First off: Please, please, please DO NOT buy this book. The author Allen Raymond doesn't need the money, (being an heir to the Underwood typewriter fortune and all), and purchasing this self-serving memoir would be like donating to the Karl Rove school of political manipulation. I will present here the significant political revelations from the book to spare you the indignity of purchasing it. In How to Rig an Election: Confessions of a Republican Operative Allen Raymond enlightens us about just how ethically challenged and intellectually bankrupt the Republican Party has become in recent decades.
Allen Raymond gained notoriety as the Republican hack artist who jammed the Democratic Party's phone lines in New Hampshire on election day 2002 in order to disfranchise thousands of voters by disrupting Democratic get-out-the-vote efforts. Raymond was a big wig in Haley Barbour's Republican National Committee (RNC) overseeing the Northeastern region. He moved millions of dollars in and out of party coffers and oversaw direct mail and robotic phone calls, as well as campaign staffs and their volunteers in several states including New Hampshire. True to form of virtually all Republican hatchet men, he went into "private" practice to cash in selling his services exclusively to the GOP for millions of dollars as a "consultant."
Raymond's description of his activities and his fellow Republican operatives from the viewpoint of a former insider, like David Brock's Blinded By The Right, reveals an army of greedy career-and power-driven dirty tricksters seeking to win elections at any cost. They don't care about the damage they inflict on our democracy, on our country, or even on our sense of decency and fair play. They only care about winning because that's the only way they can advance their own personal careers inside the GOP. They are first and foremost cynics who are only out for themselves. There is no "conservative agenda" per se. They ply their filthy trade in order to move up through Republican ranks with one goal in mind: benefiting personally. Through dirty politics they seek monetary gain or power, or both. (Note the recent examples of Karl Rove, David Frum, Michael Gerson, Ari Fleischer, "Tory" Clarke, Richard Myers, and others right now profiting from their association with the George W. Bush calamity.)
"I had gotten a lot of people elected to a lot of powerful positions -- for what? What had they done for the country? What had I expected them to do?" Raymond asks. "The fact was, I'd never really cared. Every time someone talked policy, to me it was just more campaign propaganda, just some more of the old blah-blah-blah. My thoughts on policy had always been, If I've listened this long, then whoever is speaking owes me a pizza; now let me get back to spinning. If they won, I gained more clout; if they lost, I found another campaign -- and then I gained more clout." (pp. 194-195)
Raymond was eventually convicted of fraud and sentenced to a slap-on-the-wrist two-month sentence in federal prison. In the election of 2002, John Sununu won his New Hampshire Senate seat by a close margin and it turned out that many Democrats running for state office lower on the ballot lost by as few as 200 votes; hence Raymond's efforts rigged their elections. What's more, Republican operatives inside the Bush White House coordinated these activities but kept their fingerprints hidden. Hasn't anybody ever heard of the Hatch Act?
One underhanded Republican tactic that Raymond describes is sure to be used again. Raymond hired an African-American actor to record a message for "robotic" phone calls where he affected an "inner city" accent. The calls went out to voters in white precincts urging them to remember to vote for the Democratic Party. Raymond's goal was to identify in the minds of these white voters that the Democrats only served the needs of "inner city" blacks. The text of the call itself was subtly crafted to leave that impression. Raymond describes one case: "The calls were highly targeted, household by household, no message ever left on an answering machine. We wanted the message heard only by people whose reaction would be 'I'm not voting for [Rush] Holt because he uses scary black men to call my house." (p. 163)
Raymond also used an actor to pour on a thick Spanish accent to record robotic messages targeting voters in white working-class areas where research showed they feared immigrants were taking away their jobs. Raymond seems to miss the fact that these kinds of tactics are inherently racist: "Remember," he tells his readers, "they were Democrats; they were supposed to be the tolerant ones." (p. 163) The Party of Lincoln has never stood so tall.
Another robotic phone call technique Raymond practiced was to bombard voters with calls pretending to be from a candidate he wished to defeat and timing them to occur right in the middle of the 2002 Super Bowl football game. The aim was to mislead the recipients of the calls into believing that the targeted candidate was engaging in negative campaigning on "Super Sunday" and annoy them so much they might vote against him, or stay home. Suppressing the vote of people likely to vote Democratic drove many of Raymond's schemes.
