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5 Dirty Tricks in Old-Style Political Campaigning

Posted by Terri McCormick On February - 16 - 2015


Crisis StrategyThe tactics outlined below reveal a few strategies used in old-style political campaigning. It is hoped that you will take these as examples of politics at its worst and either become a voice for change or a more informed voter.

Perception is reality in the political arena. In fact, politics pulls directly from the strategies of marketing and intellectual warfare in equal proportions.

If human beings were as easily manipulated as some in politics would like to believe, all it would take for a candidate to win would be to touch voters four times!

That would include a hand shake, a card in the mail, a radio ad and a knock on the door by a volunteer. If that is indeed the case, we as voters must be aware of the forms of political messages so that we may better discern fact from fiction.


The perfect family, perfect spouse and neighbors are all a first step in creating the right image on political campaign literature. Your first campaign piece is a bio piece that shows off your family and your personal and professional accomplishments.

However, politics is like a Hollywood movie set—some sets are barren, with only a few pictures scattered on the wall. Others have the depth and breadth of the horses, the ranch, and the farmhouse, complete with family and livestock.

It is up to the voter to determine if the candidate lives where he says he lives, has the background he is claiming and has actually served as the church bell choir director back home. If we don’t do our homework to expose imposters before they rise to power, shame on us.


Straw man politics is the most commonly used tactic in political campaigns. If you need someone to hate and someone to blame in order to rally your base, straw man politics is the strategy to use. This tactic, like all political diversions, is intended to keep voters’ eyes off the ball.

The last thing a candidate wants is for the voters to realize that his/her opponent is better qualified and has better ideas on the issues at hand. Instead, straw man politics is intended to be used as a tool to demonize your opponent.


Most famous is the phrase “Wag the dog,” made popular in Joe Klein’s Primary Colors. This is a classic fear-mongering strategy that paints a scenario of an inevitable war or national crisis. This create-acrisis tactic is used to motivate voters by telling them the other guy will make it worse. It uses the emotion of fear to conjure up an unknown threat or enemy.

The thought behind this strategy is to make people fearful so one candidate can be seen as the “only” person who can solve the crisis. The Hillary Clinton ad, “Who would you want to answer the telephone at 3:00 in the morning in the White House?” is a prime example. Obviously, you would want the heroine of the movie to answer the phone because she has the experience.

This crisis strategy is used as a perception builder. The reality is that most politicians do not want to solve your problems. Think about it: if all problems were solved, there would be no need to hire campaign fund-raisers, pay graphic artists, print literature, pay political pollsters, hire opposition researchers or orchestrate elaborate political machines.

Without problems, how would we excite and disturb the base of our respective political parties? Republicans must have big spenders and anti-gun people to vote against—or else. Democrats must have war-mongering fat cats that want to exploit everyday citizens—or else.


This campaign strategy is most effective against a member of your own political party. The proverbial whisper campaign is subtle, effective and difficult to trace. It hinges on the claim that one knows his/her party competition best and the competition is flawed. Be wary of political parties and other such clubs that demand blind obedience to the party line. As proverbial sheep to the slaughter, so, too, are those who do not think for themselves, particularly when asked to follow blindly against one of their own.

John McCain was the victim of a malicious smear campaign in his presidential primary bid in 2000. How do we know? George W. Bush’s communication director came clean on this topic in a recently published book. On page 149 of Joe Klein’s book Politics Lost, Mark McKinnon, then communications director for George W. Bush, was quoted shortly after Bush’s defeat in New Hampshire at the hands of John McCain:

“What followed, in South Carolina, was one of the most disgraceful campaigns I’ve ever witnessed. Bush and his minions did a clandestine demolition job on John McCain. Rumors about McCain’s mental stability swirled through the state—it was said that he had been brainwashed during the six years he had been imprisoned and tortured by the North Vietnamese; it was said that his wife, Cindy, was a drug addict (she had used painkillers for a time); it was said that he was the father of a mixed-race child (the McCains adopted daughter who came from Bangladesh).

There were no fingerprints on any of the dirt, but it was funny how these sorts of rumors always seemed to float about in campaigns run by Bush’s chief strategist, Karl Rove. Rove used this tactic against incumbent governor Ann Richards with claims she was a lesbian.”

