On a Monday, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s PAC hired Liz Mair to guide social media and online communications. Within 48 hours, Mair resigned — a victim of past remarks that did not sit well in Iowa, an early primary state.
In an age of detailed oppo research and attack politics, Mair provides a cautionary tale for presidential campaigns where targets are no longer candidates themselves, but also staffers.
“The danger level has risen,” said Democratic campaign veteran Tad Devine to POLITICO.
“There’s more awareness of the fact that if you’re going to hire somebody on a payroll of a campaign, that person needs to be subjected to some kind of scrutiny,” adds Devine, an informal adviser to prospective presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
With limited resources and time, campaigns can little afford to vet potential staffers fully. At the same time, the Internet — mainly social media, with its extended memory — becomes a gold mine for opponents looking to score cheap points.
“I think most campaigns [know] that even if their staff aren’t opining on the issues of the day on social media, they’ll be researched by opposing campaigns and parties looking for dirt,” Mair told POLITICO’s Jonathan Topaz and Katie Glueck in an email. “Whether it’s as to their domestic arrangements, bankruptcy history, previous employers, old scandals, alma maters or any number of other things.”
“It may make some people queasy,” she added, “but that’s the deal.”
Mair’s downfall was months-old tweets, saying Iowa is “embarrassing itself” and U.S. politics is “better off” if the state ends its practice of hosting the first nominating event. She believes it was Democrats behind the revelation while some Republicans think it was GOP rivals.
Either way, Walker, in the lead up to a possible 2016 Republican presidential run, spent a day on defense.
Later in the week, former Texas governor Rick Perry faced a similar situation, with a newly hired Iowa operative who sent a private email years ago ranting about how a female presidency could be bad for American families. That email also caused some dissension at his time with the 2012 campaign of Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
Frustrated by the by the possibility that Mair was undone other Republicans, some conservatives have lamented her departure.
“It’s really unfortunate and not at all constructive for the conservative movement nor the Republican Party,” one GOP strategist told POLITICO. “The fact that an accomplished libertarian like Mair somehow isn’t fit to do communications consulting for someone like Walker is a joke.”
Mair is not the only casualty of such a fate.
Only one month ago, Ethan Czahor spent a single day as chief technology officer for Jeb Bush’s Right to Rise PAC before he was forced to resign. In that case, it was also past tweets and statements calling women “sluts,” jokes about gay men and critical of African-Americans.
Crazor subsequently apologized through a series of tweets.
This trend has not singled out technologically-savvy staffers.
After hiring Justin Muzinich as policy director for his possible presidential campaign, Bush experienced an immediate barrage of Democratic opposition from the left-leaning group American Bridge 21st Century.
Muzinich’s time in the hedge fund and Wall Street worlds, according to an American Bridge statement, “certainly won’t do anything to help the perception that Jeb doesn’t represent the values of the middle class.”
Targeting campaign staffers is not new. Mitt Romney campaign national security spokesperson Richard Grenell resigned in 2012 after social conservatives bristled at his stance on same-sex marriage as an openly gay man. He also drew criticism for deleting tweets about Hillary Clinton and other high-profile women.
In the past, it was usually bad behavior, not opinions or past statements, which got them into hot water. With the increase in social media, leaving an electronic “paper trail” the metrics have changed.
“People are getting caught saying things in the past in their lives when maybe the rules were a little bit different,” Romney associate Ron Kaufman, who worked in the George H.W. Bush White House, told POLITICO.
“That’s just the way it is,” he added.