Political Hay

The Quisling Consultants

Steve Schmidt, Mike Murphy, and the political consultant-big government complex.

By 11.29.12

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Ahhhhhhh the good life.

As lovingly recorded by the New York Times.

Here's the Lord of His Manor….

"A baseball cap perched on his head, his eyes sheathed in sunglasses" as he "sipped a Diet Coke and gazed across Lake Tahoe to California… in this most calming of places -- the glassine lake ringed by snow-dusted mountains, the late-morning quiet.… riding around the lake in his S.U.V., wandering a pristine beach, puttering around his office, and enjoying a long wine-soaked dinner as the sun set over the lake."

And when this gentleman of leisure is at hard at work?

There he is walking the "red carpet" at Washington and New York movie openings. Buddying with a movie star at the glitzy black tie White House Correspondents Dinner. Giving this interview to 60 Minutes, analyzing that event for the Atlantic or commentating on something else for NBC's Meet the Press or MSNBC. In the case of the latter, according to the Times, MSNBC "installed a remote camera in his sprawling rustic home" to make sure he can commentate right from his wilderness base.

Last, but most importantly not least, is his day job. A job that in elite circles carries the always impressive title of "Vice Chairman, Public Affairs" with responsibilities that include being a "senior strategic counselor" on a "global basis."

Then there's someone else.

Here we have a media guy beloved by the liberal media. He writes for Time and, like the man above, is periodically summoned to the set of NBC's Meet the Press to analyze events of the day. In his day job he has advised a string of moderate GOP candidates with names like Mitt Romney, John McCain, and Bob Dole. As well as belonging to firms whose lobbying clients include everyone from National Public Radio (where, coincidentally, he does occasional commentary as well) to all manner of health insurance, pharmaceutical, agricultural, electronics and development companies. Not to mention that he is branching out as a fledgling Hollywood producer.

So what's new? What's the big deal here with these two guys, Schmidt and Murphy? (The latter of whom I met years ago and certainly liked).

The big deal is that when Steve Schmidt and Mike Murphy sit down on the sets of liberal television shows and bash Rush Limbaugh and what Schmidt calls "the conservative entertainment complex" -- meaning talk radio and Fox News -- they wind up sharply illustrating the GOP's real problem.

To the point: Rush Limbaugh isn't the problem with losing presidential campaigns. Au contraire. He is the Ronald Reagan of radio.

The real problem is people like Schmidt and Murphy. The real problem is the fact they and so many GOP others make their well-paid livings catering to exactly what the "conservative entertainment complex" spends all of its time fighting: the "political consultant-big government complex."

Schmidt and Murphy are the political Quislings of conservatism.

Say what? Say who?

Vidkun Quisling was a Norwegian politician. In April of 1940, when the Nazis were invading Norway, instead of leading a resistance movement Quisling launched a Nazi-backed coup against his own people. As the Nazis settled in to occupy Norway Quisling settled in to live the life of luxury as Norway's "Minister President" -- and avidly assisted as a participant in what is known to history as "the Final Solution."

His betrayal of his own people was so stark that within days of Quisling's assumption of power the Times of London wrote an editorial saying of those who cooperated in betraying their own country that there were "Quislings everywhere." The paper went on to say:

To writers, the word Quisling is a gift from the gods. If they had been ordered to invent a new word for traitor... they could hardly have hit upon a more brilliant combination of letters. Aurally it contrives to suggest something at once slippery and tortuous.

Days after that editorial another London paper, the Daily Mail, picked up the term. And shortly after that the BBC chimed in, rocketing the word into the global vocabulary.

Nineteen days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, no less than British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was in Washington to address a Joint Session of Congress on the war. Master of language as he was, Churchill found a way to use the suddenly popular new word:

Hope has returned to the hearts of scores of millions of men and women, and with that hope there burns the flame of anger against the brutal, corrupt invader. And still more fiercely burn the fires of hatred and contempt for the filthy Quislings whom he has suborned.

Churchill pulled no punches.

Nor will we.

The real problem the Republican Party and, yes, America itself faces is hardly Rush Limbaugh. Are these guys joking?

The real problem the Republican Party faces is the rise of a political consulting class that feeds off the beast that is the federal Leviathan.

Take a look again at that New York Times story about Steve Schmidt. The business with the nice house along the shores of "the glassine lake ringed by snow-dusted mountains, the late-morning quiet.… riding around the lake in his S.U.V., wandering a pristine beach, puttering around his office, and enjoying a long wine-soaked dinner as the sun set over the lake."

Who pays for all of that?

Answer: You do. You pay the taxes, and the taxes fuel the growth of government.

What Mr. Schmidt does -- and by no means is he alone -- is depend on the growth of government to so entangle the private sector that it needs people like Steve Schmidt to simply stay alive. So when it comes to candidates -- or talk radio hosts or the Tea Party or anybody that wants to take an axe to the insatiable beast that demands your tax dollars -- Schmidt and company will use their Establishment podiums to go after them.

Just take a look at this Public Affairs section of the website for Edelman , the global PR and lobbying company that Schmidt earns his money from as "Vice Chairman, Public Affairs." What is it that they communicate to the world? Note: the key words I have put in bold print.