I can tell you from experience, this particular smear campaign made it to Wisconsin. A political insider close to the Bush 2000 campaign repeated these same statements to me. What was my reaction? “That is ridiculous; knock it off.”


The vast majority of Americans tire of attack politics, yet attack politics changes people’s voting behaviors. Here is an example. How many times have you heard that people just don’t care to vote for either candidate? When both candidates beat each other up in television and radio ads, someone has just lost votes. If you have an unpopular candidate who cannot compete on the field of ideas, the strategy is to attack the opponent in hope of raising his/her negatives.

The manipulation of public perception is a complicated one—and it works. There is a demographic of trusting, loyal and supportive voters who are best served by one political ideology over the other. When one candidate cannot compete through honest and clear policy statements, the old-style politics reverts to throwing the dirt.

Voters become confused, believing in the end that there is no difference between the candidates. Smear campaigns may serve to keep people from voting all together. Caution: the smear campaign against your own party member may boomerang. If the least popular candidate is weak and happens to win a party primary, it is likely that he/she will lose the general election.


The unlikable candidate is more likely to run a negative campaign, in hopes of…To continue reading this book, get your copy of “What Sex is a Republican” in paperback or Kindle edition on Amazon.

Campaigns, Dirty Tricks & Election Engineering

Posted by Terri McCormick On January - 27 - 2015

Terri McCormickCampaigning is tough business. It takes someone with a lot of inner strength, a lot of community connections and a bit of money to make a solid run for office. Those of us who run “grassroots campaigns” understand just how difficult the road is for those who play by the rules. Yet there exists a breed of politician who does not follow the same road. This chapter is not about political corruption as an ending. Rather, it openly discusses old-style politics as a beginning, reveals the tactics of dirty campaigns and offers voters a strategy to determine a good candidate. It’s an appeal to all of us to do something about it!


The political class would have you believe that it is all about ideology—left/right or liberal/conservative—but is it? What if I told you that the political class in both major political parties is only interested in reelection in a quest for power and control? What if I told you that political elections are all about energizing their respective bases by evoking emotional-social issues to signal a particular voting response. Wake up, America, lest we all turn into Pavlovian voting dogs.

Modern interest group politics posed by the political class in both the Democrat and Republican parties represent a stakeholder politic that serves two purposes. First, it provides the campaign cash needed to guarantee the majority party’s position in power. And second, it guarantees access to government for interest groups invested in one political class’ line of thinking over the other. The voters, in many instances, are just obstacles that need to be charged up, like a battery, and then spun in a cylinder, so to speak.

Are there checks and balances to curtail possible abuse of power in public office? Yes, there are constitutional checks and balances, and there are public servants who freely self-limit their terms and walk away from power. Former representative Joe Scarborough (R-Fla.) commented on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on April 1, 2008, “Good government needs two things: term limits and the healthy friction that comes with the constitutional separation of powers between the legislative, executive and judicial branches.”

There is no question: healthy and open debate is preferred to topdown vertical stakeholder standoffs. Silo or vertical politics has resulted in political rancor freezing legislatures across this country. Democrat and Republican unwillingness to put the public’s interests first is an old political culture that must be transformed to a new culture of solving problems.

Politics, in its simplest form, is the distribution of scarce resources. It may represent dollars or gasoline, and it involves two sets of diametrically opposed people engaged in intellectual battle. It may involve interest groups and politicians working to solve great problems for the public’s behalf. In the old-style politic, it was reminiscent of a sixth-grade dance, with one group lining up on one side of the room, and the other group on the other side.


Democrats are, in large part, supported by voting blocks of women, minorities and trade and professional union members. From a social perspective, Democrats tend to be pro-choice, pro-environment and pro-government programs. Democrats typically favor a noblesse oblige philosophy, supporting the case that “nobles” (or people of means) must provide for the less fortunate. Southern Democrats throughout the 1800s carried this philosophy from their plantation economies into the Civil War. President John F. Kennedy altered these attitudes in the 1960s.


Republicans are generally supported by a voting block consisting of older white men and, to a lesser extent, women and minorities. The Republican groups who tend to be fiscally conservative are farmers, builders, realtors and business groups. Social conservative groups who are more likely to be Republican are pro-gun rights, pro-family, prolife and pro-military. The origins of the Republican Party date back to the Civil War and the party’s first president, Abraham Lincoln. The Republican platform’s main objective at that time was to preserve the…To continue reading this book, get your copy of “What Sex is a Republican” in paperback or Kindle edition on Amazon.

