The hot new trend of getting candidates' family members to trash them

Politics has traditionally included a running game of endorsements and denouncements. When someone steps up to run for office, the press will cover the various people offering testimonials to how wonderful they are as well as statements from their detractors. It’s common enough that most voters eventually turn a deaf ear to the competing narratives. But there’s one special class of personal accounts which might gain a bit more traction.

While it’s neither new nor unique, it does seem to be gaining in popularity. I’m speaking of the practice of getting members of a political candidate’s family to go public and denounce their own flesh and blood for the media. And the press eats it up, particularly if it happens to be a Republican. One of the latest examples comes to us from the Nevada governor’s race, where GOP candidate Adam Laxalt faced an “October Surprise” in the form of a dozen members of his family denouncing him in the press. (WaPo)

The latest domestic volley came Monday, when 12 family members of Adam Laxalt, the Republican candidate for governor in Nevada, published an op-ed in the Reno Gazette-Journal urging the state’s voters to reject their own kin. They based their appeal not just on their relative’s public positions but also on his personal character. They accused him of “phoniness” and “self-serving political purposes.”

“The decision to write this column has not been an easy one for us,” wrote the candidate’s family members, a group that includes a family medicine physician, an educator, a lawyer, a mental health therapist and an artist. “We are writing as members of the Laxalt family who have spent our lives in Nevada, and feel compelled to protect our family name from being leveraged and exploited by Adam Laxalt, the Republican candidate for governor.”

That sounds rough to be sure, but there’s more to the story. You have to dig down a ways to find out that the relatives in question are not Laxalt’s siblings, parents or children. They are a collection of aunts, uncles and cousins who, by their own admission, barely even know him. Laxalt was born in Nevada but raised in Washington, D.C. The authors of the op-ed all grew up in Nevada and know virtually nothing about him. They are also confirmed liberals and Democrats, so take that as you will.

But the phenomenon isn’t limited to this one example, nor even just to Republicans. You may recall that New York State Assembly candidate Julia Salazar’s own mother and brother went public and denied the life story she’d been peddling. The WaPo article also points to the case of Arizona Republican Congressman Paul Gosar, who awoke one day to find that six of his relatives had cut an advertisement endorsing his Democratic opponent David Brill.

Doesn’t this strike you as at least a bit depressing? It just feels as if there was a time when blood was still thicker than water and relatives, even if they were with the other party, would at least keep their opinions to themselves rather than dragging one of their own through the mud. That’s how nasty and divisive American politics has become these days.

You could understand if family members knew some deep, dark secret which they honestly felt was disqualifying and were compelled to come forward. A buried criminal record or history of abusing a spouse, or even animals, might be examples of that. But these new cases are comprised of a series of op-eds where the relatives are simply mimicking what every political strategist feeds to advertising agencies. Coming from a relative, however, it’s expected to be more impactful.

If there’s any lesson in this I suppose it’s that you should be sure to treat all your relatives well. At least if you plan on running for office someday.