Edelman's Public Affairs division is all about helping

….clients navigate a complex environment where multiple stakeholders are influencing decisions that impact our clients' abilities to operate and grow.

With over 300 professionals throughout our global network, we design programs to address legislative and regulatory matters, position litigation and influence public opinion by engaging key opinion leaders from elite media to civil society to policymakers. Working together, we help clients manage both issues and reputations -- earning the trust that engenders the license to lead.

In other words, without the Leviathan, Steve Schmidt (and lots of other people) are out of a job. There will be no Schmidt SUV prowling the shores of "the glassine lake ringed by snow-dusted mountains," no "wandering a pristine beach" or "enjoying a long wine-soaked dinner as the sun set over the lake."

Ditto with Mike Murphy's version of this.

Notably, one of the client's at Murphy's Navigators Global is not just the usual corporate client needing help to slash through the Washington jungle.

No, who comes calling seeking Murphy's help? That would be NPR. That's right. NPR of firing Juan Williams fame. What does NPR want? Why, help with all those mean Republican House and Senate members who are determined to cut NPR's federal purse strings and shove them out into the private sector.

Thereby saving the taxpayer a nickel or two, however small that portion of a $16 trillion debt may be.

See the problem?

These guys -- and their well-paid life styles -- literally depend on electing candidates who are decidedly not, in Murphy's words, "right out of Rush Limbaugh's dream journal." The absolute last thing they need disrupting their life styles is "people calling for revolution and [making] these extreme statements…. it's time for Republican elected leaders to stand up and to repudiate this nonsense, and to repudiate it directly."

This is why Steve Schmidt uses his MSNBC time to also say:

Our elected leaders are scared to death of the conservative entertainment complex, the shrill and divisive voices that are bombastic and broadcasting out into the homes.

And who is it that is the most famous "shrill and divisive" voice in the land? Why, in the Schmidt worldview, that would of course be Rush. As he quite specifically says here and here on MSNBC.

Why is this?

Because Rush Limbaugh and what Schmidt disdains as the "conservative entertainment complex" is a direct threat to Schmidt's life-style on "the glassine lake ringed by snow-dusted mountains" not to mention those "long wine-soaked" dinners "as the sun set over the lake."

All of which comes directly from the cornucopia that is the political consultant-big government complex.

And Rush isn't the only one Schmidt disdains. He's famously not a fan of McCain's running mate, former Governor Palin. Or Donald Trump. It is no accident that both Palin and Trump have the same disdain for the political consultant-big government complex as well.

What's interesting here in light of the latest defeat of yet another moderate presidential candidate is that complaints are beginning to surface about the GOP consultant class, who, as Rush noted, get paid well no matter the results. With consultants escaping responsibility not only for losing campaigns but for the results of winning campaigns. Case in point: the governorship of Arnold Schwarzenegger -- whose first campaign was a Mike Murphy moment and whose re-election was Schmidt's "triumph." To borrow from Ronald Reagan, California was not left better off after the election of Murphy and Schmidt's client.

Peggy Noonan over at the Wall Street Journal recently spoke at length with an unnamed GOP senator who had this to say about the GOP's political consultant problem. While neither Murphy nor Schmidt were mentioned, they are in fact emblematic of the senator's point:

As a former and likely future candidate, the senator is sensitive about the amount of blame going to unsatisfactory candidates. "There's something in that," but if you want to aim at a larger and more recurring problem, "this professional political and campaign class is the real culprit. They're just there to get a cut of the billions spent. Candidates come and go [to them]. That's why they love self-funders" -- wealthy candidates. "You don't even have to get 'em to the fundraisers! We have a real problem with this whole political campaign class. They just have to be purged."

Will they be? Probably not, the senator says. They'll diffuse responsibility. "They're all pointing fingers at some of the other people who deserve some of the blame." Anyway, "who do we have who would take their place?"

The senator told a story of a "solid" U.S. Senate hopeful in the 2012 GOP primaries. The candidate seemed "perfect for the state." He began to hire staff, including a strategist with the right experience and deep statewide knowledge. A rival national political operative with a grudge against the strategist immediately inundated the hopeful with "30 calls and emails" from potential backers telling him he'd kill his own chances with that strategist. The hopeful got scared off and hired someone else. His candidacy began to wobble, and the end result was the election of an unpopular incumbent."

Notice the anonymous senator's line? This one? "They'll diffuse responsibility."

That's exactly what Schmidt did. He wasn't responsible for losing the McCain campaign. It was Sarah Palin. It isn't people like himself who were responsible for the losing Romney campaign. It was Rush Limbaugh. Or Donald Trump.

In short? The Republican Party does in fact have an enormous problem on its hands.

It's people like Steve Schmidt, Mike Murphy and the "political consultant-big government complex" the two so effectively represent in their public appearances that is the problem.

They have long ago turned their backs on conservative principle and are aiding and abetting the behemoth that is literally bleeding America financially dry.

The real problem for the Republican Party isn't Rush Limbaugh and the "conservative entertainment complex." It isn't the Tea Party. It isn't you.

The real problem is the Quisling Consultants. 

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.