Local Elections and Puppet Influence

Posted by Terri McCormick On December - 18 - 2014

Some responsibility rests upon the conduct of our own affairsIf you believe you are immune from Machiavellian influences in local politics, think twice. Whether you’re a voter or a candidate, Machiavellian influences are at all levels of politics.

Local elections are run by the people, right? Not necessarily.

Shadow political parties are often used by county, state and federal party machines to keep an eye on what is going on at the grassroots level. After all, political parties want to make sure the “right” person is recruited to run for political office.

In fact, young campaign workers are sometimes recruited as “soldiers” who are taught the ways of the party machine, so that when they are ready, they may be recruited up the party ladder.

So what’s to become of these young campaign workers who do what they are told and play whatever tricks they are advised to play? They are promoted up the staffer ranks, of course, to a full-time staff position in our state and federal capitols.

What is the lesson learned by these twenty-something campaign workers? Too often, it is all is fair in love, war and politics. Most profoundly, these young campaign workers learn that politics is only a game, and they all work for the head politico in office—the speaker, majority leader or minority leaders of their respective parties.

“Controlled staffers” do not work for their assigned legislators, and they certainly do not for the voters back in the district.

How do we fight back? Citizen-run campaigns must become the norm in our local, state and federal elections, if we are to counter machine candidates.

We the people need to get involved on every level.

We must get out of our armchairs, turn off our televisions and radios and put down our biased newspapers. We must stop surfing the Internet to read the blogs that are written, far too often, by “wack jobs of hate and negative ideas.”17 The only way we can make a difference is to personally get involved.

Citizen activists make all the difference in entering voter lists, mailing out literature, taking phone calls and going door-to-door with candidates. The only way to ensure that local governments serve the people is for we the people to step up and volunteer our time and talent on local elections.

Our representative democracy comes alive when we make our own choices, support integrity leaders and make well-informed decisions about our political leaders.


There are periods in our nation’s history that are marked by populist reform and public opinion. Thomas Jefferson’s grassroots political party is one such period, with the transition in 1789 of the Democratic-Republicans from the more elitist Federalist Party.

Abraham Lincoln was the champion of populism during the 1860s and the Civil War, as the radical Republican. Lincoln radically insisted on equal rights for all men. Teddy Roosevelt ushered in the third wave of populism between 1900 and 1920, during the progressive era, with the nation’s first presidential primaries, as opposed to partyboss appointment. Teddy Roosevelt loosened the grip of the money changers with anti-trust laws, referendums and recalls.

The next populist wave can be traced to the 1960s civil rights movement, beginning under John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy.

Changes such as the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and California’s Proposition 13 in 1978 are two such reforms brought about by changes in popular opinion. Populist leadership in politics requires not only a compassion for the people and understanding of public opinion, but at its core, it also requires the belief in the will of the people.

Great populist leaders in wartime were Lincoln, Wilson, Roosevelt, and Churchill, who all have been described throughout history as eloquent speakers, both in their content as well as their style. All of these leaders had, at their core, a belief in self-government and a rejection on all levels to dictatorial systems of their wartime enemies.


Grassroots are “we the people.”

There are leaders among us who are leading right from where they are. Brown County, the largest county in my congressional district, just experienced a GOP revolution when the residents of that county took back their own party’s political governing body.

It wasn’t easy—the people organized themselves, wrote their own bylaws and recruited leaders from within. Most important, they recruited those leaders based on ability and merit. Professionalism and accountability to the people of their own county became the norm.

Anything has become possible once again, as the people create their own destiny and run their own governments.

To continue reading this book, get your copy of “What Sex is a Republican” in paperback or Kindle edition on Amazon.

The Populist Effect

Posted by Terri McCormick On November - 25 - 2014

The Populist EffectAmerican history has repeated itself with a revolving cycle of leadership between elitist and populist presidents and political leaders. As Jeffrey Bell notes, “Throughout history the presence of elites appears to be universal. Civilization is a society which generates elites.”15 In fact, throughout most of American history political equality was so insignificant that the debate between elitism and populism didn’t matter.

It is only with this great experiment in American politics that the light of populism has shifted the power of governance from one political party to the other. After the Nixon resignation; after the Jimmy Carter Iran hostage crisis; after the Clinton disgrace; and now after the indictments and felonies throughout the Republican Party, the torch of populism has passed and along with it, the mantle of majority party power in our state and federal capitols.

