Attacks on Sharron Angle, constitutional conservative Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Nevada, have been eclipsed in the national media recently by attacks on Christine O’Donnell, constitutional conservative Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Delaware, but the attacks on Angle continue in Nevada – where they really count.
These attacks on Angle and O’Donnell – and indeed on all of the constitutional conservative candidates – follow a premeditated formula to discredit the candidates and shift attention to some personal trait, belief or experience and away from any substantive debate.
The preferred method of attack is to find some statement or position and denounce it as “wacky” and “crazy.” Infer that the candidate isn’t to be taken seriously because of their “extremist” position on some narrowly focused idea.
They raise their eyebrows and incredulously ask, “Can you imagine someone so radical trying to dupe you into voting for them?”
They leave the clear suggestion that anyone who believes the Second Amendment means what it says, or who thinks lower taxes can generate more tax revenue, or that the federal government should not do things which it is not authorized to do in the Constitution – good, important, helpful, “for the children” things – should be dismissed as a “radical” and an “extremist,” a “nut-job,” and basically an idiot, out of touch with the mainstream (and reality) and clearly unfit to hold public office.
The Nevada campaign is a textbook example of what’s going on in all of these races, and Sharron Angle has been expertly demonstrating how a candidate should react to such attacks … in order to make the attacks effective.
Rather than take her attackers on directly, Angle has dodged and ducked and sidestepped and waffled. Her attackers have used her stated belief in the meaning and purpose of the Second Amendment to suggest that she is an extremist, and she has done little to debunk that suggestion.
She has complained about comments being taken out of context, but she has merely added grist to the mill by trying to qualify her remarks without backing away from them or standing behind them. So far her reaction – and non-reaction – to her critics has done nothing to bolster her support on the conservative right or ease the concerns of the inattentive middle. She has utterly failed to effectively state her position, take control of the discussion, and redirect it back to the important issues of the campaign.
At this point it might be too late for Angle to recoup the ground she has lost due to these mistakes, but she can stop the bleeding and other conservatives can learn from her errors and help to raise the tide of the whole movement.
Angle could disarm her attackers by following a simple formula: Dismiss, state, dismiss again and redirect. Dismiss the attacks as ridiculous, shallow, sophomoric and completely irrelevant to the race and the voters. State a clear, succinct and unambiguous position on the questions at hand. Repeat the dismissal of the attacks as being distractions from the issues that really matter. And redirect the discussion to some of those critical issues.
Ideally this should be done in a press conference or a prominent, broadcast interview. Once the formula has been applied and the attack is publicly answered, the answer should not be repeated and a modified formula should be used in which everything remains the same except the candidate should reference the previous statement rather than repeating it over and over again.
Bill Clinton was a master of this formula to the point that he successfully used it without ever actually making a statement to clarify his position; he just claimed to have already answered the charge and insisted that the discussion move on to other things. It invariably did.
For Angle, the proper response would be a statement that she is dismayed by the petty attacks on her by her opponent and the media while the critical issues of the day are ignored and a call for all parties to show the voters the respect they deserve by focusing on the critical issues that effect all Nevadans and all Americans. This should be followed by a strong statement of support for the Second Amendment and suggestion that if some people are uncomfortable with it, they should either take up their concerns with Madison and Jefferson or begin working on a constitutional amendment to repeal it. Regardless of their concerns though, the meaning and intent does not change and acknowledging that original meaning and intent is not extremist, it is simply accepting historical fact.
As for the question of enemies of the Constitution, she should affirm that there are enemies of the Constitution in Congress, as there have been many and repeated attempts by members of Congress to bypass, dismiss or ignore the Constitution, and such hostile acts are the hallmark of an enemy. Who those enemies are is a matter for the voters to determine, but they can be assured that a vote for Angle is a vote for a friend and supporter of the Constitution. She should follow that with a plea to put all of this fruitless distraction and name-calling aside and focus on the important issues of the day: unemployment, taxes, immigration, health care, etc.
Once that carefully crafted statement is delivered and posted on the campaign web site, all questions related to the covered issues should be answered something like this: “How many times do we have to go over this? I’ve answered this, and I stand by my statement. If you have questions about something that really matters to the voters of Nevada – like what I plan to do to help get them and their families back to work, or how I intend to keep their taxes from going up – I’d be happy to entertain such questions. But I’m through wasting people’s time dancing around ‘Do you still beat your wife’-type questions. Next?”
Angle and other pro-rights candidates have a good chance of winning, but they can enhance their chances by taking control of the debate and bringing the focus back to substantive issues that matter to voters. Supporters can help by sharing this advice with their favorite candidates and by calling on the media to stick to the issues.