A leading Democratic strategist and former pollster for Jimmy Carter decried Democratic efforts to defeat Mitt Romney in the Michigan Republican primary this week, lamenting that it was the first time an incumbent president’s campaign has meddled in an opposition primary since the Nixon Administration tried to derail Democratic frontrunner Ed Muskie in 1972.
Pat Caddell, one of the nation’s most respected political analysts, was also the youngest Democrat on Richard Nixon’s Enemies List by virtue of his position as a campaign staffer for 1972 Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern – the beneficiary of Nixon’s anti-Muskie tactics.
Today, he smells Tricky Dick in the 2012 Obama campaign.
In an interview with The Michigan View.com, Caddell repeated comments he made on Fox News Tuesday night after Romney won Michigan despite Democratic get-out-the-vote effort favoring his conservative opponent, Rick Santorum.
“We have not had a White House where the incumbent tried to affect the other side’s primary since Nixon,” says Caddell. “On the 40th anniversary year of Watergate, that’s worth pointing out. I am a Democrat and I am offended by it. There is a reason parties hold their own primaries to choose their own candidates.”
Caddell says that Democratic tactics in Michigan over the few weeks remind him of Nixon’s infamous efforts to undermine Muskie in the 1972 New Hampshire primary when Muskie was embarrassed by “The Canuck Letter,” a missive allegedly orchestrated by the Nixon campaign that ultimately led to the implosion of Muskie’s campaign and the nomination of McGovern – the left-wing candidate that Nixon trounced in the general election.
“Sending Democrats in to vote for Santorum was a concerted effort – and it was not because they liked him,” said Caddell referring to the extraordinary level of Democratic activity during the Republican primary from $250,000 in Obama Super Pac ads targeting Romney, to Obama’s red meat speech to the UAW in Washington on Election Day, to Obama allies writing anti-Romney op-eds in Detroit newspapers, to Democratic operatives like consultant Joe DiSano and state Democratic Party chair Mark Brewer urging Democrats to vote Santorum.
Caddell noted that open primaries see party crossover votes all the time – such as Democratic votes for John McCain in 2000 – but “because they like the candidate.” In Santorum’s case, Caddell points out that “Santorum carried liberals, but lost conservatives – even though he was the conservative candidate – to Romney by 19 percent.” Caddell says that was clear evidence of Democratic trickery.
While not alleging anything illegal, Caddell denounced Democratic tactics purely in the interest of derailing frontrunner Romney. Caddell says these tactics are consistent with “Obama’s Chicago hard-knuckle politics.” Those tactics have been seen in Michigan before when Obama’s Auto Task Force allegedly made political threats against Chrysler bondholders in order to force them to accept terms favorable to the UAW.
“Why doesn’t anyone hold this president accountable for this?” Caddell demanded. “Barack Obama says he’s for a new kind of politics.”
The Michigan View called the Obama White House which deferred all campaign questions to the Democratic National Committee. “(Caddell’s claims) are untrue,” said a Democratic Party official. “The DNC had zero participation in union turnout. It was Rick Santorum’s call for Democrats to vote.”
Indeed, Santorum appeared to piggyback on the Democratic Party’s “Operation Chaos” by making robocalls of his own to Democratic voters – a tactic that seemed to backfire late in the campaign as Romney took to the airwaves to denounce his opponent’s tactics.
“If I were Romney’s campaign manager,” said Caddell, “I would have been campaigning about the president’s interference in the primary – not Santorum’s dirty tricks.”
Other veteran campaign pros confirmed that it is highly unusual for presidential campaigns to interfere in opposite-party primaries. Michigan pollster and Republican strategist Steve Mitchell could not remember any such instance. He cited the Democratic votes for McCain in 2000 – but noted that Democratic efforts to get out the vote were encouraged by state Democrats looking to embarrass Michigan Governor John Engler. Stu Sandler, another Michigan political strategist, agreed with Caddell’s charge that Democrats were using Santorum to sabotage Romney.
“It’s uncommon for someone to jump party lines. When they do, it’s usually for the more moderate candidate,” he commented. “It’s hard to think of this ever having happened in a national campaign.”
Candidate Obama may have campaigned on change, but – as Caddell’s comments attest – his Chicago-style politics, like his Great Society-type programs, are increasingly a throwback to darker days.