Time and again, as Jefferson predicted, a revolution has been led by the people who have demanded change in the behavior of the men and women they elect to represent them. The mystique that is the American public is quite simple. Americans would like the same work ethic, honesty and sense of fairness shown by politicians that they show in their own daily lives. The American people have come to expect the same opportunities for themselves and their families in education, the economy and national security. It is the American legacy that grants all of us our inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that we have all come to know and rely upon.

Each and every day, the people in our great nation lead from the back row. They lead in providing American-made products with pride and hard work. They lead by volunteering as firefighters in their small towns. They lead by showing up in their churches and giving a helping hand when someone is in need. This is what the people expect of politicians. Populism is the political ideology that says demos cratia, from the Greek, “people rule.”


It was not surprising that the American Founding Fathers found the European courts as filled with elitist games of intrigue and power. Under Machiavelli’s political philosophy, politics is no longer the quest to do what is good or right; it, instead, is the pursuit of total control and power. Political good will and a moral sense of leadership is considered weak in this system. Machiavelli writes that it is necessary for a young successful “prince” to learn how to not be good and to be able to break promises, to lie, cheat and steal.

Machiavelli pronounced that two tools were necessary to command men’s behavior and thus to control humanity: the pen and the sword—or propaganda and arms. Toward this end, he believed that man is inherently selfish, and that all goods are taken at another’s expense, and man behaves only by use of force. If man is inherently selfish, then only fear can effectively control him. As an example, Machiavellian wrote in 1494 that the Latin virtues meant power. Niccolo Machiavelli was explicit that one achieves power through wretchedness, cruelty and fraud.


If power is placed in the hands of the few, they maintain power by coercing a pseudo loyalty from a group of individuals who consider themselves lieutenants. These loyal followers. or Machiavelli lieutenants, are recruited because of their weakness and vulnerabilities, which makes them easier to control.16 These lieutenants then are the carriers of information to their leader, as well as the purveyors of threats to those who question authority. In a free society, this notion of physical and emotional servitude to a party leader due to fear is inconceivable, yet I was informed of its existence by a well-respected lobbyist in 2004. I will refer to these lieutenants for their respective party machines as puppets.

The puppets, spies and other cast of characters from Machiavelli’s The Prince function in our legislative bodies around this country and mirror a dark sameness. That sameness does not value loyalty from the lens of a populist or public servant; it does not recognize the greater good. Rather, these lieutenants and puppets form a secret bond, operating out of a fear of retaliation and punishment by their political class handlers.

One gray day in Madison at my capitol office brought this point home. Jared, my chief of staff for two years at this time, had been my mock-trial student several years prior to his employment as my research analyst at the state capitol. He was gifted in his ability to not only research policy issues but also in his ability to size up situations and people. His danger meter was going off that day as I picked up the phone.

“Representative, can you take this phone call from the insurance lobby?” Jared hesitantly inquired.

“Absolutely,” I said, “This man is going to need to talk to us about the All Sums legislation that the paper companies are trying to push through the House Insurance Committee.” After speaking with the insurance lobbyist, I explained to Jared that this man had some information for me that he could not tell me over the phone or in our offices. “Jared, I need to go across the street to meet this guy,” I began.

“In this rain? Can you trust this guy?” Jared inquired with more than an element of concern in his voice.

With less than a convincing tone, I responded, “I believe so. Besides, what do we have to lose? This guy is still talking to us.”

The current ban on our legislative office from all lobbyists was a move to keep any support of my ideas or my run for Congress from finding legs. I was curious about what this man had to say—after all, he was courageous enough to break this ban.

“Don’t worry, Jared, I will be all right,” I said, brushing off the apparent intrigue in the clandestine meeting.

Near the intersection of North Pinckney and East Washington, I found my contact, dressed in a trench coat, ducking under a canopy while carrying a large black umbrella. We looked like a scene from The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, a novel written about the cold war. As I approached him, I couldn’t help but think …what next?To continue reading this book, get your copy of “What Sex is a Republican” in paperback or Kindle edition on Amazon.

