Stirewaltisms: With Consultants Like These, Who Needs Enemies?
How operatives like Steve Schmidt make our politics worse.
WITH CONSULTANTS LIKE THESE, WHO NEEDS ENEMIES?
There is an old joke among physicians: “What do you call the person who graduates last in their medical school class?” The answer: “Doctor.”
Whatever standard you set for professional qualifications means that someone will be the last one to make the grade. If you see your surgeon graduated from Johns Hopkins University, you may not know their class rank, but you do know that they had the ability to get into and out of one of the best schools in the world. But what about where there is no ranking, say, a field like political consulting?
You would think that a win-loss record would be the thing, but that clearly doesn’t apply. Look at Steve Schmidt. He parlayed his work for Karl Rove in George W. Bush’s second term into the chance to run Arnold Schwarzenegger’s successful re-election as California governor in 2006. That led to his gig running John McCain’s presidential campaign. In that spot, he gifted the world the vice presidential nomination of Sarah Palin. After crashing and burning with that one, Schmidt used relationships with back-scratching political journos like Mark Halperin to maintain a high profile, including in the brown-nosing best-seller about the 2008 election, Game Change. Schmidt repackaged himself as an anti-Republican Republican for MSNBC, and spent much of the ensuing decade as a reliable source for articles with lines like “even top Republican strategists …” long after he was any such thing.
His MSNBC perch allowed Schmidt to monetize his role as self-loathing Republican with the Lincoln Project. The purported goal of the organization was to reclaim the Republican Party from Donald Trump for the principles of Abraham Lincoln. What it ended up being was a massive cash suck for Democratic online donations that reportedly paid one of Schmidt’s associate’s firms $27 million for consulting services, including those of Schmidt himself. Most notoriously, the outfit declared in 2020 that it would lead a purge of the GOP and oppose Senate Republicans, including moderate Susan Collins of Maine, whom Schmidt’s group declared “a fraud” and “a stooge.” After dumping more than $1 million donor dollars into Maine ads, Collins won anyway.
Three months after the 2020 election, the Lincoln Project imploded when allegations of sexual misconduct were leveled at Schmidt’s co-founder and former McCain campaign colleague, John Weaver. Schmidt stepped down but denied any wrongdoing beyond apologizing for attacks against accusers.