The use of robocalls against political rivals can be a landmine to maneuver. The Republican National Committee (RNC), however, seems to have found a way to use automated phone calls without using robocalls.
The New York Times is reporting that the RNC paid to generate about 11,000 automated phone calls to nearly three dozen House Democrats in recent weeks. The NYT’s two sources are anonymous (of course) so you might take the story with a grain of salt. If true, though, it’s a great idea and will no doubt be applauded by the Republican Party base. These are not robocalls – the RNC uses a vendor to survey voters. If the voter says he or she is opposed to the impeachment inquiry proceedings, that person is then given the option to be connected to their congressional representative’s office. This isn’t just jamming phone lines to disrupt normal business in congressional offices, it is a way to assist voters in connecting with their representative’s office.
One advantage of the Trump era in the eyes of many conservatives is Trump’s habit of punching back after an attack. He relishes his reputation as a street fighter. Trump essentially normalizes aggressive behavior coming from Republicans. No, I’m not talking about the nonsensical tropes from Trump haters that claim Trump incites violence with his language or his speeches. I’m noting that if the person at the top of the party is ready to fight with his bare knuckles, the rest of the chain of command is freed up to do the same. In this case, the current leadership of the RNC is far more aggressive than any previous years of RNC leadership, at least since the days of the Republican Revolution of the 1990s.
Funding a survey phone call that turns into a call to a congressional office is clever. And, it is helpful to the concerned (or angry) voter. This isn’t like the prank or gift of a moving box being delivered by the NRCC to congressional offices of Democrats in swing districts. That gesture was mildly amusing but these phone calls are useful. They keep the pressure on targeted Democrats from their constituents back home. The phone calls don’t simply tie up the phones in the congressional offices as the alleged leakers, er, sources told reporters at an “Off the Record” dinner. (The irony of that name is noted.)
The fact that the calls to congressional offices, estimated to number 11,000, were partly intended to jam the phone lines of House Democrats — potentially thwarting access to government offices — was described at a recent dinner of more than a dozen Republican aides, advisers and elected officials, known as the “Off the Record” dinner. Officials with the Republican National Committee told others at the dinner about the calls, suggesting they were automated and indicating that the aim was to tie up the phones in Democratic offices, according to two people briefed on what was said.
Common robocalls can jam up phone lines. It’s been done before. In 2002, for example, the NYT article addresses when the New Hampshire Republican Party used robocalls to jam lines of a Democrat get-out-the-vote effort. Campaign finance lawyers are split on whether or not it is a proper use of campaign resources by the RNC. Others say that the funding is legal.
“They can use campaign and R.N.C. funds for impeachment-related work, including legal and advocacy,” said Adav Noti, the chief of staff at the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center. He said it was different from what was typically done “only as a matter of degree,” but not “as a matter of kind from standard legal activity.”
Republican voters are fired up, according to a committee spokesman.
“Our supporters are incredibly fired up to help us fight this impeachment charade,” said Mike Reed, a spokesman for the committee. “Our ‘stop the madness’ campaign has helped hundreds of thousands of voters get the information they need to reach out to their Democrat representatives and tell them to drop the phony impeachment inquiry and get back to work for the American people.”
A more aggressive RNC is something Republican voters have wanted for a long time. Republicans have been frustrated by leadership that often looks to be playing too nice. Many Democrats made it perfectly clear that the impeachment of President Trump was on the agenda from the time he was inaugurated. In today’s divided political environment, Republicans have to unite and engage with the opposition. This operation from the RNC is a good start.