Populists vs. Puppets

Posted by Terri McCormick On September - 19 - 2014

On Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2008, one day after the Wisconsin presidential primary election, Governor Mike Huckabee, a modernday populist, made the following statement on national television during an interview by Joe Scarborough:

Myth vs. RealityI was threatened to have my arms and legs broken and to get out of the race. I don’t know about you, but if elections don’t belong to the people in the Republican Party, the Party will be destroyed. I would like to think that the Republican Party is mature enough, big enough and smart enough that it actually knows that competition breeds excellence and the lack of competition breeds mediocrity.”


Populism embodies a faith in the intelligence of people and a faith that the people can and will face adversity and lead themselves forward. It is an abiding principle that is set in our founding documents as a free people. It is as Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of the Independence, “Government exists for the governed, so that the inalienable rights of the people may be protected.” Jefferson goes on to define “government as instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” If we were to study the Declaration of Independence as adopted by the Continental Congress in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776, and signed by John Hancock as president and by Charles Thomson as secretary, we would solidly understand that government of the people is our collective right as a free nation.

The notion that the voters would like to get past the nonsense of politics and get to solutions to better society is populist thinking. Populist politicians are self-identified public servants who strive to make a difference and an impact on the lives of the people they serve. Populism also implies a healthy skepticism in politicians who would hide from the people or patronize them—especially if those who hide from the public believe only a chosen few have the ability to take care of the public.


Elitism can be defined as the belief that a chosen few—the political class—are best suited to make decisions for the majority. The elitists are the experts, and the common man should not be trusted to make decisions concerning his own welfare or what is best for the country. This was recently made very clear by comments from Vice President Dick Cheney when he was interviewed on MSNBC.

Cheney was asked for his response to the recent indication that two-thirds of Americans now oppose remaining in Iraq.

Cheney’s succinct retort was “So?”

The Iraq war may be the single most important issue in recent history that significantly differentiates elite and populist thinking.

Conversely, Democratic elites may believe that the educational and welfare establishments are more capable of making educational and welfare choices than their lower socioeconomic clients. Political party elites on both sides of the aisle are sharpening the intensity of the economic debate in order to argue that their side is better able to care for the American people. The question is: which party elite will be working to empower people and which party elite will be working to enable people?


The political debate today is not between political parties— Republicans, Democrats or Independents. Americans are experiencing a realignment of power, based on public opinion on the issues (public evils) and on the candidates (public trust). This demand for change by the people is resulting in a realignment of party majorities at the polls. Jeffrey Bell’s work in 1992 first tracked populist and elitist behaviors in his research at the Manhattan Institute and the JFK Institute of Politics at Harvard. Bell attributes the realignment, or shift, of the public’s support between the two political parties as “our democracy’s version of revolution.”14

We have witnessed the public’s revolution against the Republican political majority most recently in 2006, with the congressional midterm elections. The need for solutions rather than bickering and stalemate has resulted in a horizontal politic that has profoundly changed the political landscape. Voters lost faith in the Republican Party to deliver the conservative agenda that it had promised. With the exponential spending of the 108th Congress, as well as its growing numbers of Republican scandals, the voters punctuated their disdain by voting the Republicans out of power in 2006. Candidates like James Webb of West Virginia, former cabinet appointee of Ronald Reagan, successfully ran as a Democratic, toppling a Republican stronghold for the United States Senate. Webb’s campaign was not about party; it was about public service.

How did this populist phenomenon take shape? In my estimation, the people woke up and quite simply recognized that the emperor had no clothes. Voters looked beyond the political campaign propaganda and into the land of show-me politics. Candidates known to be fresh, bright and full of new ideas were welcomed onto the political stage. The new billboards posted outside our state and national capitols now read: Truth Seekers and Problem Solvers Welcome. No One Else Need Apply.

The party labels of the past were not only proven to be obsolete, but they also proved to be fraught with empty promises and few results. The public was left holding the tab for political parties run amuck, building cold war—like silos, entrenched in their own personal agendas. The do-nothing Congress of the past was and is no longer acceptable. The public was hit squarely in the jaw on bread-and-butter issues—the energy crisis, the housing crisis, the mortgage crisis and the Wall Street crisis all have convinced the voting public that something has got to give!

The voting public is now awake, engaged and on a mission to take their government backTo continue reading this book, get your copy of “What Sex is a Republican” in paperback or Kindle edition on Amazon.

Terri McCormick honored for excellence in government relations by Cambridge's Who's Who industry experts