Perhaps this is not a big surprise, since few if any Democrats have spoken out against Harry Reid’s unhinged attacks on the Koch brothers from the Senate floor. Until now, though, they’ve been content to let Reid conduct his character assassination all on his own, while outside orgs supplement Reid’s attacks while insisting that the Left’s billionaires are a completely different case. Politico’s Kenneth Vogel reported last night that Democrats are now embracing Reid’s strategy, even though a few voices warn of some potentially dire consequences:
After Reid’s ad-libbed comments, his office developed a strategy for a coordinated campaign that’s expected to resume this month and carry clear through Election Day and beyond. It’s been shaped and reinforced by Reid’s staff, including former operatives of the liberal Center for American Progress, which had pioneered Koch-bashing politics years earlier. An eclectic cast of characters was also involved, including Reid’s wife, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a top Democratic pollster, two brothers who wrote a business-management book and various liberal super PACs and nonprofits.
This story, drawn from more than a dozen interviews with people involved in various phases of the effort — most of whom requested anonymity to discuss ongoing political deliberations — reveals for the first time the key players and considerations behind Harry Reid’s War on the Kochs, the risky strategy on which Democrats are hinging their midterm election hopes. …
In a year during which little of consequence is being done in the Senate, hardly a week goes by in which Reid doesn’t take to the floor to attack the Kochs’ influence in politics. Since late January, Reid has mentioned the Kochs in 22 separate floor speeches, calling them out about 250 times, either by name (including referring to them as “Charlie and Dave”) or allusion (“two power-drunk billionaires”), and blaming them for all manner of ills including holding up aid to Ukraine.
Those familiar with his thinking expect him to pick up the drumbeat this month. Possible fresh fodder includes last month’s Supreme Court ruling against labor unions, in which the anti-union plaintiff was represented by an arm of the National Right to Work Committee, which has received support from Koch-linked foundations and nonprofits. And Reid is planning this month to bring up a constitutional amendment intended to reduce campaign spending — an effort he’s pushed by citing the Kochs as the poster children for big-money political spending.
Vogel refers to this as “vilification-as-political-strategy,” and says Reid has a “knack” for it, which emerged in 2012 against Mitt Romney. Let’s recall exactly the substance of this vilification strategy: Reid lied, loudly and often, about Romney not paying taxes for the previous ten years. He publicly asserted that he had witnesses to testify to that allegation, and insinuated he had other proof of something that turned out to be entirely untrue. He did everything but wave a paper around claiming he had a list of 230 Romneys who didn’t pay taxes. It was a despicable smear intended to force Romney to release his tax returns so that Democrats could attack his wealth.
In that case, though, Romney was running for President. He could have expected some class-warfare broadsides, even if Reid’s went so far over the top that it should have disqualified him from any political leadership position. The Koch brothers aren’t running for anything. They are engaging in political activism, and their positions and even the level of engagement are fair game, when it relates to reality. Turning them into evil golems for doing exactly what Reid’s billionaire allies do on his behalf — especially after renting out the Senate to Tom Steyer just four months ago — goes far beyond chutzpah into pathology.
That should have Democrats worried, and perhaps especially their own big-money donors:
Still, Reid’s attacks have drawn cries of McCarthyism from around the political world,including MSNBC host Joe Scarborough and Mother Jones editor Daniel Schulman. And they’ve even created discomfort among liberal big-money donors and operatives, who worry the argument might expose them to charges of hypocrisy, while they also question the effectiveness of running against donors who won’t appear on any ballots.
Democrats who aren’t all in with this strategy had better start speaking up — and Senate Democrats who kept Reid in his leadership position after his “vilification” strategy in 2012 should have to answer for their support of those tactics, too.