equation. And it's a horrible thing to say. But it's better to be candid and transparent to understand what is going on than ignore the elephant in the room. For instance, let's go back to 2000 and the South Carolina attack on Sen. McCain and his daughter, which was totally abhorrent, but that was meant to tap into a racist thread or strain in a segment in that electorate. It's going on again in South Carolina, this time targeted at Gov. Romney and his faith and tying that to polygamy. So that's bigotry.

I think you're seeing elements of it in this debate that's going right now around race in the Democratic Party. Hillary Clinton saying, "Well, there's no way you can have civil rights until a white leader stepped in and decided to do something about it." That's essentially the element of the charge, if I am correct. And the counter to that is, "This doesn't happen but for some very brave, courageous people doing what they did. Namely, Martin Luther King -- many, many others, of course -- but mainly Martin Luther King, Jr."

That is tapping into some very basic emotion about race. That's America. America is, and has been, to some degree, a debate about race.

ALTERNET: Who's doing the attacks on Romney?

RAYMOND:: Who knows? They don't want you to know who is doing it. You have to look at who benefits the most. And also, who is most likely to do it? For instance, again, in New Hampshire, there is now currently an investigation by the attorney general's office into some push polling that occurred in November of last year. So you need to look at who benefits the most and who has the resources. And that starts to winnow the field of suspects.

In New Hampshire, I can tell you who I think it rules out. It rules out John McCain, because he has a history of campaigning in New Hampshire that doesn't include tactics like that. Also, he just didn't have the resources at the time to do such a thing. That eliminates him in my mind. It's doubtful that it's Huckabee, himself. It could be Huckabee supporters because they -- actually, that is where most of the outside pressure has come from in the Republican presidential primary. From Huckabee supporters, not the campaign itself; the campaign is not involved. But I think there's a group called Common Sense Issues that has been very active on behalf of Huckabee's candidacy and using push polling, and there's been some fairly extensive interviews. They are talking about what they are doing.

ALTERNET: On the Democratic side, I think the real race issue is Hillary Clinton's surrogates trying to shut down the Culinary Workers Union caucus sites, because Nevada was supposed to be one of two showcase states for minority voters. That's why it was moved to third position. That is a classic wedge issue, since they endorsed Obama.

RAYMOND:: The irony, at least in the New Hampshire phone jamming case, is that you hear a lot about voter suppression. But here in Nevada, that's exactly what is going on because Sen. Clinton did not get the Culinary Workers Union endorsement, and so it is in her interest not to make it easy for them to go caucus.

ALTERNET: Is it naive of me to be surprised, at least on the Democratic side?

RAYMOND:: I think being surprised by stuff like that is healthy, because it means that you have faith in the system. Look, the system itself is fine. It's the operators within the system that are the threat. And I used to be one of those. And the reason I wrote the book was -- there's that Justice Brandeis quote that sunlight is the best disinfectant.

In the book, I try to be candid and transparent, so hopefully in doing so I serve some kind of public purpose. I think it is healthy to be surprised. But look, it's to her benefit to make it harder for these people to vote, and I think that speaks volumes.

ALTERNET: What do you think is the more important part of your book? Your education and early campaigns, or what the Republicans did to you with the New Hampshire phone jamming, which was basically asking you to do it and then abandoning you when they got caught?

RAYMOND:: First of all, I never thought that they abandoned me. I accepted the paradigm of there's a scandal, I'm the vendor, I take the heat. And I did. I never spoke to the press. They said all kinds of terrible, nasty things about me. That's fine. But when it came to a criminal investigation, that's different. And I even said as much to them. I said, 'Look, you don't worry about me until it becomes a criminal investigation, and then all bets are off.'

So when our government actually came to me and asked me what happened, I told them the truth. And I didn't hesitate. I know people hate to hear this when I say this, but I was not seeking to go out and break the law. In fact, when I did it, I didn't think I had, because I had consulted an attorney. But it turns out that I did, and I accepted the consequences.

But I think the more important part of the book is the earlier chapters. Obviously you read the book and you get it. The earlier chapters are, in a way, more commonplace. And being more commonplace means it's more widespread than you might suspect.

ALTERNET: I know a lot of Democratic political consultants who are easily as aggressive as you were and would respect what you were doing early on. Although now they would say, "I was in my 20s. It was over the top. But I did what I had to do."

RAYMOND:: That's right. When you're young like that, you know this, you say, "I can do anything. Ideally you don't put any limits on yourself."

ALTERNET: Did you write this book to exorcize your demons?

RAYMOND:: To be perfectly honest, the book started as a vindictive rant. What I objected to was the party itself spending so much money when it became a criminal investigation, not that I thought they should pay for my defense. I just found it wrong that they were paying for one of my co-conspirator's defense to the tune of $3 million. The entire amount of money spent between the civil suit and the criminal suit was close to $7 million, I've read, which, when you think about it, is about 10 percent of the off-year budget at the RNC. That's a lot of money, particularly when the average donation is $35.

I had worked for the RNC twice, once as a regional political director and once as the chief of staff to a co-chairman. And I just felt like, when I went to them and said, "This is going on. You should know your guy is involved. You should know I'm not going to say anything about it until it becomes criminal," and they just disregarded what I had to tell them. What that said to me was they don't care. Or they knew about it, or had some knowledge in advance, and they are circling the wagons and protecting someone other than their guy on the front line.

ALTERNET: How high up does it go? Is everything tied to Karl Rove?

RAYMOND:: There is a difference between the line responsibility and the overall responsibility. So, a Karl Rove is going to be responsible for the overall strategic and tactical thinking. But when you get down in the trenches, there's line responsibility. And so most decisions don't go any higher than, say, the political director at the Republican National Committee.

But in my case, having worked there in those jobs, I knew two things, which was -- the first being, and I say that in the book, this (phone-jamming) was an unusual request. It prompted me to seek out an attorney. But what that tells me is such things don't see the light of day unless they have been vetted, particularly by someone who has worked at the RNC for as long as my co-conspirator had.

Steven Rosenfeld is a senior fellow at Alternet.org and co-author of What Happened in Ohio: A Documentary Record of Theft and Fraud in the 2004 Election with Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman (The New Press, 2006).