One Republican politician who Raymond served had been involved in a host of corrupt business dealings with a shady land developer who traded kickbacks for campaign contributions. Raymond knew the Federal Election Commission (FEC) would make public the name of this particular donor sooner or later and his opponent would make a big deal out of it. To blunt the political fallout, Raymond got the shady developer to donate a token amount of cash to his opponent. When the opposing candidate exposed the corrupt dealing, Raymond held a press conference and informed reporters that it was hypocritical to bring up the issue since the Democratic candidate had also received money from the same tainted source. (Senator Barack Obama better check his donor lists carefully.)
Raymond was also a master of directing cash to third parties such as Green Party candidates and even other Republican opponents in multi-candidate races to serve the interest of his own candidate. "The Supreme Court says that donating money is free speech," Raymond writes, "but what are you saying when you direct money to one of your opponents in order to hurt another?"
Raymond also engaged in libel against his Democratic opponents. He twisted a female Democratic candidate's legislative record. She had voted in favor of a mainstream sex education program in the public schools and had voted against a provision in another law that the teachers' unions opposed. Raymond produced a 30-second TV ad that accused her of voting in favor of "teaching first-graders about condoms," and claimed she had "voted to permit the sale of pornographic videos to children." The attack ad also accused her of voting "to allow convicted drug abusers to work in our public schools." (p. 105) She sued the Republican Party for $10 million for libel but she lost the election. A few years later a Republican judge tossed out her libel case. "When it came to playing in the gutter, we were the professionals -- the Dems weren't even junior varsity," Raymond writes. (p. 68)
Raymond admits that he didn't realize his activities were anything more than a game or a kind of elaborate joke played on a gullible electorate. It was not until he found himself sitting in a federal prison cell when he realized that the elections he had helped rig actually had real world consequences that affected real people. In short, Raymond was a supreme douche bag during his many years with the GOP. At one point in the book, after lamenting the current state of our nation's politics, Raymond asks rhetorically: "How did we get here? Because election operatives like myself and the kind of politicians who hire us have ensured that idealists can't win elections. Only the cynics are making the laws." (p. 239)
Raymond describes how the Bush Justice Department essentially obstructed justice by blocking Democratic attempts to depose New Hampshire Republican Party officials about Raymond's illegal phone-jamming system. The Department of Justice under Attorney General John Ashcroft stopped the deposition "on the grounds that it would interfere with the ongoing criminal investigation." In the years since 2002, that tactic -- claiming no investigation can be conducted because it might interfere with an ongoing investigation -- has become a Bush staple in covering up crimes ranging from the illegal use of torture and warrantless surveillance, to the leaking of a CIA agent's identity and the disappearance of White House phone and email logs. It's all spin; the fabled "permanent campaign" in operation.
I'll give Raymond credit for blowing the lid off of the Republicans' sanctimonious claptrap that disguises its brutal mafia-like mentality. Republican operatives, when faced with possible criminal charges for their dirty tricks in New Hampshire, quickly ratted each other out and smeared each other with self-righteous denunciations, lies, and innuendo. Even the RNC leadership got into the act. Apparently, working for the RNC is similar to working for the Gambino crime family. The only difference is that the Republicans are a bunch of snitches. When Raymond's schemes brought possible criminal charges at the state level his fellow Republicans pretended not to know about him or his activities in the party's behalf. I have to admit it's kind of nice to read about the Republicans deploying their unethical tactics against each other for once instead of against the hapless liberals who never seem to know what hit them until they lose election after election like an ever-repeating re-make of a Buster Keaton movie.
(Of course the Democrats do everything in their power to fulfill their role as perpetual losers. Just look at the pusillanimous Democratic Congress.)
Although Raymond remains a staunch Republican, he admits that he didn't learn until he was well over 40 that being a lying, rotten, unethical hatchet man might not be all that great. Surveying the members of the Bush Administration with whom he worked, Raymond concludes: "They lie when they're in trouble, they lie when they're safe; they lie when threatened, they lie when they are threatening; they lie about lies, they lie about lying about lies. And if they should happen upon some harmless, well-meaning little truth lying around, they beat it about the face and head until it looks like a lie, and wants to be a lie, and finally does become a lie. And people say there are no men of vision in Washington." (pp. 225-226)
Raymond's experience inside the bowels of the RNC and his expertise in smear tactics, racist push polls and robo-calls, voter suppression, and other Republican mainstays give him a useful perspective. Maybe Democratic candidates in the future can better counter the inevitable Republican smears and attacks with a better understanding of how they work. But I wouldn't count on it.