Several months ago, I dialed into a member organizing call for the National Stop Elizabeth Warren Committee, a Super PAC actively recruiting on Facebook—and by recruiting, I mean posting and paying to promote nasty stories and memes insulting Warren. On the call, there wasn’t much organization or strategy discussed; the two women who run the group, Tina Goff of Iowa and Sarah de la Cerda of Littleton, Massachusetts, spent the entire teleconference stressing the importance of contributing money to their committee, and finding other people to also send contributions.
The effort (since renamed National Send Them Packing Committee, and expanded to include five other incumbent Democrats) has all the markings of a “Scam PAC”: a committee that exists only to spend money riling up partisans to contribute more money. Of the $22,000 Goff and de la Cerda raised last year, the vast majority went to subsidiaries of Eberly Communications Group, a notorious entity behind such sketchy conservative groups as Draft Sheriff Clarke For Senate PAC, National Draft Ben Carson PAC and Amish PAC.
Get ready for the ugly, Trumpish side of politics, Massachusetts.
The Commonwealth’s political campaigns don’t usually have to deal with much of the nasty, race-baiting, immigrant-bashing, conspiracy-hurling provocations of the right-wing marketplace—which has grown and thrived for more than two decades, but now embraces a Trumpist outlook.
The last real infiltration came six years ago—during Warren’s first Senate campaign, and driven largely by national conservative web sites.
Breitbart.com articles that year claimed that Warren had committed academic fraud early in her career. Free Beacon accused a Warren campaign staffer of a racist past, based on anonymous claims of her alleged old personal tweets. Both stories circulated on conservative web sites nationally, and were picked up and promulgated by the Red Mass Group web site, the Boston Herald, talk radio, and others in-state.
And that’s not even including the mania over Warren’s native-American heritage claims, which were largely driven by, and exploited by, national conservative sites.
On the surface, this year’s Bay State elections don’t appear to have much to draw such attention. Unlike that 2012 race, few expect Warren’s re-election to be particularly close. Charlie Baker, running for re-election in the state’s other marquee race, doesn’t appeal to those hyper-partisans. The hot action in Congressional races is in Democratic primaries, for Niki Tsongas’s seat and in Ayanna Pressley’s challenge to Michael Capuano.
But look closer, and you can see it coming.
“Dump Elizabeth Warren,” cleverly displayed as if stenciled on the side of a garbage dumpster, greets the visitor to the Deal Her Out PAC web site. Technically unconnected to Senate candidate Geoff Diehl, a Trump-supporting state representative, the committee was started by two Massachusetts conservatives to support Diehl by attacking Warren.
Another Super PAC, Massachusetts First, was launched last year with funding from Robert Mercer, a hedge fund tycoon who spent millions helping get Trump elected. He is one of several national conservatives who are reportedly interested in attacking Warren during her 2018 re-election campaign, as a way of hurting her before a potential 2020 Presidential campaign.
Conservative media can’t get enough of Warren-bashing. But today, in the wild world of social media and fly-by-night “news” sites, the circulation of such nastiness can be much harder to trace, and contain, than just six years ago.
When Warren gave her surprise address to the National Congress of American Indians last week, addressing her heritage claims and Trump’s mocking of them, the most visible right-wing reactions were critical, but relatively muted. Even Diehl, who has carefully avoided the issue for most of the campaign, merely issued a careful statement of dissent.
But harsher responses were not hard to find bouncing around social media—where accounts and groups for Massachusetts conservatives have proliferated.
Active Facebook groups include Citizens To Defeat Elizabeth Warren; Expose Elizabeth Warren (Fauxcahontas); and Vote Geoff Diehl 4 MA Senate 2 Unseat Elizabeth Warren!
There is also the anonymous Facebook and Twitter presence, since last month, of “Massachusetts Conservative Movement,” which focuses primarily on praising Diehl and trashing one of his Republican Senate opponents, Beth Lindstrom.
Both Lindstrom and the other Republican in the race, Jack Kingston, seem to be shifting toward Trumpism recently, particularly on immigration issues—a sign, some observers tell me, that the ongoing party caucuses are going well for Diehl. So, it seems likely that either Diehl, the pro-Trump candidate, will lead the charge against Warren; or he will be defeated by someone who has adopted much of the same rhetoric and tone to defeat him in the Republican primary.
Down ballot too
As the non-Trump faction of the state Republican Party struggles to stop Diehl from winning the Senate primary, it has also had mixed success fielding candidates down the ballot who won’t bring Trumpism to the campaign stump.
Rick Green, the lone Republican running to succeed Tsongas, has downplayed his support of Trump, but his Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance has earned a reputation for unfair, anonymously funded, scorched-earth attacks on Democrats. State representative Keiko Orrall, who entered the state Treasurer race last week, supported Trump at the Republican National Convention and beyond, after initially endorsing Marco Rubio. The Attorney General primary is pitting Trump supporter Jay McMahon against a more ambivalent Dan Shores. Aggressively anti-gay Scott Livey is running in the gubernatorial primary against Baker
Of course, some of the most rabid conservatives don’t even need a Republican candidate to make trouble.
In western Massachusetts, attorney Tahirah Amatul-Wadud’s Democratic primary challenge to Congressman Richard Neal has already excited the paranoia of national Islamaphobes. “Fuqra Member Announces Run For Congress,” blared a headline at Clarion Project, a Washington, D.C. based organization funded by conservatives, the day after her December 19 campaign launch. The American Spectator amplified that accusation under the headline “Congressional Candidate Tied To Pakistani Terror Group.”
Those articles circulated on Facebook, where a group called Trump 4 MA was among those that posted the Clarion story.
Whether or not Republican candidates elevate that sort of thing, people around the campaigns and party likely will—just as, six years ago, Scott Brown’s supporters could often be seen doing tomahawk chops and war whoops without any prompting from the candidate or his staff.