GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore wants to take on the establishment… and that has ruffled quite a few feathers among both Democrats and Republicans. In a turn of events that has skeptics asking questions about extremely suspicious timing, Moore has suddenly been accused of having inappropriate relationships with young girls some 40 years ago.
These allegations have emerged with only a month left in the Senate race, and after the outspoken anti-establishment Republican was doing well in the polls.
Moore has categorically denied the claims and pointed out that he has been in the public eye for decades without a scandal. Others have questioned the inconsistencies and implausibility of the accusations.
The out-of-nowhere allegations do seem like a dirty political ploy — and a story from the late “gonzo journalist” Hunter S. Thompson shows that it could be from the same playbook that Democrat Lyndon Johnson used on his opponents years ago.
In the now classic “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72,” Thompson recalled how Johnson, the wheeling-and-dealing Texan who by many accounts sought power at any cost, started crass rumors about his opponents in order to win elections.
“This is one of the oldest and most effective tricks in politics,” Thompson wrote, according to the U.K. Independent.
“Every hack in the business has used it in times of trouble, and it has even been elevated to the level of political mythology in a story about one of Lyndon Johnson’s early campaigns in Texas,” he continued.
“The race was close and Johnson was getting worried. Finally he told his campaign manager to start a massive rumor campaign about his opponent’s life-long habit of enjoying carnal knowledge of his barnyard sows.
“‘Christ, we can’t get away with calling him a pig-f****r,’ the campaign manager protested. ‘Nobody’s going to believe a thing like that,’” wrote Thompson.
“’I know,’ Johnson replied. ‘But let’s make the sonofab****h deny it.’”
The message is clear: For the smear campaign to work, a rumor doesn’t actually have to be true — it doesn’t even matter if it is.
In fact, sometimes it’s advantageous for dirty politicians to purposely spread an accusation so outlandish and filthy it can’t be believed — as long as it grabs people’s attention.
By simply forcing an opponent to address the rumor and defend against it, the game shifts and the candidate is instantly associated with the accusation, true or not.
It must be pointed out that the claims against Moore happened so long ago that they’re almost impossible to prove or disprove. That may actually be by design: If the story is fabricated, so many decades have passed that Moore can’t show it to be false. The allegation sticks.
Of course, this age-old tactic doesn’t always work. Sometimes, the boy cries wolf too many times, and the public realizes that they’re being fooled.
In the case of Moore, the candidate hasn’t given in to calls to drop out from establishment Republicans like Mitt Romney and Josh Kasich. Instead, the retired judge has doubled down on his denials, and pledged to sue media outlets for libel.
Every person, regardless of politics, should be presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Moore’s enemies seem suspiciously eager to toss that standard aside and destroy a man before he can win… But it would be wise to remember the Lyndon Johnson playbook, and realize that not everything is as it seems.